Cancer and Emergency Preparedness


How long would it take you to pack if someone from emergency preparedness were to knock on your door and say you have 24 hours or less to be ready to leave your home with no certainty it might still be livable when you return?

The 2019 hurricane season is around the corner and in Florida, we will begin preparing with a tax-free holiday at the end of May on select items identified as being part of a hurricane preparedness kit. But what about being prepared for other natural disasters? It seems, unfortunately, there have been a few natural disturbances from the fires in California to flooding in various areas and nobody is immune from a natural disaster or a potential terrorist threat. Are you prepared with an emergency ready bag? How long would it take you to pack if someone from emergency preparedness were to knock on your door and say you have 24 hours or less to be ready to leave your home with no certainty it might be livable when you return? What would you take? While hopefully you will never be in this situation, it still might be good to ask yourself these questions and consider what you need as a cancer survivor, caregiver and potentially as someone who is currently under medical care and treatment.

I can share a memory from having been pregnant and the recommendation to have a hospital bag ready before the due date. I was intending to put a hospital bag together, but as I had just begun my seventh month of pregnancy, I went into preterm labor. My son was delivered via emergency C-section as hospital staff found they were losing his heartbeat. As a first-time mother, my son was born two months early and under four pounds at birth. I had not yet packed a bag of supplies for myself or my son.

I will say making decisions under duress does not always lead to the best decisions or attention to details. While I had a pair of shoes to wear home, upon inspection, it seemed my husband, in his best effort, accidently packed a bag with two left shoes and no right shoe for me to wear home. While we can now laugh, it was another stressor at the time as my husband had to return home prior to my discharge to obtain a proper shoe. I suspect it would helpful if when packing, it is done in a calm state of mind and you consider what is needed prior to being under any duress or emergency. If nothing else, have a list of what you would need, know if you have all of the items, and where you would find needed items for an emergency or unexpected situation, as you likely may not be thinking clearly.

You can find lists of recommended items for emergency preparedness on various websites to include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and others to potentially include your own local or state-specific emergency preparedness websites, which may offer local tips and supportive resources. Checking multiple lists may give more detailed ideas. Some lists are more specific for individuals with a chronic illness and one published by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center gives some specific considerations for individuals receiving active cancer treatments or for those who might be caregivers for another with cancer.

Other considerations may include pre-registering with a local shelter for individuals with special needs. From my own awareness working with an emergency preparedness team, these shelters can fill up and may be first come, first served. There may also be options for preregistering for transportation, should you be unable to drive or rely upon public transportation. Another tip may include notifying your electric company if you are hooked up to medical equipment or need air conditioning due to a chronic illness. While they can't guarantee service, they may be able in some cases to note your account and try to get you on a preferred list, should services go down during a storm or other emergency.

From personal experience, I can say while your plan for an emergency may include evacuating, this may not always be an option depending on the emergency and ability to leave town. For those of us who experienced Hurricane Irma, for example, sometimes a threat can affect an entire state and there may be no initial way to get out or it is initially uncertain where a safe place may exist. Discuss options with family and friends and have a couple of back-up plans depending on the type of emergency involved and the given response time you may or may not have.

Should you be unable to evacuate, you might want to learn what is normally recommended in terms of having: water; nonperishable foods; recommended amounts of medication and other necessary supplies as well as ways to cook or prepare items, should a natural disaster or emergency ever result in needing to be self-sufficient for a few days.

Whatever your plan, discuss it with family or friends and include how you intend to check in on one another. Let's hope we don't ever need such a plan but based on recent disasters, a bit of preplanning can make all the difference in staying safe and in being prepared to continue your medical care and treatments in case of an emergency.

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Dr. Kelly Stratton
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