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Cancer Care Chronicles
July 23, 2020

Managing Grief, Loss, and Connection in Oncology—What COVID-19 Has Taken

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Oncology, Department of Medicine, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
JAMA Oncol. Published online July 23, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.2839

Constraints imposed by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) have changed every part of my life, but disruption of human connection with patients has been the most unsettling to me. Over 15 years as a gastrointestinal medical oncologist, I have learned from patients how to help them through terminal disease, attended workshops on how to speak about the end of life, and strived to share in patients’ grief without losing myself. But I find myself wholly unprepared to speak of death and dying across cell phones or video links with unreliable connections. I have not yet figured out how to help guide patients’ struggles with cancer—leading them toward a death with dignity and finding personal reward in our relationship—when I cannot see them, hug them, or see their love for each other. What does it take to find balance and connection in virtual oncology?

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    1 Comment for this article
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    Dealing with Cancer Grief in COVID-19
    Michael McAleer, PhD(Econometrics),Queen's | Asia University, Taiwan
    The sensitive and moving perspectives by a cancer specialist will be taken to heart by anyone who has been diagnosed with terminal and inoperable cancer, or knows someone who has been.

    Isolation from society is not unknown for cancer patients, but the added social difficulties arising from COVID-19 can lead to greater struggles in terms of distancing and associated mental health issues.

    Quality of life is essential for terminal patients, and oncologists have immense medical and emotional pressure to assist cancer patients as they approach the end.

    It is providential that oncologists have a mission that focuses on
    compassion and empathy, among others, and as gatekeepers of the quality of life of cancer patients when they need it most.

    When the time comes, cancer patients will miss their family and friends deeply, as well as their oncologist.
    CONFLICT OF INTEREST: None Reported
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