Leading in the Fight Against Cancer During COVID-19

Leading in the Fight Against Cancer During COVID-19

While the world turns its focus to COVID-19, we at Susan G. Komen® Orange County know that breast cancer awareness, research and treatment must maintain momentum. This is why we continue to deliver on our mission each day and why our friends at City of Hope Orange County are also continuing to focus on speeding lifesaving cancer treatments to the people of Orange County.

Orange County is in good hands thanks to organizations who are continuing this important work while planning for what the new normal will hold. Megan Klink, CEO, Susan G. Komen® Orange County and Annette M. Walker, president, City of Hope Orange County discuss how two of Orange County’s top organizations are leading the fight against cancer in these critical times.

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How have you seen Orange County respond to this crisis?

Megan:

It has been truly remarkable. The positive response from the Orange County community to support each other should be an inspiration to others. We are seeing revolutionary partnerships being formed between various sectors and industries to close the gap in the needs for the most vulnerable in our communities. We are seeing incredible displays of humanity, as people are reaching out to one another, if even from afar. We have seen the medical community inspire all of us with their dedication and selfless commitment to ensuring that everyone has the very best care possible.

Annette:
It’s been extraordinary to watch Orange County respond. I want to thank all the health care professionals, emergency responders, grocery store workers, drivers, those in our vital supply chains and others who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak, putting the needs of others ahead of their own – OC is banding together through this. At City of Hope Orange County, we are grateful for the generosity of local organizations and individuals responding to protect hope in our community. Our Newport Beach location, for example, has received numerous face mask and face shield donations. Moments of crisis bring out the best in people and this is cause for hope.

As likeminded organizations, Komen OC and City of Hope Orange County aren’t giving up in the fight to cure cancer even during times of crisis. What are you doing to protect and support patients?

Megan:

We know that breast cancer doesn’t stop because of a pandemic. We are rallying on all fronts to support breast health communities, starting by staying in touch with patients to keep them informed and up to date about COVID-19 and breast cancer recommendations from experts. We joined together with all California affiliates to create the Komen California Response Fund to address the current and new, crisis-related barriers so many people are experiencing regarding access to support services and care. Locally, we are partnering with breast health organizations to provide operational support to meet the higher demands they are seeing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Knowing that timely access to care and support will improve outcomes for women in Orange County, we are working to streamline patient navigation by reducing systemic and social barriers to breast care and services. During this time, Komen OC is also providing financial assistance, a virtual, safe community space for survivors to build connections and support each other and a platform to share stories for those living with metastatic breast cancer and their caregivers. We anticipate an upcoming  surge of routine mammograms and screenings that have been postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19, so our team is planning and preparing to address this in the coming months. We will continue to advocate for transformative health policies and improved access to affordable, high-quality breast health and cancer care services, as well as supporting lifesaving research and clinical trials to discover new treatments.

Annette:

We think about cancer every hour of every day, and City of Hope is one the best places to be during this crisis. Cancer doesn’t wait, so our clinics remain open. We’ve given special consideration to the fact that cancer patients have a higher vulnerability to COVID-19. Our priority has been ensuring the safety of our patients and that of our physicians and staff. Clinical leaders quickly modified our safety and screening measures and implemented a no-visitor policy at all our locations throughout Southern California, which was a hard but necessary decision.

City of Hope was founded in response to the tuberculosis epidemic at the beginning of the 20th century, which highlighted the inadequate health care resources of the time. This sense of urgent response is in our blood, and I’m honored to work alongside so many who have taken the lead in responding to COVID-19. For example, our scientists and researchers are drawing from our large reservoir of immunology data and experience to develop vaccines and tests for COVID-19.

What advice do you have for cancer patients, especially during this time?

Megan:
it’s so important to continue conversations around breast health with your health care providers. Seek a second opinion to understand if your treatment has changed or learn about alternative recommendations. We want the community to know, you are supported. If you are in need, please call the FREE Komen Breast Cancer Helpline at 1-877-465-6636. This is a source of support for anyone with breast cancer questions or concerns, including men diagnosed with breast cancer and their families.

We also want to encourage patients to stay informed about Patient Protection rights and health policy changes: Under COVID-19, insurers may remove barriers to accessing outpatient prescription drugs, including suspending prescription fill/refill limitations and refill waiting periods for all drug tiers— even specialty drugs— to allow policyholders to order a 90-day supply. You may also qualify for free home delivery and be able to quicken drug access by streamlining or completely eliminating step therapy and prior authorization.

Learn more from the Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and the California Department of Insurance.

Annette:

Throughout this critical time our clinical team has been educating patients and the community of ways to cope and be prepared. Here are a few tips:

  1. Don’t forgo treatment during this time. While you might be feeling vulnerable leaving your house, it’s important to stay on top of your visits and treatments. Many physicians, including those at City of Hope, are offering telehealth visits to help you make progress from the comfort of your own home. When you do need to visit a health care facility, health organizations are fully-equipped for your safety.
  2. We need to take care of each other. Each patient needs a village of support behind them. As our supportive care staff and physicians recommend, we should also be practicing self-care to manage our stress. Stress can increase the likelihood of your condition to worsen. Stay connected with family and friends, stretch and meditate, plan out your day, and most importantly, give yourself grace. These are unprecedented times after all.
  3. Get a second opinion before you start treatment. We can’t say this enough, even in these times. While most recommendations are correct, the more experts looking at your case the better and you might learn you have options to consider.
  4. If you know someone who can donate blood, please encourage them to do so. This pandemic has heavily impacted our nation’s blood supply, which can affect our care delivery.

COVID-19 has disrupted nearly every sector. Has COVID-19 affected your mission or your organizations’ goals and operations?

Megan: We pivoted to virtual programming to protect immunocompromised patients, but we remain committed to preserving the breast health safety net by having resources available. We are also continuing close partnerships with local health care providers to best address patients’ critical needs and support beyond breast health. We know that our services are needed now more than ever, and we are focused on providing education, navigation support and care and connections to those who so greatly need it.

Annette: City of Hope’s non-clinical teams began working from home before mandates were put into effect, and those able to help were redeployed in supporting roles on the frontlines. This allowed us to keep moving our mission and vision forward while giving those on the frontlines both the safety and support to do what they do best. Thanks to technology and virtual collaboration, City of Hope Orange County is keeping our promise to build a cancer campus of future in Irvine. This is, after all, essential work and Orange County needs expanded access to life-saving treatments.

As two leaders of organizations committed to helping and connecting with others, do you have advice you can give on leading a remote workforce?

Megan:  Stay visible and connected every day. Even though we are in various places, being able to see each other onscreen is vital for both communication and mental health. We have standing staff meetings and check-ins on Zoom so we can see each other’s faces. We are leveraging the convenience and speed technology affords us to enhance our mission to make our programs, education and services more readily available to the wider community. In that sense, we’re adapting to this new “normal” to stay connected with our community and continue providing the services that are needed now more than ever. 

Annette: Working distantly together has reminded us about the importance of our relationships and that we need to care for our employees as people and as a work family. It’s important to support their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. With my closely-knit team, we quickly established structure and routines like hosting ongoing virtual huddles. We start each meeting with a reflection to ground ourselves in the work of the day and to inspire meaningful conversations. These allow us to be who we are—people, rather than employees. There have been moments of laughter, at times tears, but I’ve seen a growing bond between everyone. We will continue these practices as we return to the workplace.

Finally, where do you see cancer treatment, research and advocacy going after this pandemic? What can we see for Orange County?

Megan: We will see an increase in the need to focus on treatment protocols and how to best address treatments, screenings and other support services that have been delayed. We will also need to keep raising our advocacy presence to protect patients and help them receive the proper care. I believe resource collaboration and community mobilization will be more important than ever as we move forward.

Annette: What this pandemic has taught us is that we can’t overcome these global (and local) challenges alone. Like COVID-19, eradicating cancer is going to take collaboration and coordination between health organizations and even atypical partnerships with other sectors.

Secondly, what we’ve seen is that COVID-19 has a higher probability of affecting those with significant health issues. Health providers will need to invest a substantial amount in programs aimed at prevention. City of Hope Orange County is already doing this through our innovative Precision Prevention and Early Detection Program offered at our Newport Beach location.

And finally, we need our best scientists to have the funding and support to collaborate and accelerate solutions to avert and manage another pandemic. I think we can all agree that one pandemic in our lifetime is more than enough.

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Stay tuned for more updates from Komen OC in response to COVID-19 and follow along with City of Hope’s vision to transform cancer care in Orange County on this blog and at www.cityofhope.org/OC.