Fighting cancer requires patience, perseverance and a tremendous amount of fortitude, in most cases. Today, the threat and repercussions of a pandemic like COVID-19 has added a new dimension to the challenge and is something that we cannot wish away. The effects of the virus on cancer patients may be variable and could dependent on the status of their immune system. Since most general anti-tumor therapies lower immunity, chemotherapy can lead to increased susceptibility to COVID-19 infection and significantly higher occurrence of severe adverse clinical events, for patients who contracted a COVID-19 infection. In most cases of comorbidities, the virus has been contracted by the patients when they visited a hospital for their cancer treatment.
This knowledge has made it imperative for the virus to be taken into consideration when anyone with cancer is planning any upcoming medical consultation, scheduled treatment plans, follow-ups and even participation in clinical trials. Planning one’s travel to fulfil any of the above commitments may also prove to be a huge challenge. Against this background, we wish to lay out some strategies to cope with the feelings of unsettledness caused by such ‘resetting’ of one’s expectations and plans.
The forced social distancing and the conditions of lockdown which curtail interactions and access to friends and family (not to mention one’s daily needs of food and beverages) is not easy to cope with. You should be mindful of the fact that this added stress presents a higher risk for other health problems and complications. Get help if this situation is causing a spike in anxiety levels and adopt appropriate mechanisms to relieve the stress.
Use Virtual Meetings and Telemedicine:
When we are looking forward to that next appointment with the doctor and the new prescription which could take away the persistent and annoying symptom(s), it is natural to feel cheated if it is cancelled. However, in current circumstances, cancelling a hospital visit may actually be the only way to avoid exposing yourself to the COVID-19 virus in nosocomial settings. If possible, avoid infusion sessions, admissions to the hospital, radiation sessions, lab tests, imaging and even clinic visits. When necessary, talk to the doctor/s online and follow their advice meticulously. Telemedicine is no longer an option but a necessity for an isolated patient as social distancing has rendered every person an island.
Many oncology clinical trials, which were a beacon of hope, are being modified or even cancelled, much to the disappointment of cancer patients and their caregivers. Here again, we could try to find alternative treatment sites and monitor patients by asking to securely submit data through a virtual interface. Keeping away from a caregiver, who might prove to be a source of contamination, becomes a necessity for your own safety.
Shift location: In compliance with the guidelines laid out by the FDA, many oncologists are working hard to keep their patients sheltered by rescheduling or cancelling their appointments and hospital visits . Where necessary, the physicians are making it possible for their patients to get the treatment they need at another location which is not considered to be a hot zone for transmitting the virus or because the center is at a nearby location, requiring less travel and exposure.
Given the unprecedented nature of this situation, it is acceptable to go overboard with one’s level of caution, not assume anything, and expect to tide over things. Refer to this interview published by the Fred Hutch for more information on the matter. Safety must always come first, especially when faced with the kind of uncertain conditions faced by almost all of humankind for the first time. For a cancer patient, these precautions are helpful on multiple levels and sheltering at home is the best practice. Stay home and stay safe!