May 22, 2020 by John Fernandez
Protecting Cancer Patients from COVID-19: A Checklist for Caregivers
Friends and family members who provide physical and emotional support are a lifeline for patients during their journey with cancer. Whether you are providing ongoing care for a cancer patient or have just stepped into the caregiver role, the coronavirus pandemic adds new concerns to what is already a challenging time.
“Loved ones play a vital role as part of the cancer care team, and we as medical professionals appreciate their knowledge and strength,” says Louise Morrell, M.D. (pictured at left), medical director of the Eugene M. and Christine E. Lynn Cancer Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital. “We encourage friends and family to continue to be strong and take steps to keep cancer patients safe and comfortable at home as we battle the spread of COVID-19.” She offers the following advice:
Expect treatment changes. The patient’s clinical schedule is likely to be disrupted. Priority appointments will be given to unstable patients and those who have received a new diagnosis of invasive cancer. Established patients with no new issues may be asked to postpone their regularly scheduled appointments or see their doctor via a telemedicine service rather than in person.
Likewise, the scheduling of certain surgical procedures, radiation and chemotherapy treatments may be modified to optimize safety and outcome. Make sure to double-check with the medical team before striking out for any scheduled appointment.
Maintain social distance. Cancer patients are at increased risk of severe symptoms from COVID-19. It is vital that both patient and family stay in self-quarantine at all times unless the patient’s cancer treatment plan requires an office visit.
Clean, then clean again. Use household cleaning spray or wipes to clean frequently touched surfaces such as counters, doorknobs, computer keyboards, mobile devices, toilets and medical equipment. Everyone in the household should wash hands very frequently and keep hands away from the face.
Maintain medications. Read labels of all prescription drugs very carefully and make sure to administer correct doses at the proper times. It’s helpful to maintain a written daily log. Make sure all prescriptions are filled regularly. Many pharmacies offer delivery services.
Stay in touch. Keep the lines of communication open. Help the patient reach out to others by phone or with a video call using an app like Skype or FaceTime. Friends and family outside may be able to help with errands, shopping and deliveries. Don’t hesitate to call in a few favors.
Ease stress. Create a safe and calm environment in the home. Mind the volume of radios and TVs and take an occasional break from the media. Fresh air and physical activity are as important as ever. Patients and family members of all ages can enjoy the outdoors as long as social distance is maintained.
Take care of yourself. Monitor your own health. Remember to give yourself an occasional break from your routine and make sure to get enough rest. Share your feelings with trusted friends.
Establish emergency contacts. Know whom you can count on to step in if you should become ill yourself.
Access online resources. The Livestrong Foundation has a wealth of tips for providing care for a loved one. Support organizations like Gilda’s Club South Florida offer free online support groups, educational workshops and healthy lifestyle activities via the Zoom videoconferencing platform. Visit the American Society of Clinical Oncology for regularly updated information (in English and Spanish) about COVID-19 for people with cancer and cancer survivors.
Rely on your medical team. At Lynn Cancer Institute and its partner institution, Miami Cancer Institute, every patient has 24/7 access to a patient navigation team that serves as a guide and advocate during cancer treatment. Contact your nurse navigator immediately with any concerns about the patient’s well-being, especially if COVID-19 symptoms appear.
“More than ever we at Lynn Cancer Institute are united in helping our patients through this challenging time,” says Dr. Morrell.
Editor’s Note: Because every individual’s circumstance is different, please connect with your oncologist or medical provider for answers to specific questions related to your cancer care.
For the latest updates on Baptist Health South Florida and the Lynn Cancer Institute COVID-19 news, click here.
Concerned you may have coronavirus?
Use our online Coronavirus Assessment tool or call our COVID-19 hotline, 1-833-MYBAPTIST (833-692-2784). To see a doctor on your phone from the comfort and safety of your home, download Baptist Health Care On Demand (consults and routine appointments provided for existing cancer patients). Use code CARE19 for a free visit.