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Watch now: Visitors were limited, but Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center cancer center maintained treatments
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Watch now: Visitors were limited, but Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center cancer center maintained treatments

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SBLHC cancer center

Jamie Easton, clinical director of the Regional Cancer Center at Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center, stands outside the center that recently returned to allowing patients to have others accompany them to treatments. Restricting the additional visitors was probably the biggest change made at the facility during the coronavirus pandemic, Easton said.

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MATTOON — The coronavirus pandemic changed so many things for so many people, but one thing that didn’t change was that people like Mike Lucier could get the treatment they needed.

A Mattoon resident, Lucier said he not only was able to get his regular chemotherapy treatments but he also experienced a bonus opportunity that helped his health as well.

It was during treatment at the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center Regional Cancer Center that he and his wife received their COVID-19 vaccinations.

A nurse at the cancer center “went out of her way” to get the vaccination for Lucier’s wife when extra vaccine was available, he said. It meant she received it earlier than expected, as she’s not in the current categories that qualify for vaccinations, he said.

“The nurses are guardian angels,” Lucier said. “They’re the nicest group of people you could meet.”

When the pandemic hit, the center and the rest of SBLHC implemented many of the same precautions as a multitude of other locations, requiring face masks to be worn, increasing cleaning and more.

For the hospital and its patients, though, a bigger change was restrictions on who could accompany patients to their visits and treatment sessions.

It was a big loss not to have someone along when a cancer patient went to the center for treatment, cancer center Clinical Director Jamie Easton said.

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“It definitely provides them with that emotional support,” she said of a cancer patient not having to face treatment alone.

Lucier said his wife went with him when it was allowed. She stopped when it ended up he slept through most of his seven- to eight-hour chemotherapy sessions, and he’s OK alone, he added.

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Still, it’s easy to see that other patients are at least somewhat more at ease now that having someone with them is allowed again, he said.

“I’m sure those people appreciate that,” he said.

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Cancer center patient Diane Paraiso, a Strasburg resident, said she doesn’t have anyone with her during her treatments but knows it was difficult for others when it wasn’t allowed.

She’s been through various treatments for different cancer diagnoses since 1986, and said the pandemic didn’t present any problems, “none whatsoever,” with her being treatment.

“They keep a close eye on me,” Paraiso said. “I can’t say enough good things about the center.”

People were allowed to return to accompanying patients into the cancer center a couple of weeks ago, Easton said.

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There were some exceptions, such as for new consultations, when the restriction was in place and the center continues to offer remote visits when they can be used, she said.

Easton also said the center’s staff did “a great job” explaining the restrictions to patients when they were in place.

“For the most part, everybody was very understanding,” she said of patients cooperating with the precautions.

And there was never a time when hospital officials had to consider not allowing patients to be treated at the cancer center because of the pandemic, she added.

“We didn’t have to go down that road,” she said. “Treatment is very important and we knew that needed to continue.”

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Dave Fopay is a reporter for the JG-TC who covers Coles County, the local court system, Charleston schools and more.

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