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More Maine hospitals, practices resume elective procedures amid coronavirus, COVID-19

Some cancer patients worry weeks of waiting for time-sensitive treatment will cause more harm than good.

PORTLAND, Maine — Since May 1, medical practices and hospitals have been gradually resuming elective procedures and routine appointments.

Chipping away at the backlog of patients is happening under strict guidelines including testing and requiring protective equipment, but some cancer patients say their health could pay the price for the delays in treatment.

82-year-old Erika Pinkham beat bladder cancer three years ago. A scan in February found three lesions on her bladder but because her urologist was furloughed during COVID-19, and she couldn't get a scan until a month ago.  

The lesions are cancerous, but no date has been scheduled to remove them.

Medical practices and hospitals are gradually resuming elective surgeries and procedures that were put on hold due to the pandemic. Pinkham is trying to stay positive despite cancer growing in her body. 

"It's not a death sentence in my situation, but I am worried about people who have breast cancer, who are supposed to have a breast removed," said Erika Pinkham.

"With the months and months dragging on, it may be too late for them, that's unconscionable," said Heather Sirocki, Erika's daughter. 

"It's just Russian roulette with my health."

Gina LeDuc-Kuntz spent a year fighting a rare cancer after a large lump was discovered in her left breast. That included chemo, radiation, and a radical mastectomy because the cancer was so advanced. After COVID, visits to her oncologist stopped for two months. 

"My blood should be checked monthly. They should see how my body is reacting to treatments. I had an advanced aggressive cancer, said Gina LeDuc-Kuntz, a cancer survivor.

Both women are now patients at Maine Health which has resumed some elective surgeries and preventative care including mammograms and immunizations. 

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joan Boomsma says it's all being done under strict guidelines, universal masking, limited or no waiting rooms and testing for COVID-19 before procedures. She also said Maine Health continued to perform cancer-related surgeries during the pandemic.

"We are having non-COVID care areas, so we don't have patients with COVID in the same areas, we also have dedicated staff that are screened every morning," said Dr. Boomsma.

Northern Light Health is checking staff and patients for symptoms as they work to get procedures rescheduled.  

Northern Light Health is checking staff and patients for symptoms as they work to get procedures rescheduled.  

"Reach out to those individuals who may have missed those important visits or procedures, part our plan will be extending our business hours," said Dr. James Jarvis of Northern Light Health.

As for Gina a mother of six, she did finally see her oncologist two weeks ago, but is still waiting for physical therapy and a scan needed for a new drug treatment. Erika is ready to beat cancer again.

Information on elective surgeries from the American Hospital Association can be found here.

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