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Orillia cancer survivor praises front-line 'angels' at OSMH

'Everyone at the hospital was really wonderful,' says Helen Robb, 75, who underwent chemotherapy treatment in the midst of the pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drag on, some services at Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital have been put on hold. Thankfully for Helen Robb, the oncology unit is business as usual.

Robb, 75, recently completed a three-month course of chemotherapy to treat lymphoma in her neck, and she says the care she received from the hospital’s cancer specialists “was second to none.”

“I have nothing but great admiration for the nurses in the oncology department, and also every other department where I had to go and have tests done,” the 75-year-old told OrilliaMatters. “Everyone at the hospital was really wonderful. To see what these front-line workers are doing for us firsthand right now showed me that these people are angels.” 

Even in the midst of the pandemic, Robb says hospital staff never showed any signs of fear, fatigue or stress during her time at the hospital.

“They are true professionals,” she says. “If they were short-staffed at any time while I was there, I was never aware of it. They never complained about anything.”

Robb says the healthcare workers were focused solely on helping her complete her treatments, which concluded last Thursday.

“It helps when you are dealing with people who are very positive, and they were nothing but positive toward me,” she says. “They gave me great suggestions for things I can do for myself, they gave me some tips on overcoming tiredness and all the little things that you experience when things aren’t so wonderful.”

Shantelle Pollon, the manager of the oncology unit at OSMH, says hearing praise from a patient means everything to the staff, especially during the pandemic.

“It's a privilege to serve our community,” she says. “Hearing patients compliment us about the care they’ve received is very motivating to everyone involved in their care.”

“It’s particularly inspiring during the pandemic when we know everyone—patients, families, and staff—are all feeling added stress,” she continues. “We often hear how appreciative patients are to be able to receive this type of care closer to home.”   

While Pollon admits the pandemic has made it extra challenging for staff to provide patient care, she says it has also been difficult for a lot of the patients.

"Many patients are also enduring the personal hardship of receiving their treatments without the support of a friend or family member sitting beside them due to the visiting restrictions in place,” she says. “We know that isn’t always easy.”

As part of the hospital’s surge and contingency planning in the face of COVID, the oncology unit was relocated to the main floor in November 2020 to make room for additional in-patient beds in the Harvie-2 unit.

Thankfully, the change of space did not result in any change of care for cancer patients, Pollon says. Although there have been some staffing limitations during the pandemic, she says it’s nothing the oncology unit has not been able to overcome.

“We have certain staffing guidelines that we must maintain for the safe delivery of chemotherapy medications, and we’ve been able to do that throughout the pandemic,” she says.