Being More Than A Doctor During COVID-19

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Dr. Hiral Fontanilla, an oncologist with Princeton Radiation Oncology and Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA), is finding new ways to support her patients with cancer, including food delivery.

Dr. Hiral Fontanilla, MD sees dozens of cancer patients every week as a radiation oncologist, however, due to the pandemic of COVID-19 she has not been able to see the people she supports in the same way. “You think about anyone who has a cancer diagnosis, it is always a stressful and worrisome time and the best thing I can do for them at those times is have them come into my office, hold their hand, explain everything to them and really physically be there for them.” Now due to COVID-19, Dr. Fontanilla has been unable to have her patients come in personally so she has been finding new ways to reach out.

After experiencing delays in her personal food delivery system, Dr. Fontanilla wondered how her patients were getting food. She knew patients with cancer should not be going outside, but if groceries were delayed or canceled they may not have the choice. Working with her colleague, Dr. Ellen Ronnen from RCCA, she decided she had to do something and began compiling a list of stores that had pickup or different online delivery options, and she was able to get some stores to open delivery slots just for cancer patients. “Many local places have carved out times, local organizations and volunteers have volunteered so that cancer patients can get their groceries delivered.” She also encourages others to help in their own communities, in their own ways. By reaching out to neighbors and community members, making masks, donating plasma if you have recovered from COVID-19, or many other ways, it makes supporting each other easier during this incredibly difficult time. “I feel like if I don’t do this then it makes getting through this pandemic even harder for me and my community. By doing something for someone else, it gives us all strength.”

Dr. Fontanilla encourages her patients to have a strong support group of friends and family but recognizes how difficult that can be during a time of social distancing. Although we cannot physically be there for cancer patients, she knows they still need the support they would have received otherwise. “We have to be really creative about how to be there for people. It’s important to still reach out with video calls or letters, even if you can’t physically be there.” Dr. Fontanilla knows the best way to support her patients is by being there with them. She has seen others get creative in the way cancer patients are being supported, from virtual support groups to virtual events.

“COVID-19 really has been life-changing for everyone but especially for patients who are undergoing cancer treatments.” With treatments and surgeries being delayed in heavily impacted areas, cancer patients are living through more uncertainty than ever before. Dr. Fontanilla wants to make sure that everyone feels supported and to remind them that their team is there for them. “We hosted a multidisciplinary discussion about breast cancer during COVID-19 to provide information and encourage everyone to ask their specific questions to their cancer team.”

Dr. Fontanilla and her colleague’s presentation is available to watch here. She is also available if you need other resources and can be reached at helpforcancer2020@gmail.com.

For more information about COVID-19’s impact on breast cancer patients please visit our website here.

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