The complexities when COVID-19 and cancer collide

Before the pandemic, Michaela Hart’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer. But in March 2020, after yet another hospital visit, something seemed off.

Her numerous compounding medical conditions left her with severe vomiting – so much so that she often ended up in the hospital for secondary treatment of ketoacidosis. When she turned 26, Nikyra – everyone calls her Nikki – was staying strong. She learned to take the ups and downs of being a patient and she knows her body and its responses.

“It was Friday the 13th,” says Michaela, VP of Quality Systems and Compliance at Roche Diagnostics in Pleasanton, California. “She started feeling sick. She had just been discharged from the hospital yet again. It’s hard to tell; is it her underlying medical conditions, or is it something else? But this time, we were also asking, is it COVID?”

Nikki is a student at the University of California, Berkeley. During spring 2020, she became too sick to continue school. They decided to keep Nikki’s apartment in Berkeley, however. The idea was to keep everything as normal as possible, hoping that Nikki would return to school.

“But she started feeling really sick, and not in the usual ways,” Michaela says. “As hard as it was to ask, I said, ‘you know, with COVID-19, you’d better self-isolate in your apartment. If I get sick, I can't take care of you.’

Nikki went to her apartment and became even sicker, with high fevers. By April, she developed a strange rash, too. Her doctor recommended that she be tested for COVID-19. The first test came back negative.

Nikki insisted on having another COVID-19 test. It took a few weeks and several phone calls; this time she tested positive. In the meantime, she used telemedicine to consult with her doctors, and had traveling healthcare workers check her vitals and administer treatments (including intravenous fluids) through her apartment door. Nikki’s main concern, Michaela says, was to not infect others.

“Taking charge of her own healthcare has given her a sense of control,” Michaela says. “Being involved and being her own medical sleuth gives her a way of owning her diagnosis, which is really important for patients.”

With underlying illness and repeated severe dehydration, it has been a long recovery road, but Nikki is feeling better. What really struck Michaela was her daughter’s strength, and her trust in being part of the Roche family – as a patient and daughter of an employee.

“Her mindset is so very positive and strong,” Michaela says.

Michaela’s career has focused on being a quality champion who brings the voice and perspective of the customer to her daily workplace decisions.

“But in this moment, I realized that I am the customer, and my daughter is the customer too,” Michaela says. “It doesn't get any closer to home than this.”

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