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NC’s Graves dealing with COVID-19 complications

Kirt Manion

Glance at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ case map. There’s just one confirmed coronavirus case in Otoe County. That means zero impact.

Right?

Not exactly.

There’s economic impact. There’s emotional impact. These are scary times.

For Audrey Graves, the scare is life threatening, even if she never contracts the virus that has world leaders on high alert and the economy in a lock down.

Graves, principal at Nebraska City’s Nebraska Center for the Education of Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired (NCECBVI), is in the midst of her second fight against cancer. And she’s doing well in that fight, but coronavirus is getting in the way.

Jenna Sheldon of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said Nebraska City’s Graves is not alone.

A recent survey by Sheldon’s organization found that folks in the cancer community are more likely to see an impact in their care or have their access to care restricted.

Half of all those surveyed reported some impact on their care due to the virus. Of those who have experienced an effect, nearly 1-in-4 report a delay in care or treatment.

Among just the respondents who remain in active treatment, more than a quarter, 27 percent, report a delay in their care and 13 percent say they don’t know when essential care will be rescheduled.

“COVID-19 is affecting all of us deeply,” Sheldon said. “There are so many different levels to this COVID-19 pandemic. For cancer patients, there is added uncertainty and anxiety.”

Count Graves as one who is being affected by access issues.

Just to get everyone caught up to speed with Graves’ circumstances, it was July of last year when a blood test revealed that cancer had returned. She had originally beaten the disease over a decade before and had gone through all the rounds of chemotherapy, surgery, scans and post care to drive breast cancer into remission.

The blood test of last July revealed that the cancer had become metastatic, spreading to her bones, and a new fight was begun.

Graves had to adjust. She had to go through that cancer pain again with her friends, her family, and with her 15-year-old son, who had been too young to remember the first fight.

Scary doesn’t even begin to describe it. But Graves’ legendary positivity and determination has been beating back the advance of this despicable cancer.

Enter COVID-19.

Late last year, because Graves was doing so well in her treatment, her oncologist had felt comfortable with delaying scans set for August. The idea was to scan in March. Of course, we all know what happened in March. The world around us closed. Businesses of every kind.

Schools for sure. And lots of people worried that the medical care system would become over burdened by COVID-19 and would not be able to provide adequate treatment to those infected.

When the COVID-19 fight started, consideration had to also be given to protecting people from being exposed to the virus while going to receive other medical care.

Cancer patients undergoing treatment were at an even higher risk than the general public due to having compromised immunity.

And so Graves’ scans were delayed. Indefinitely.

These scans were part of the treatment for Graves because they evidenced effectiveness of treatment.

She still goes to the doctor every month and feels comfortable.?Graves said that everyone is very careful to maintain a virus-free space. Unfortunately, though, the scans are not part of the treatment offered.

She gets blood tests. She also takes medication and receives a monthly injection for further support in the fight.

She has worked closely with her oncologist who has assured her that, if something seemed wrong, with the blood work, or with anything else, he would get her in for the scan, even with the threat of COVID-19 looming.

Still, Graves worries about it. She tries not to do that, of course, saying that such worries can overwhelm your ability to enjoy daily living. But it’s there though.

“I would like to get things done because I don’t want any surprises,” Graves said.  “I would have more peace of mind.”

In some ways, we all are feeling what Graves has become accustomed to feeling for a long time—uncertainty. What will life be like in five months or five years? She doesn’t know. We don’t either.

That pandemic fight gives us a look into that world for sure. The economy appears broken and a fix isn’t likely to come soon. People could lose their jobs and their livlihood.

We’re told to have hope.

Graves echos that, even though COVID-19 has seemed to have an even greater impact for her than it has had on the rest of us. While we are fearful of losing our jobs, Graves joins that concern. She’s working from home now and still has her job. But if she were to lose it, she could lose her health care too. No health care and facing cancer? That’s terrifying.

Is Graves going to be intimidated? She’s going to do everything she can not to give in to that emotion.

“You have to keep your state of mind positive,” Graves said. “There is always hope.”

Take her advice and don’t go to Google. We all search for answers to our questions. These days—when will the pandemic end? For Graves, it has been—what does this cancer diagnosis mean? Or—what is my prognosis?

Bad idea. Google usually delivers news to dwell on, to stew about. And that’s not healthy.

When facing cancer, Graves has had the approach of seeing the disease as a bully looking to intimidate. She’s not going to let the bully get the best of her.

“I am going to keep going instead of letting it consume me,” she said.