It’s important now more than ever to seek medical treatment if you start experience concerning symptoms. Just ask Kathleen Sharp, who was able to catch an otherwise worrisome health condition and was able to receive treatment before it progressed any further

Coronavirus Updates, Your Health | one year ago

Pandemic No Match – And No Reason to Wait – For Atrium Health’s COVID-Safe Care

We understand patients may be worried about seeking care, but it’s important now more than ever to seek medical treatment if you start experience concerning symptoms. Just ask Kathleen Sharp, who was able to catch an otherwise worrisome health condition and was able to receive treatment before it progressed any further.

Kathleen Sharp isn’t a medical professional in the term’s clinical sense. But she has worked in the healthcare industry for 30 years – currently as a senior lean business leader for Atrium Health – long enough to know the importance of listening to one’s body.

Even when a pandemic is brewing.

In February, Sharp began working on Atrium Health’s COVID-19 response.

“We worked day in and day out, trying to increase volume of personal protective equipment (PPE) and find masks for the community,” Sharp says.

One project involved having masks stitched together by 1,200 sewers across four states. Another program centered on creating PPE out of snorkel equipment. “I was very busy and COVID was in my thoughts every single day,” she says.

But that didn’t stop Sharp from getting a checkup by her OB/GYN when she began experiencing some discomfort and post-menopausal bleeding. The decision to forge ahead revealed a situation that could’ve led to serious health problems if ignored. Sharp was diagnosed with Stage 1 endometrial cancer, a type of uterine cancer. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, many other individuals have paused when contemplating visits to their healthcare provider.

“People have been delaying their screenings, such as pap smears, physical exams, mammograms and colonoscopies to name a few,” says Laura Lowder, MD, an OB/GYN with Atrium Health Piedmont GYN/OB-Ballantyne who treated Sharp. “Several patients are concerned about entering offices for routine screenings. They might be having symptoms that they believe are normal, however they could be signs of something more concerning that warrants further examination.”

Dr. Lowder says most patients appear to be returning, however it’s difficult to know if patients are remaining on-schedule with appointments. Teams are diligently playing catch-up on a lot of appointments that were missed during the months when appointments were halted due to COVID-19. Thankfully, Sharp did come in for her care and is receiving the treatment she needed.

Every Possible Precaution in Place

After visiting with Dr. Lowder, Sharp was scheduled to undergo a total hysterectomy on April 30 to treat her cancer, but due to North Carolina’s statewide suspension of elective and non-urgent procedures and surgeries, her case was rescheduled for July 7.

“Of course, the community saw a much bigger surge and more COVID cases in July than in April,” Sharp says. Human nature made her a little bit nervous, but she was reassured by her first-hand knowledge of Atrium Health’s protocols. “But as a process professional, I knew we had all the processes and safeguards in place to make it safe.”

Every person entering the building undergoes a temperature check and a limited number of entrances are in use. Patients who arrive for reasons associated with COVID-19 are separated from patients with no signs or symptoms of the virus. The layers of safety measures include masks, social distancing, color-coded wristbands to confirm patients have gone through appropriate screening, and series of COVID-related questions at multiple points, even via phone prior to arrival.

“That gave me great peace of mind,” Sharp says. “It also helped me go ahead and follow through on the procedure. I knew I needed a hysterectomy.”

An Unexpected Discovery

 Knowing she would be under the care of U.S. News & World’s Report’s nationally ranked cancer center, Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute, she knew she would be in good hands.

Sharp especially appreciates the care she received during her first post-op exam, when Lowder said the incisions were healing well. Then she said they needed to talk about pathology. “She paused and said we would take a couple of deep breaths together because she wanted me to hear more than the next sentence,” Sharp says. “Such great emotional intelligence. She knew if I heard the word ‘cancer’ I wouldn’t hear anything else.”

“Dr. Lowder really wanted me to hear and take in what she had to tell me. She said the treatment and cure for what they found was the exact treatment I had just undergone. But they wanted to be really thorough so they sent me to Dr. Brown, who confirmed I wouldn’t need any additional treatment.”

The Time Is Always Now

Jubliee Brown, MD – a gynecologist oncologist at Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute – continued to see a high volume of patients as the coronavirus raged because their treatments were not optional. However, she detected a noticeable difference that she attributes to the pandemic.

“Patients come in sicker than potentially they would’ve been before,” Dr. Brown says. “I think that reflects people not wanting to come in earlier, trying to stay home and stay safe.”

Worry is unlikely the only reason that some individuals delay doctor visits. Selflessness could play a role, too, meaning concern that the medical system is overwhelmed and needs to concentrate on COVID-19 with as little distraction as possible.

“I’ve heard that from some of my neighbors in the community,” Sharp says. “They don’t want to bother healthcare workers. But this is what providers are trained to do and they’re passionate about it. It’s a gift when the system can treat patients in early stages rather than after something has progressed, and more resources are needed.”

“It’s not selfish to come and get treatment,” she says. “It’s kindness to yourself, your family and people who love you. And it’s kindness to the providers to allow them to serve you. That’s what they are here to do.”

As Atrium Health continues to ramp up care levels and more people consider visiting a physician for the first time in months, Brown has an urgent message: “It’s important for patients to know it’s safe within our facilities,” she says. “Patients should have every confidence they can get regular healthcare in a safe manner.

“Kathleen has an extremely high likelihood of cure,” Brown says. “Her entire journey is a testament to how we do things – from welcoming the patient at the front, to our outstanding nursing care, to patient navigation, to the genetic component of testing that we do on her cancer, not to mention to latest surgical care and technology that we can use to make her journey easier.“

Want to know what to expect when you come in for your surgery or procedure? Watch the short video here.

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