Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has spread across the globe, so has anxiety about what we can do to keep ourselves and those we love healthy.
Because cancer and cancer treatments can weaken the immune system, your cancer patient may be at a higher risk of COVID-19 — which puts you at a higher risk as well (especially if you are older or have an underlying health condition).
If you are a caregiver, take advantage of our resources to help guide you and your cancer patient during this difficult time. We know that caring for a cancer patient is increasingly harder during the coronavirus pandemic, and we’re here to help in any way that we can.
Taking the extra steps to care for your patient (and yourself) will help you both from getting sick.
How to Care for Cancer Patients
If you’re a caregiver looking after cancer patients during the coronavirus outbreak, there are steps you must take to lower your risk of illness and protect the person you’re caring for. 1
Travel Strictly for Medical Care
Unless travel is essential or for medical reasons, do not travel, as going out increases your risk of germs and infection. Make sure to check with your patient’s healthcare professional about how current cancer treatments should continue. If you feel even remotely sick or unwell, do not go to any cancer treatment center. You might prepare to be screened before entering or wait outside, as some treatment centers are not allowing caregivers into the building.
Use household disinfectants on things that are touched often, like cell phones, remote controls, keyboards, and door handles. If you go out to get a prescription or go to the grocery store, err on the side of caution and wipe down items you have brought home. This includes your purse, cell phone, and wallet.
Constantly Wash Your Hands
One of the most important things you must do as a caregiver is to constantly wash your hands. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time. Avoid touching your nose, face, and eyes and if you do, wash your hands immediately. Wash your hands after you touch animals, collect trash, take out garbage, sneeze, use the bathroom, or blow your nose. If you go out, bring 60% alcohol with you to clean your hands then wash them as soon as you get home. We can’t stress enough how this one simple task can make a big difference.
Have a Backup Plan
If you, as the caregiver, or someone else in the household gets sick, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan in place. Talk to your doctor about what a good backup plan might look like. This may have to do with how strong the immune system is of the patient, how advanced their cancer is, and whether or not they are currently undergoing treatment like chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or radiation. If you care for someone with lung cancer, please take a look through our coronavirus resources for those with lung cancer.
Lastly, see our guide on How to Seek Treatment as a Cancer Patient During COVID-19 for more information on taking care of your patient.
If You Think You (Or Your Patient) Might Be Sick
If you think you or your patient have been exposed to coronavirus, contact your doctor and the cancer patient’s medical team right away. These are the symptoms of COVID-19 to be aware of. Remember that some people might also have diarrhea or nausea before these symptoms show up.
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- Constant pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or being hard to wake
- Bluish lips or face
If anyone in the household gets sick or experiencing symptoms, tell your healthcare professional and follow these guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 1
- Have the person stay in one room, away from other people, as much as possible.
- Have the person use a separate bathroom and bedroom if possible, and avoid sharing personal household items including dishes, utensils, towels, and bedding.
- If facemasks are available, have the person wear a facemask when they are around others.
- Have the person wash their hands often or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if they cannot get up to use soap and water.
- Wash your hands often, especially after you’ve been with the sick person, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Regularly clean all surfaces that are touched often, such as counters, tabletops, phones, and doorknobs.
- Wash laundry thoroughly. Wear disposable gloves while doing laundry if you have them. After you take the gloves off, wash your hands.
Self-Care Tips for Caregivers
In addition to caring for the cancer patient, caregivers must also take care of themselves. Here are some self-care tips to implement so that you can stay healthy both physically and mentally.
Maintain a Routine
During this time of uncertainty, caregivers must maintain a routine and keep a sense of normalcy in their lives. Routines can be different for everyone. For some, this means making fresh coffee in the morning and reading a favorite uplifting column from a magazine or newspaper. For others, this might mean spending an hour in the afternoon in the garden or taking time each evening to cook with your family. Although your routine may look different than it usually does, find a positive flow that works or you and try to stick with it.
Ask for Help
Many caregivers take on too much without asking for help from family or friends. If you’re caregiving for a sick patient (or family member) remind yourself that it’s okay to ask for help. If a neighbor is going to the grocery store, maybe they can pick up a few things from your list and save you the trip. A friend might be willing to pick up medicine or act as the primary point of contact so that you don’t feel overwhelmed with giving people updates about the patient’s well being. Too often caregivers seek help after they already feel behind and burnt out. Ask for help before you reach that point, so that you can be better equipped to care for the patient.
Connect with Family and Friends
When we’re feeling stretched thin because of work and emotions, it’s easy to cut off contact with family and friends. It’s important to maintain your connection with loved ones through virtual meet-ups and phone calls. Even just a five-minute conversation can do wonders to lift your spirits and make you feel happy.
Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and drinking more water will not only make you feel more energized — but it will help your immune system stay strong. It’s important for your own sake that you don’t get sick, but you must stay healthy when caring for your patient so you don’t pass any viruses along to them.
Stay up-to-date with what’s going on at the local, state, and national level, but don’t let the news consume you. If you find it’s too hard to stay on top of what’s going on, reach out to a family member to give you the daily or weekly run down or let you know if anything comes up that you should be aware of.
Find Time to Relax
Self-care for caregivers is crucial. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Take a few moments every day to do something relaxing. Light your candles and take a bubble bath. Spend some time baking a fresh loaf of bread or going on a walk around the neighborhood. Finding time to relax will help to alleviate stress and give you peace in the present moment.
Get Enough Sleep
The CDC recommends that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Like maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough sleep will help to keep your immune system functioning properly and keep you from getting sick. Think of it this way — you can’t take care of a cancer patient unless you first take care of yourself. When you get enough sleep, you’re more equipped to make rational decisions and feel patient and energized for the day ahead.
Write in a Journal
With the anxiety and fear that comes along with the pandemic, caregivers need to have a way to get it out. Sometimes, the thoughts you might be feeling are internal, and talking to a family member or friend won’t be enough. Do yourself a favor and write it out. Journaling will help you sift through your emotions. It will make sense of the past and help you feel stronger for the journey ahead.
Caregiving for a cancer patient during this time can be difficult — but if you take the extra precautions, you can help keep yourself and your patient from getting sick. Check out the National Alliance for Caregiving or the National Cancer Institute for more resources on caregiving during the spread of COVID-19.
And as always, feel free to reach out to the team at Immunity Therapy Center with any questions or concerns — We remain open during this time to care for you and your patient. We’re always here for you and we promise — together, we’ll get through this time of uncertainty.
- Simon, Stacey. “Cancer Caregiving During the Coronavirus Outbreak.” cancer.org, March 24, 2020, https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/cancer-caregiving-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak.html. Accessed April 19, 2020.