What Can Cancer Patients (or anyone) Do to Protect Themselves & Others During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

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I had not planned to write a post about the novel corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19). What could I add to this conversation?

After all, I am not a doctor. I am not a nurse. I am not a public health expert. I am not an expert on much of anything, certainly not on medical stuff. However, I am a concerned advocate, and I do believe we can ALL make a difference.

This is my platform. So here goes. Be sure to share YOUR thoughts, insights and advice with a comment below too. As always, sharing helps us feel less alone.

Please remember this blog is never a substitute for medical advice from your doctor(s). If you have specific questions, speak with your medical team.

Up until the last week or so, I gotta admit, I hadn’t been paying a whole lot of attention to all the news coverage about COVID-19. Sure, I was tuning into the news every day and hearing basic updates, but I wasn’t really thinking that much about how this whole thing might impact me. Not proud to admit that, but it’s true.

(Well, that has certainly changed! This fast evolving story is now on everyone’s mind 24/7.)

In my defense, some of my not paying attention was due to the fact that Dear Hubby and I were recently out of state on vacation. For the most part, we were successful at staying offline and keeping the TV off. This is supposed to be a good thing, right?

On our three-day drive home (we love road trips) we caught up and realized how quickly this particular news story was evolving.

Upon our return, we visited Best Mother-in-law Ever, and upon entry into her care facility, we encountered a white board with clear stipulations about who could or could not proceed beyond the front entrance. Visits were limited to immediate family only. Anyone with a fever, cough or other respiratory-type symptom was prohibited from visiting as was anyone who had recently traveled out of the country. Hand sanitizing was expected and available. A person was sitting at the entrance to be sure the posted rules were being followed. No exceptions.

Dear Hubby and I applauded the restrictions and guidelines because, of course, we want Best Mother-in-Law Ever and the other residents to remain healthy and safe. We chatted approvingly with that person at the front desk.

Update: No visitors now at her long-term care facility. No communal dining. Residents restricted to their rooms.

While driving home, it sunk in more fully that individuals in the 60+ age bracket are being considered as part of the high, or at least higher-risk, segment of the population at greatest risk of developing complications from COVID-19.

“Shit,” Dear Hubby remarked. “We’re in the same category as my mother.”

She’s 92.

Yep, that over-60 group is pretty encompassing. Talk about humbling.

It’s important to mention that the older a person is and/or the more underlying health issues a person has, the greater the risk.

Often journalists and news outlets get criticized for over-blowing a story, or as in this case, contributing to panic. But an overabundance of caution is far better than an under-abundance of action. It’s sad when confidence in our president and what he says is just not there. We are depending on journalists more than ever these days to keep us informed. And in this case, the scientists and other public health experts as well.

Next on my list of things to do, was heading to the store to replenish our cupboards and refrigerator. I quickly became aware that at least a mild sort of panic had set in at my local shopping establishments. Hand sanitizer – sold out. Lysol wipes (and other brands as well) gone. Toilet paper shelves almost empty and limited to one pack per customer.

WTF?

When people are worried they might be stuck in their homes for a while, I guess they stockpile what they think they might need for the duration.

Preparing or overreacting?

We all have opinions about this, too, I guess.

If you’re a cancer patient presently undergoing treatment, you are also in the high-risk group because treatment likely compromises your immune system.

Yep, cancer treatment puts you in the high-risk category, along with those elderly dear ones. If you have a condition such as diabetes, heart disease or lung disease, you’re at a higher risk as well.

Cancer patients MUST take special precautions during this pandemic.

The following are listed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) site as precautions we can all take, but they’re especially important if you’re at higher risk:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or having been in a public place.
  • If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • To the extent possible, avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places – elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, handshaking with people, etc. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something.
  • Wash your hands after touching surfaces in public places.
  • Avoid touching your face, nose, eyes, etc.
  • Clean and disinfect your home to remove germs: practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces (for example: tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks & cell phones)
  • Avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces. Your risk of exposure to respiratory viruses like COVID-19 may increase in crowded, closed-in settings with little air circulation if there are people in the crowd who are sick.
  • Avoid all non-essential travel including plane trips, and especially avoid embarking on cruise ships.

In addition, be sure you’ve got meds on hand that you need and, of course, groceries and other supplies you will need to keep you going. If you’re in the high-risk group, stay home as much as possible. In fact, that’s we should all be doing – staying home.

Click on the image for tips on hand washing.

What if you have stage 4 cancer?

Instead of me going on about this, I’ll direct you to this excellent piece by my online friend Liz Johnson titled, Saving Myself from the Corona Virus, in which among other things, she writes this:

I know these next few weeks or months will change me. And in that respect, maybe that’s an advantage my disease has offered. I’ve long ago accepted that any day my health can take a turn for the worse, whether it’s corona virus or cancer.

All of this sounds pretty disturbing. Hell, it is disturbing. 

Disturbing indeed.

Bottom line, if you are stage 4, you have to be even more careful and more diligent as you try to control what you can. Self-isolating, to the extent it’s possible, is the safest thing to do.

Update: If you’re in active treatment, you might want to read, The Coronavirus and Cancer Care.

What if you’re finished with cancer treatment?

There isn’t complete agreement about risk for patients years out from cancer treatment. As is usually the case, much likely depends on a combination of factors regarding your personal state of health. You know, all that collateral damage you may or may not now have.

For more info on this I recommend that you read this excellent piece by another online friend Diane Mapes, Coronavirus: what cancer patients need to know.

Practicing social distancing is the best advice for all of us, cancer or no cancer. Again, staying home as much as is possible benefits all.

What if you are a breast cancer patient on endocrine therapy (tamoxifen, fulvestrant, or aromatase inhibitors such as letrozole, anastrozole, and exemestane)?

From what I’ve gathered (again, I am NOT a doctor or expert on anything), your immune system is supposedly not affected by these drugs. However, if you’re metastatic and taking a hormone-suppressing drug, this is not the case for you. As always, your situation is unique.

(You can bet I’ll be asking my oncologist about the above at my appointment next week.)

What if like me, you have an upcoming surgery planned?

More on my situation later. But if this is the case with you, too, be sure to discuss added risks and concerns thoroughly with your doctor before proceeding.

As my very wise PCP reminded me, you can always change your mind right up until the moment they put you under.

So, what are the symptoms of COVID-19 disease?

As you likely know by now, they’re pretty much the same as the common cold or the flu, but among others they include: fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

If you develop symptoms and are feeling concerned about what to do, call your care provider, if you have one. If you do not, contact your local public health agency or ER. As I’ve said many times, do not suffer in silence. Just do not. Get your concerns addressed and then pay attention to protocols as to what you should do. Not satisfied? Keep pressing.

During a pandemic, it’s normal to feel scared and uncertain. But there’s probably no need to panic.

Calmness is contagious too.

These are scary times, for sure. But knowledge is power. Learn what you need to in order to keep you and your loved ones safe.

It’s also the time to think beyond yourself. We all need to think about protecting others in our communities too.

Think about how you might help someone who’s feeling more scared and more uncertain than you are. Think about those, regardless of age, who have compromised immune systems.

In addition to social distancing, what are a few specific things you and I can do?

1. Perhaps think about not buying the last two containers of Lysol wipes left on the shelf when someone behind you would like to buy one too. You can stock up a bit without hoarding. Other people need stuff too.

2. Think about reaching out to your elderly neighbor or someone you know dealing with a compromised immune system and/or underlying health issues. If you’re going to the store, ask if you can buy and drop off something they need.

3. Donate food for delivery to those in need within your community. As more school closures happen, the need will likely be great. Donate online to organizations that have been vetted. Don’t be scammed.

4. Start an online group or get more active in one you’re already in. Technology can be a godsend as we practice social distancing and self-isolating behaviors.

5. Call, text or email someone who’s alone. Isolation is always hard. Social media allows us to stay connected even when we are hunkered down. A simple phone call to check on someone can mean so much.

6. Press your elected officials to do more regarding any issues that matter to you. (e.g. making free testing more available and accessible, paid sick leave, paid family leave, food for those in need, or whatever.)

7. Ask yourself, what can I do to make a difference?

8. As much as is possible, stay home!

Finally, I’ll leave you with a tweet that crossed my feed the other day that left me feeling better and even a bit inspired:

After all, we truly are in this together, and as always, what each of us does matters. A lot.

Social solidarity is a wonderful thing. We can get through this together.

Another excellent article via my friends at Breast Advocate that you might want to read is: Coronavirus: what breast cancer patients need to know.

This situation will continue to evolve. Keep up via CDC updates.

COVID-19 featured photo by CDC on Unsplash

Hand washing image via CDC

How is your life being impacted by COVID-19 thus far?

What steps are you taking to protect yourself and/or others?

What suggestions do you have for things we can all do?

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What Can You Do to Protect Yourself & Others When #Cancer & #COVID-19 Intersect? #advocacy #health #womenshealth #breastcancer #coronavirus

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