TUCKER, Ga. - Melissa Browning is trying to stay focused on her long game: staying healthy until she can get a bone marrow transplant.
She’s been isolating at her home in Tucker, Georgia, for months, and she’ll need to stay isolated until at least November.
But, Browning isn’t complaining.
In many ways, she says, she feels lucky.
“So, we are happily quarantined, and going to wait this out for a long time, it looks like," Browning says. “We just bought a house in Tucker, and we’ve been rehabbing it. So, we’re fairly comfy at home.”
She and her husband Wes and their 8-year-old daughter have been hunkered down here for months, knowing this novel coronavirus could wipe out Browning’s weakened immune system.
She’s been battling cancer since 2017.
“So, this is my second cancer," Browning explains. "I had breast cancer first. Then, right as I was recovering from that, and going into remission from breast cancer, having recovered from my surgery, I got a diagnosis of multiple myeloma.”
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That is a type of cancer that forms in plasma cells, attacking a person's bone marrow.
The pandemic has made cancer care more challenging for millions of Americans, who are at higher risk of complications, should they get infected with COVID-19.
Browning has been able to continue her treatment, a three-drug regimen, at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Newnan, where they’re doing things a little differently.
They are checking temperatures as patients arrive, screening them for fever, cough, and breathing problems.
Browning says the extra steps make her feel safe.
“I’m wearing a mask, and everyone around me is wearing a mask," she says. "I meet with my doctors via Zoom. So, I go to the office, get my blood pressure checked by a nurse, and then I jump on an iPad, and talk to my doctors."
One of those doctors, CTCA hematologist, and oncologist Damien Hansra, says Browning's medical team, with her consent, has agreed to delay her planned bone marrow transplant until late summer.
“(We're delaying) until we figure out, what’s going on with this pandemic, and what are her risks," Dr. Hansra says. "Then, when the time is right, we will take her to the transplant, when it’s safest for the patients.”
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The procedure is now scheduled for August.
"But, at the same time, we’re kind of going day by day, to see how things go," Browning says.
The delay will allow her to have two more rounds of treatment, to prep for the procedure.
Browning will have to be admitted to CTCA, then undergoing high-dose chemotherapy to wipe out her remaining cancerous bone marrow.
Then, she will receive a high-dose transfusion of healthy stem cells.
Most Atlanta area hospitals have stopped allowing patients to have visitors.
Browning knows she likely won’t see her family for about 3 weeks.
"That is obviously a really scary thing, to be in the hospital for a time, and to not have anybody around to help, or take care, tell you a joke, those kinds of things," she says.
Once she is out of the hospital, Browning is facing another 100 days in isolation at home.
“But, if we’re meticulous about our infection control and safety, this patient, I think she’s going to do just fine.”
Melissa Browning says she can wait as long as she needs to wait.