How parents of children with cancer are navigating COVID-19

Written on May 19, 2020

By Adam Mintzer | May 16, 2020 at 4:37 PM EDT – Updated May 17 at 5:25 AM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) – Children generally have more mild symptoms of COVID-19 than adults, according to the CDC. But some parents are sure contracting coronavirus could be life-threatening for their kids.

Children with cancer have weaker immune systems and therefore are more at risk of developing worse symptoms from the virus, according to Laura Allen the Executive Director of Children’s Cancer Partners of the Carolinas, a charity that provides supports to families with children who have cancer.

Allen said COVID-19 has made it more difficult for some parents to get critical appointments because of restrictions at hospitals and the spread of the disease means a single touch or interaction could put a child’s health at risk.

“I think it’s more challenging for our parents now to keep their kids safe,” Allen said. “You’re at high risk because of what you’ve been through.”

Jacqueline Harris is all too familiar with the dangers of being out in public.

Harris’ 14-year-old daughter De ‘Andria has Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), a type of cancer that infects the blood. Harris said she’s kept De ‘Andria quarantined in her home since she was diagnosed, but since the coronavirus outbreak, they’ve had to be more cautious.

Harris and De ’Andria are from Columbia but are living in a hotel in Charleston to stay separated from their family and to be closer to De ’Andria’s doctor.

“We are quarantined two hours away from our family and they can’t even come and visit. That’s the biggest thing I think for her. My daughter, dealing with this, [and] not being able to see her siblings or any other family,” Harris said.

They try to leave the hotel room at least once a day, but when they do they are wearing masks from the moment they walk out the door until they return They also are rigorous about washing or sanitizing their hands if they touch anything.

Dawn Marie Carlson is in a similar situation. Her nine-year-old daughter Shaina was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) two years ago. Her family has been frequently sanitizing, washing hands, wearing masks at times, and limiting public exposure for years.

However, as Shaina counts down the days until she can ring the bell to signal the end of her treatment, her Mom is ramping up her efforts to keep everything clean.

“This is a life or death situation. We won’t put her at risk,” she said.

Carlson is the person designated with doing most of the errands and said grocery shopping is a delicate process.

“I initially wash my hands as soon as I come through the door,” she said. “Then we wipe everything down before we put them in the refrigerator in the pantry or on the table. Then I wash my hands all over again. Then I go wash up and change my clothing…I’ll even go back to my car and use disinfecting wipes to wipe all the surfaces down that I’ve touched.”

Carlson said it’s difficult for people who are not in a similar situation to understand what she’s going through. Carlson said she’s even been mocked at the grocery store before for wearing a mask. She said in March someone was taking a picture of her as one of the few, if not only, people at the store wearing any sort of face covering. She said it hurt her feelings, but she refuses to let public pressure stop her from being as hygienic as possible.

She simply asks that as the state continues to reopen, everyone is sensitive to what other people are going through and is considerate of the precautions they may need to take.

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