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Lung Cancer Patient Criticized For Not Wearing Mask

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Published on June 17, 2020

During the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are wearing masks to protect ourselves and others. But there can be judgement when others choose not to wear them.
 
That's what happened to lung cancer patient Gina Hollenbeck. She posted a picture of herself running at the gym while not wearing a mask and received a lot of negative feedback about it. In this segment from our recent Answers Now program, Gina talks to host Esther Schorr about what happened, explains her reasoning behind it and shares what she will do moving forward.
 
This is the second part of a three-part series. Watch Part 1 at Breast Cancer Patient Hassled For Wearing Mask and Part 3 at Masks Are a Health Issue, Not a Political One of this program.

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Transcript | Lung Cancer Patient Criticized For Not Wearing Mask

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Esther Schorr:

So Gina, you're a stage IV lung cancer patient and an advocate, and I understand you're also the President of the ALK Plus Outreach Group. Have I said that correctly?

Gina Hollenbeck:

ALK Positive.

Esther Schorr:

Oh, sorry, ALK Positive. That's right. Sorry. You recently posted a picture on your Facebook page wearing a mask. What happened?

Gina Hollenbeck:

Yeah. I've had a left lobectomy and I have been living with people who are not quite so respectful of my six foot distance for quite a while. The medicine that I'm on makes me immune compromised, especially to upper respiratory infections. But for me, I posted the picture of me in a mask because I always wear a mask, much like this, a little t-shirt mask. Here's my other one. I wear them usually when I go to Target or the grocery store or somewhere like that.

Now it's really important that everybody understands that those types of masks don't protect us. They don't protect us from COVID-19. It's very important that we understand that. But what it does do is it prevents the droplet spread from me to other people. Now there have been some reports that there's been the spread of COVID-19 from asymptomatic people. So that means people who don't have fever, don't have any symptoms can still spread the disease, especially young people seem to be that way. So it is important that we're all wearing masks.

However, the sad part about COVID-19 is everyone has become quite judgmental of other people. When you see something that you think isn't right then without getting all the details, sometimes you can really get angry maybe. I think it's really important that if you're immune compromised, that you learn to protect yourself, because we can't depend on the people around us to protect us, we have to protect us. And so that's why it's really important for me to make sure I'm always practicing proper hand hygiene and making sure that if I don't know if somebody's sick or I haven't been around them, they're not my family member, that I stay two arm’s length away from them. That's usually ... the way that I feel. But the reason I ... that I'm so sorry, my dog's barking.

Esther Schorr:

We all have dogs. Some of us have dogs. It's okay.

Gina Hollenbeck:

The reason I posted the picture of the mask is because I got quite a bit of hate mail. I had posted prior to the picture of me in the mask, a picture of me running on the treadmill at the gym. At my gym they do temperature checks, they wash the equipment before and after people and they all have strict social distancing. So for me, running in the gym is how I keep my body healthy. I'm actively undergoing targeted chemotherapy, so I have to make sure that I stay healthy.

Anyway, I got quite a bit of hate mail on that thing that I wasn't representing the lung cancer community very well and that I was doing a disservice to people. So I think it's really important that we make sure that we're not judging people by their actions, whether they wear a mask or whether they don’t. But if you're immune compromised, you have to make sure that you're protective of yourself.

Esther Schorr:

So you set up parameters for yourself of what works for you, which makes sense, and it sounds like when you posted this about you're feeling comfortable at the gym without a mask, you were making that judgment based on the changes in that environment. I think it sounds like ... most people say, "Oh my God, she's in the gym. How could she not have a mask?" But the reality is different now, right?

Gina Hollenbeck:

Exactly.

Esther Schorr:

Right. And I think that probably there's going to be a period of adjustment where people understand that this whole thing of opening up is going to be very different across different businesses, in different parts of the country, and that especially people who are immune compromised are going to have to look at how much opening up is okay for me. It's difficult because it's not the same as it was before; that judgment.

Are you going to continue to go to the gym without a mask? And what are you going to say, if you do that and you get kick back again?

Gina Hollenbeck:

Well, I definitely have gotten kick back. I've been living in this immune compromised state for over a year, and so I know how to do it. I go to football games that have crowded venues, but I don't sit in the crowd. I make sure that I socially distance myself, but I can still go to the games and I can still live. That's one of the things that is really important to me. I also make sure I always have hand sanitizer and I'm always washing my hands anytime I can, because I know that that's another great way that viruses and bacteria spread. For me, I want to keep living. For me, being out and seeing my kids play sports is important to me, so I have to just make sure that I set up those parameters, and that's how I get back to normal.

Esther Schorr:

Well, and I really appreciate you. You brought up handwashing. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. I think people wash their hands, but they haven't been washing them this way as a regular course of events and I guess that's-wash them. Just keep washing them.

Gina Hollenbeck:

[inaudible 00:18:40] a long time.

Esther Schorr:

Yeah exactly. Well, thank you. We'll get all of us together again shortly.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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