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COVID-19 and Cancer: Three Ways to Protect your Health

Publication: Austin Medical Times, Houston Medical Times

As physicians, researchers, and health officials learn more about COVID-19 and its impacts, those with compromised immune systems, including many cancer patients, are learning how to protect their health in a changing world. Texas and other states have eased stay-at-home orders and many businesses are re-opening. If you’re a cancer patient or care for a cancer patient, you may be wondering how COVID-19 will continue to impact the cancer journey. 

Cancer patients receiving active treatment are especially vulnerable and must remain vigilant about their health. You, your caregivers, and other close contacts can take proactive measures to protect yourselves and those around you from COVID-19 and other illnesses. 

Establish a ‘safety first’ mentality.
Following safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is paramount. This includes washing your hands often, practicing social distancing, avoiding contact with those who are sick, and wearing face coverings. Recent studies cited by the CDC provide evidence that wearing face coverings, such as non-surgical masks and cloth face coverings, can slow the spread of the virus in public settings and further reduce community spread. 

As a cancer patient, safety precautions aren’t enough if those around you aren’t doing the same. The people who are important to you and want to spend time around you must also follow safety guidelines. Their safety helps maintain your safety. The same principle applies to home repairs, deliveries, and other interactions with people: anyone entering your home should adhere to safety guidelines, including wearing a face covering. And remember, call your physician if you feel sick or have new or unusual symptoms.

Communicate openly and often. 
Open and honest communication is essential for coping, healing, and caring for your emotional health – especially with the added stresses brought on by the COVID-19 health crisis. For example, your physician doesn’t know how you may be struggling with treatment unless you talk about it. Your loved ones may not understand why they can’t come visit you unless you talk to them about the importance of maintaining distance during treatment. Open conversations help get to the heart of the matter and let others know how they can best support you. 

Find new ways to cope with stress. 
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense changes to our lifestyles, which may trigger strong feelings including stress, anxiety, and fear of the unknown. When we might typically turn to loved ones for support, social distancing hinders the ability to connect in person. But there are ways to pull your support system together without putting anyone at risk. Connect by phone or video call regularly, and explore new ways to spend quality time, such as virtual family dinners, starting a book club, or joining a virtual support group for cancer patients.

Just as every cancer patient’s journey is unique, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to fighting cancer amid COVID-19. Focus on what you can control, and in every situation consider steps you should take to decrease risk of exposure to the virus for yourself and others. 

Navigating life during a global pandemic is challenging, but it doesn’t have to further compromise your health or your quality of life. At Texas Oncology, our physicians and care teams are committed to helping patients navigate the path forward no matter where they are in their cancer journey – and proud to celebrate the courage it takes to keep moving forward.

Michael Herman, M.D., is a radiation oncologist at Texas Oncology–Round Rock, 2410 Round Rock Ave., Suite 150, in Round Rock, Texas.

Branden Hsu, M.D., is a hematologist and medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Houston Memorial City, 925 Gessner Road, Suite 550, in Houston, Texas and Texas Oncology-Katy, 1331 West Grand Parkway North, Suite #340, in Katy Texas.

This article appeared in the July 2020 edition of:

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