Carbone Strong: T-Shirts Spread Love To Cancer Patients During COVID-19

Carbone Strong: Cancer Center nurses create a safe environment for their patients 

Cabone Strong: No matter what else is going on, UW Carbone Cancer Center nurses are there for their patients.


There’s never a great time to be dealing with cancer. Add an active pandemic to the mix, and things get even tougher.


COVID-19 has upended the way that medical facilities and hospitals operate, with many being forced to put new restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the virus. That’s especially true of cancer clinics, as patients are at a higher-risk for COVID-19 infection, because their immune systems are often weakened by cancer and its treatments.


At the UW Carbone Cancer Center and UW Health, no visitors are currently allowed for clinical appointments and inpatient stays, except for healthcare decision makers and visitors of end-of-life patients. That means patients coming in for things like chemotherapy often must do so without a loved one at their side.


The emotional impact this has had on patients has not gone unnoticed by staff.


“We really saw patients being scared and anxious about the pandemic going on, but also, they were scared and anxious because they didn’t have a support person along with them,” said Rachel Osterloo, RN, a cancer nurse at UW Carbone.


In addition, Osterloo notes that patients were coming to her and other nurses in tears, not because of their own health concerns, but because of their gratitude towards staff like her, who are putting themselves at a higher risk of COVID-19 exposure by being at the hospital.


“It just really hit home, and I was just trying to think of a way to help these people in any little way,” she said. “And the thought of t-shirts came to me.”


She pitched the idea of creating t-shirts that staff members could wear to bring a bit of joy to patients, and remind them that despite not being able to bring a companion or visitor, they never have to face cancer alone. The shirts would have a simple message: “We’re here for you – Carbone Strong.”


The staff, including cancer clinics manager Kendra O’Connell, RN, immediately jumped on board, and turned to a local screen printing company to turn the idea into reality. In the course of about a week, the shirts were printed and then shipped to the clinic.  


While staff members purchased their own shirts, another individual at UW Carbone decided to foot the bill for an additional 100 t-shirts with a slightly different spin on the Carbone Strong message, which include the phrase: “I am loved.”


That individual was UW Carbone director Howard Bailey, MD, who wanted these unique shirts to go to patients.


“We wanted to give cancer patients an additional boost during this challenging time,” Bailey said. “No one should have to face this disease alone, and our amazing clinical staff ensures that no one has to. I’m happy to support their efforts, which truly define what it means to be Carbone Strong.”


Osterloo says it’s been fun to see how her colleagues have embraced the idea. Some staff members have been ordering multiple shirts so they can wear them multiple days in a row. And even though the shirts were designed to help during a challenging time, she says the message they convey will always be true, meaning the shirts can be worn well into the future. “We want these patients to know that we are here for them, and that we’re Carbone strong through thick and thin, no matter what’s going on out there,” Osterloo said.


For her part, Osterloo downplays her role in all of this, and really emphasizes the team aspect of it all. “Just because I thought up the t-shirt idea doesn’t mean someone else wouldn’t have thought this up, or something even better,” she said. “We are definitely a group here. Every single person here is very passionate and cares for our patients, especially now. We're happy to be here for them."


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Date Published: 04/16/2020

News tag(s):  Advancescancer

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