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How Patients with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Are Equipped to Handle the COVID-19 Pandemic


Patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia are at risk for the worst of COVID-19 symptoms, but going on the cancer journey has prepared them for the pandemic.

Treatment that weakens the immune system can often leave patients with cancer at a higher risk of illness from infections such as the new coronavirus (COVID-19). But according to Brian Koffman, the co-founder, executive vice president and chief medical officer of the CLL Society, patients with cancer, for example, those with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), may be better equipped to handle to challenges of avoiding illness thanks to their experience with cancer.

CURE® recently spoke with Koffman about how patients who are living with CLL may have to be more careful due to their immunocompromised states, but they may also be more experienced with staying safe and healthy given their treatment.


This will pass. We are the experts. We know how to handle a chronic illness. In some ways, it’s much easier to handle an acute illness, because many of us have been handling this for years, some of us for decades. So, we know what we have to do and what we don’t have to do.

The best course for us is to avoid getting the disease, and the guidelines are pretty clear. They’re exactly the same for us, we just have to do it better, and we just have to be extra careful about them. It’s like, you don’t have to wear two masks; you just wear a mask. You don’t have to not touch your face twice; you just don’t touch your face. So, we just have to be more careful, but we’re also more experienced at doing those things.

So, we will get through this, and there is lots of good advice out there and lots of support out there. But it’s not going to be a smooth path. I suspect that things will be bumpy. We’ll probably have resurgence of the disease in some communities, in hotspots that jump up again. We may find that we may take two steps forward and three back and we may find that it’s a bumpy road.

And I don’t think that there’s an absolute clear path yet for people like ourselves who are more vulnerable, in terms of how we’re going to be reintegrated into the community. But I think what we need to do is stay together and advocate for ourselves and for each other and be a strong community together and we will get through this.

And like I say, fewer of us (with CLL) are getting this than other people because we’re experienced in handling it. I’m optimistic that this will pass and that we’ll get through it and maybe a larger percentage of CLL patients will come out of this the other side than maybe some others.

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