Doctors and nurses are begging people to stay home so they can save lives
Dr. Ahmed Rabea, NurseTimes/Facebook

Many Americans have begun adjusting to life under social distance measures, staying at home and away from other humans as much as possible. But not everyone has hopped aboard the "flatten the curve" wagon, and healthcare workers have a message for those who haven't.

Stay. Home. If you are able, stay at home and away from people. If you won't do it for yourself or for the elderly and immunocompromised, do it for the doctors and nurses who are literally putting their own lives on the line to make care for those who are ill. Right now, every hospital in the nation is preparing for a wave of COVID-19 patients, and medical experts are hoping Americans do what needs to be done to keep that wave from becoming a tsunami.


Doctors and nurses have taken to social media to encourage people to abide by the recommendation to stay at home as much as possible. A physician named Dr. Ahmed Rabea shared a selfie with a sign that reads, "I stayed at work for you. You stay at home for us!" It's a plea to all Americans to take action to slow the spread of the virus.

If we fail at this, our healthcare system will be overwhelmed in the coming weeks with more critically ill patients than hospitals can handle. There won't be enough hospital beds. There won't be enough life-saving ventilators, and people will die who don't need to.

Dr. Ahmed Rabea

Italy has already shown us what happens when people don't take this virus seriously enough early enough, as their hospitals have been overrun and healthcare workers are struggling with having to decide which patients to treat and which patients to leave to their fate.

(Yes, Italy's population is older than the U.S. But our age demographics aren't as drastically different as people are making it sound. Italy's over-65 age group makes up 22 percent of its population vs. 15 percent in the U.S. And Italy has more hospital beds and doctors per 1000 people than the U.S. has. We can't think it won't happen here.)

An Italian nurse named Irene shared a selfie of her own, completely wrapped in protective equipment, holding a sign that translates as: "Those who think 'It will not happen to me' will be the next person to be infected!!! Stay at home!!!"

She also wrote about the emotional toll Italy's coronavirus crisis is taking.

"Yesterday I had the first emotional breakdown," she wrote. "I cried a lot because on my way home from work the city was crowded with people. I live near a big park and walked past it to get home. There were groups of people doing exercises, others running their dogs (at least three of them).

Meanwhile, the materials to protect us are starting to run out.

You don't understand. You don't have to find a way around the system. You have to stay home. Period.
STAY AT HOME.
STAY HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

An American nurse, Ashley Barton, also shared the message that people need to stay put, pointing out repeatedly that "It's not about you."

She wrote:

"It's not about you.

I'm a nurse working on the front line of COVID-19. When I mean front line, I mean since the hospital essentially went on lockdown since this virus was announced a pandemic, I've been working at the main entrance screening every single person that walks in those doors. Even those who are trying to find the Emergency Department so they can be tested for COVID-19.

Every single person gets asked the same series of questions. If you fail the screening you are asked to leave.

It is the same criteria for staff.

Let me tell you—many people are very unhappy about this.

But guess what, it's not about you.

It's about the mother of 3 undergoing chemotherapy on the Cancer Ward that has zero immune system.

It's about the 30 week old NICU baby that has already had to fight every single day of its life to stay alive.

It's about the favourite uncle that just had a massive stroke and is just barely out of the woods.

It's about the father of 2 who just had open heart surgery and has a long road of healing ahead.

It's about the grandmother who had broken her hip last week and is just beginning to mobilize again.

It's about protecting them. Not about punishing you.

I was yelled at on multiple occasions over the past couple of days while I worked my shifts.

"Well this isn't fair- Yes, I travelled recently but I don't have symptoms!"

"I have other places to be- the restricted hours are going to make me late"

"You will never understand until you have children!!"

"You have got to be kidding me- I'll have to wait in the car while my family member visits?!"

I'll say it again—IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU.

I have a 13 month old son, I have elderly grandparents, I have people in my family who are very susceptible to getting ill and have a very difficult time recovering when they do get sick—I do not want them to contract this virus—and they aren't currently hospitalized.

People in the hospital are already immunocompromised, one more virus—especially this particular one—could KILL them.

This is a matter of life and death. Stop being selfish and think of everyone else who is already fighting for their lives here.

Yell at me? Fine. I can take it. I'm human, and I understand your frustrations. Honestly, we wish you could be with your loved ones, it decreases anxiety in the patients, facilitates healing and most definitely makes our jobs as busy nurses just a little bit easier. But policy is policy for a reason—it's not for punishment I can promise you that.

Maybe try to see things from our perspective before totally losing self control—we honestly are just looking out for those who really need it right now.

Thank you."

Out of respect for these heroes on the front line of this crisis, let's do what they're asking us to do. If you can, stay home.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."