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

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

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.


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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Thank you for sharing this article!

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

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

  1. I’m curious to know how and if Lymphedema is going to be a risk factor. Considering it affects the immune system. I have sent a message to my doctor asking. Hoping, I get a response. But, I also realize that this is a noval virus.

    1. Hi Mary,
      I’m a fellow lymphedema patient with a blog, and actually just wrote a post on the topic of the coronavirus and lymphedema — Nancy gave me the OK to share it here: https://thelymphielife.com/2020/03/14/the-coronavirus-and-lymphedema-should-i-be-worried/

      The short answer is no, lymphedema alone does not make us more susceptible to the coronavirus, however the frequent handwashing may prove difficult if you wear a compression glove or sleeve. The Lymphoedema Support Network created a really informative fact sheet with tips on how to handle that: https://www.lymphoedema.org/images/pdf/COVID-19.pdf

      Hope that helps!

      Be well,

  2. What I also think is interesting is that we (meaning my immediate family and I) have been doing most of the tips to keep ourselves safe from the Coronavirus for the last three years (when I was diagnosed) and while this new concern is pretty bad, it’s also not that novel to be concerned about germs and how the kiddos bring home so many from school. I think it may be helpful to remind healthy people that these concerns that are occupying the minds of the world right now are the worries that keep those of us terminal patients up at night, every night. Maybe others could see more clearly what we endure. Thank you for adding your voice, Nancy! ❤️

  3. Hello Nancy! I hope you are doing well. Do keep us posted about your upcoming surgery, please.

    Honestly, this situation got me worried since the beginning. A virus we don’t have enough information about + not being prepared as a country to face it is a huge problem. And we all react differently to situations so this too can contribute to the chaos, because well, not everyone thinks of the safety of others (reminds me of bc awareness and research). And I think that’s the key here, we have to think big picture and consider the entire community, not just us.

    Work sent us home. We are remote and wondering if there will be layoffs because of the impact on the economy. We are safe at home, but worried of the unknown. We have older family members who are at risk (one recently had surgery). And we sometimes need to get food so we leave our home hoping nothing happens.

    I only want to emphasize the importance of isolating ourselves. Kids especially need to be home, because although the virus doesn’t affect them as much, they can still spread it. And kids aren’t careful! We all need to collaborate and follow instructions. This is serious and it will impact our economy so the more we collaborate, the sooner we can recuperate. And God bless our medical staff!

    Stay safe my friend! xoxo

    1. Rebecca, It’s good to hear from you. I am glad you are staying home as much as possible. We are too. There are so many unknowns in this situation, which always makes things scarier. My surgery is actually scheduled soon, so not sure what’ll be happening there. I’ll write a post about it soon hopefully. Certainly adds to my stress. As you said, the big picture is so important, and we are truly in this together. Thank you for taking time to comment. You stay safe, too, friend. And yes, God bless our medical staff.

  4. I’m trying to stay home more for the sake of others who are at higher risk than me. I wish more younger people would take it seriously.

    1. Lindsay, I wish they would too. I think the seriousness of the situation is finally starting to sink in, hopefully for the entire population. So glad you’re staying home and thinking about those at higher risk. Thank you for commenting.

      1. I’m trying my best to self quarantine,not just for the health of myself and husband, but for others as well. However, after about 3 days I find myself failing miserably! We’re all so used to coming and going as we please and to tell the truth, being in the house for too many hours with the man I swore to love in sickness and in health can get a mite stressful!! So I recommend taking short walks or at least sitting out on the porch for a while. Find your happy place! Everybody stay well out there!

        1. Donna, It’s not easy is it? I work from home, and I am a homebody by nature. And yet, when my choice in the matter of staying home is not entirely mine anymore, it somehow feels quite different. Weird. But true. I highly recommend taking walks too. Good luck staying put and thanks for sharing. You stay well too.

  5. Husband and I are now in our 9th day of “sheltering in place”. I am Stage IV and he has diabetes and had open heart surgery almost 11 months ago. We discussed our plans and decided this was 1 thing (before mandated) that we could do to help. We original had planned early AM visit to grocery store but decided even that wasn’t a great idea; so this week I have received my first delivery of online grocery shopping. It’s just fine. Hate not picking out my own but will survive!! I do go out for at least a 20 minute walk in the neighborhood, where I only see a couple people and all social distance, while mostly smiling and waving. Friend has set up a daily short “visit” via text with 7, mostly strangers to me, just to check-in. I daily facetime 13 yr old Granddaughter to check in and ask how her homework is going, remind her to get out in her own backyard for a bit of sunshine. Of course she smiles at me and says uh huh.
    My BFF of 64 years sent out an email to 6 of us with her favorite recent books; so we all added some to the list.
    This is very stressful and scary. My heart is breaking for all who have lost their jobs. We have to stick together to get thru this. Thanks Nancy for being another point of contact. Take care and be safe.

    1. Chris, It is stressful and scary for everyone, but especially for those such as you and your husband who are also dealing with those underlying medical conditions. Sounds like you’ve figured out how to make “sheltering in place” work for you as best you can. Hoping you both stay well. Hoping we all do. Thank you for sharing your strategies for dealing with this.

  6. You don’t realize how many of your friends and family have “underlying conditions”, until something like this happens. Asthma, age, diabetes, heart issues, smoking…so many issues that can cause complications when you get this awful virus. Many of us have these issues PLUS cancer! Pretty scary. Your list of “what you can do” is pretty comprehensive but there is one thing I’d like to add that I didn’t see listed.

    Anyone who is shopping should be aware that the virus can linger on surfaces for quite a while so if you are bringing home groceries remember ; don’t place your grocery bags on the counters; sanitize items as you unload them, either with a Sani wipe or soap and water; place all empty plastic bags in the garbage (or recycle if you have it); clean and sanitize all surfaces that the groceries have touched; wash your hands carefully using proper protocol.

    I know that all of these precautions we’re reading about seem like overkill but they aren’t. Think of them as an investment that is going to allow you to be alive and healthy so you can enjoy your children and grandchildren (and pets), in the coming years. This is war and we need to stand together.

    Good luck everyone and stay healthy.

    1. Lennox, You are so right about many of us not being aware that so many people have underlying conditions until something like this happens. Such an important point. And yes, many have such a condition in addition to the cancer. Your other point about the virus lingering on surfaces is so important too. I have a feeling we have much yet to learn about this virus. But we sure are learning how serious it is. Again, you’re right – this is a war and we are all in it, like or not. Good luck to you too and stay healthy. Thank you for adding your insights.

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