Italian doctor's cancer battle helps her bond with coronavirus patients

ARONA, Italy (Reuters) - Marta Gravellone, a young doctor making house calls on coronavirus patients, knew what it was like to be ill and isolated long before the pandemic hit her home in northern Italy.

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Two years ago, she recovered from a battle with cancer - an experience she keeps in mind as she goes on her rounds in the towns and villages on the banks of Lake Maggiore.

“I certainly understand what isolation means, what illness means and what it means to feel alone when you are sick,” the 29-year-old tells Reuters.

“So I try to make people feel less lonely and, let’s say, more cared for.”

Gravellone visits house-bound patients with another young medic, Maeva Cristophe.

They help each other suit up in protective gowns, masks and plastic face guards before each call. At one house, they check in on a young couple. In another they examine a 60-year-old man’s lungs with a portable ultrasound scanner.

Gravellone says her experience surviving cancer has given her a new perspective.

“It changes your way of dealing with the difficulties of life but also allows you to understand how (to assist) people who, in times of need, ask you for help. It has radically changed the way I work as a doctor,” she says.

The surrounding province of Novara has had more than 2,100 cases of coronavirus and more than 230 deaths, relatively low compared to the neighbouring Lombardy region.

The infection has also devastated the local economy - the tourists who would usually be thronging the lake’s shores and picturesque towns have stayed away.

“We have seen that everyone has been really affected, from the richest to the least wealthy, from the healthiest to the least healthy,” said Cristophe.

“It is a situation that has made us all equal.”

Writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Heavens