A Nurse Practitioner Who Just Survived Breast Cancer Is Back In The Hospital Helping Patients During Coronavirus

Published Apr 16, 2020

Shelby Black

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, medical teams are working overtime to treat patients. One nurse practitioner who just beat breast cancer isn’t taking any time off, and is going back to work  to help those in need.

Katie Centola, a 44-year old nurse practitioner at Boston Medical Center, had just been declared cancer-free and was planning to celebrate her remission with a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada. However, as travel plans are disrupted and halted amid Covid-19, she decided to lend a helping hand to BMC’s surgical intensive care unit. Despite her coworkers telling her that she should be home resting, Centola dismissed their remarks by saying she’s not more at risk and her blood counts are up.

One huge reason why Centola decided to return to work so soon was because of the obstacles cancer patients are facing right now to receive treatment. Centola was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019, and notes that if her diagnosis had been this year, her recovery would be completely different.

“I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thought ‘thank God things for me happened last year not this year,'” Centola told Mass Live. “I can’t imagine people getting that diagnosis and not knowing. Some centers are doing mastectomies. Some are pushing it off. You’re being put on a floor with people who have a disease that could also kill you. I can’t imagine being scared for your own life anyway and then there’s this pandemic going on.

Centola underwent a mastectomy in February 2019 as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Now, Centola’s breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes are gone and her hair has grown back. Even though she may not be able to celebrate now, she says she’ll enjoy time off when the outbreak ends.

Cancer Continuing During Covid-19

Amid the outbreak, Centola is correct when she says that cancer patients’ are struggling to receive treatment. Not only has cancer research funding been slashed due to Covid-19, but shortages in staff and equipment puts patients’ and staff’s health in jeopardy.

“How can you think about putting people on trials when you don’t have a staff?” Dr. Roy Herbst, Chief of Medical Oncology at Yale Cancer Center and and Smilow Cancer Hospital, tells SurvivorNet. “You don’t want your patients to go to the hospital too much because you don’t want them or the clinical staff to be exposed. It’s not a great time to start new trials.”

While some cancer patients are facing obstacles, there is still some hope. In dozens of interviews with oncologists, SurvivorNet has learned that many doctors are adapting to new ways to treat cancer patients while juggling new demands brought by the outbreak.

“We’re expecting that immune therapy will be FDA approved for the treatment of early stage triple negative breast cancer sometime later this year,” Dr. Heather McArthur, the Medical Director of Breast Oncology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, tells SurvivorNet. “And in the meantime, we continue to offer patients immune therapy on clinical trials”

Being exposed to Covid-19 is especially frightening for cancer patients, but oncologists have told SurvivorNet that those living with cancer are actually still showing progress despite the virus.

“You have to tell them that we’re going to get through this and really just convince patients that we’re all in this together,” Dr. Brendon Stiles, a thoracic surgeon at Weill-Cornell Medical Center, tells SurvivorNet. Patients are doing surprisingly well. There’s obviously a lot of anxiety out there amongst patients.”

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