Behind the scenes: How the Mary Bird Perkins Team Ensures Care Continues during Pandemic

When cities began shutting down in March 2020, Michael Stewart, a radiation therapist, was sent home to quarantine. Among the many precautionary measures Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center initiated in the wake of COVID-19, a special response team was one of them. Michael was part of this team.

“If the disease were to spread, it could potentially close a center down and we would not be able to provide treatments for the patients,” Stewart said, referencing the areas the Cancer Center serves across the region. “And we wanted to ensure this never occurred.”

The special response team was asked to stay home and stay healthy in the first few months of the pandemic in case an outbreak occurred among team members at one of our locations. “If that would’ve happened, we were ready to fill in and continue providing those treatments.”

COVID-19 Requires Extra Support

Stewart’s career with the Cancer Center began in 1993. He administers radiation therapy prescribed to cancer patients. Working with patients as they navigate a cancer diagnosis and treatment is an environment that requires special care, but the added factor of COVID-19 made it even more important to ensure health and safety.

“People were anxious,” he said. “There was worry, so you had to be extra careful. And the Cancer Center kept a laser focus on making sure team members and patients were safe.”

With added precautions, however, the workload for team members intensified and took on an increased role of emotional care as patients could not bring family or friends with them during treatments.

“Family members had to stay in the car,” Stewart said. “But, we were happy to provide that extra patient support.”

COVID-19 Vaccine Provides Encouragement and Hope

Stewart was among the first group of Cancer Center employees to receive the vaccine when it became available to healthcare workers in December.

“I really felt I needed it,” he said. “Our patients’ immune systems are compromised from radiation and chemotherapy. Whatever I can do to protect them would be an important step to take. Getting the vaccine is that step.”

Michael and familyStewart sought out information on the vaccine. He knows there is hesitation for some, but implores the public to do their research, be informed and stay healthy. He made the decision for himself, his family and his patients. “I feel better now that I’ve gotten the vaccine,” he said. “I feel more confident about the safety of myself and others.”

While the team at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center is not taking any pause on precautionary measures, Stewart said there is a renewed sense of optimism among team members now that the vaccines have started to roll out. “There’s a positive outlook; more hopeful,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to protect our families and our patients.”