Family walking with masks on
Ohio Life | Live Well Ohio

Live Well Ohio: Sept./Oct. 2020

Cincinnati's Dr. Tom Lamarre shares practical advice for protecting yourself and others from COVID-19, and Judy Stall shares the hope clinical trials have given her.

A New Normal
Dr. Tom Lamarre of The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati shares practical rules for protecting yourself and others from COVID-19.   

Should you wipe off your groceries? Do you need to wear a mask at a backyard barbecue? If you open your mail with your bare hands, are you at risk of getting the coronavirus? The constant stream of information about COVID-19 is confusing. “Be careful where you get your information,” offers Dr. Tom Lamarre, medical director of infectious disease at The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati. He advises a back-to-basics approach informed by healthcare providers who are on the frontlines of helping to manage the pandemic. “There is a lot we can do safely to move forward as a society,” he says, adding, “the case attack rate is very low with an average encounter.” Average means no intense, prolonged exposure. Technically, this is defined as 15 minutes of exposure within 3 feet of an infected individual, he says. Here, Lamarre offers some practical input on how to enjoy a “new normal.” 

Dining out. Wear a mask when you are close to others. Be sure tables are appropriately distanced and wash your hands before and after eating. The server should wear a mask, along with kitchen and other restaurant staff. “Eating outdoors is the safest way to patronize a restaurant now,” Lamarre says.

Surfaces. “There is no data to suggest that the disease is transmitted from surfaces, so you don’t need to go overboard with wiping down your Amazon packages,” Lamarre says. The same goes for wiping off items you purchase from a store. Do be sure to wash or sanitize your hands, though. 

Shopping. “If you go into a crowded store and everyone is wearing a mask, it’s relatively low risk,” Lamarre says, adding that social distancing is proven to work. 

Gatherings. Avoid indoor gatherings aside from those with your immediate family. If you’re going to get together, move it outside. “The unregulated gathering of individuals in indoor spaces has led to a resurgence in cases,” Lamarre says. 

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The Power of Research
The courage to participate in a phase one clinical trial is giving this hopeful, trusting patient many more tomorrows. 

On Tuesdays, Judy Stall and her husband, Larry, talk about cancer. Only on Tuesdays, unless there is a phone call from a doctor or an extra appointment to treat her Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. “I don’t want cancer to run my life, and it’s not,” she says matter-of-factly.

Tuesdays are when she and Larry travel from their Wilmington home to The Ohio State University’s Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center to receive treatment as part of a phase one clinical trial testing a new drug that helps stop cell growth. Since 2018, Stall, 68, has received about 100 treatments in hopes of shrinking or eliminating malignant tumors in her lungs.

“In my family, it’s not a matter of if you’ll get breast cancer,” Stall says. “It’s when.”

Her maternal and paternal aunts died from the disease at 28 and 49. Her first cousins had breast cancer, and Stall faced her first diagnosis in 2011: Stage 2 cancer in her left breast. She underwent a left mastectomy followed by four rounds of chemotherapy.

“I’m very proud of my scar, to tell you the truth,” she says, adding that at first she had tried to hide the telltale surgical sign, but stopped doing that a long time ago. “It’s a perfect-looking scar, and I’m OK with it.”

Stall went into remission until 2018, when she began experiencing hiatal hernial pain in her upper stomach. She saw her primary care physician and ended up getting an MRI, where she learned the cancer had spread into her lungs. She continued care with Dr. Robert Wesolowski, the oncologist who treated her first round of cancer. He presented her with the opportunity to participate in the phase one trial, which means it is the first time a treatment is being tested on humans.

“My first reaction was, ‘I’m going to be part of something where other doctors and medical staff are going to exact information for their studies,’ ” Stall says.

Wesolowski encourages qualifying patients to participate in clinical trials to help advance science and to receive trailblazing treatment.

“Researchers are on the frontlines doing cutting-edge work that might change the way we treat terrible diseases,” he says.

Every eight weeks, Stall gets a scan to monitor the tumors in her lungs. By December 2019, they began seeing marked results. The latest scan indicated no active cancer.

“I’m hopeful,” she says. “I believe in science and technology, and I’m upbeat about that.  This is actually helping people get better.”

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