Expert Offers Patients with Cancer, Caregivers Tips for Handling COVID-19

April 6, 2020

If you or someone in your home does contract coronavirus, your doctor may suspend or delay your cancer treatments to protect your immune system, an expert from Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology notes.

Dr. John M. Koval, a board-certified radiation oncologist and member of Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology, recently spoke with CURE® and provided some tips for patients with cancer and their caregivers to help them cope during these uncertain times.

“As a patient with cancer or their caregiver, you’re undoubtedly concerned about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” Koval said.

Educate Yourself

While COVID-19’s fatality rate is considered low — it’s about 1% in the United States at the time of this writing — we do know that individuals with existing health conditions like cancer will be at greater risk for more severe infections and additional complications.

Coronavirus, like the flu and pneumonia, is an illness of the respiratory system. Anyone with cancer, undergoing treatment for cancer or recovering from that treatment will be at higher risk for complications with this illness.

Protect Yourself

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person, between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

You can help stop the spread of germs by always covering your coughs, washing your hands and personal items like phones and keyboards (thoroughly and frequently) and avoiding touching your face. These steps not only help prevent you from spreading germs, but also minimize your contact with others’ germs.

Stay at home as much as you can to limit your risk of exposure and transmission. Restrict activities outside your home, except for ongoing, necessary commitments or medical care.

When you must venture out, wash your hands thoroughly and often. Change out of the clothes you wear outside the home as quickly as possible and launder them to eliminate anything you might have picked up.

Leaving shoes outside for natural sanitizing by the sun’s UV rays is an option, or you can wipe the soles down with sanitizing wipes to deal with anything tracked off of carpets, sidewalks or other surfaces.

Be Patient

You were probably already practicing social distancing — whether you knew it or not — before this pandemic began as a way to protect your health. With community-wide public health measures in place, you may feel less connected to others than you did before, and we can’t say yet when these measures will be lifted. The uncertainty and the increased isolation — from family and your care team — can be frustrating. If you haven’t already, this is a great time to plan ways to distract yourself from the negatives and focus on the positives.

If you or someone in your home does contract coronavirus, your doctor may suspend or delay your cancer treatments to protect your immune system, which is already working overtime. This will be frustrating, but it’s a measure to support your long-term health. Maintain your trust in your doctor and your treatment plan.

Communicate with Your Care Teams

Practice self-awareness and report anything that seems off or different about your health.

The incubation period for coronavirus is two to 14 days, and the symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath. If you note these, it’s wise to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice, which is to call your doctor immediately and let them know you’d like to come in for testing. In the meantime, separate yourself from others in your home as much as possible.

Keep your entire care team advised if anyone you know has contracted or is being monitored or tested for the virus.

Care for Yourself

Maintain a healthy eating and exercise regimen, manage your stress and protect your sleep.

Do something that you love and makes you feel good every day.

Don’t forget to laugh. Life is undoubtedly unsettled and upsetting at the moment, but a good laugh is good medicine.

Engaging in gentle movement like walking outside will improve your mood and boost your natural vitamin D.

If frequent handwashing is causing dry, cracked skin, massage your hands with a little organic coconut oil after each wash. Coconut oil has the added advantage of being antimicrobial, antibacterial and antifungal, as well as comforting to skin.


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