COVID-19: What People With Cancer Need to Know

For some, COVID-19 has been an illness that they have, unfortunately, contracted, but have been able to overcome as they returned to their normal health. For those who belong to at-risk groups like cancer patients, however, COVID-19 can be especially worrisome. The problem for many is the spread of misinformation, which can make it difficult to truly know what COVID-19 is, how it functions, and how it may impact you. If you have cancer and you’re looking to learn more about this virus, here are some answers to some of the biggest questions you may have about the interaction between COVID-19 and cancer.


What is COVID-19 (or Coronavirus)?

Putting aside its country of origin and many of the other things that may have been highlighted in the media, COVID-19 is a contagious virus that has very impactful symptoms (which could develop into potentially life-threatening problems within certain groups of people). Understanding what COVID-19 looks like is key to getting help as soon as possible. Symptoms of Coronavirus include:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • Fever and chills
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and body aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose or congestions

These initial symptoms will often develop into more serious complications in those with compromised immune systems and older people. While the symptoms above are reason enough to get checked out, more serious symptoms may include confusion, an inability to stay awake, pain or pressure in the chest, and lips that are beginning to turn blue. If you believe that you may have contracted COVID-19, seek out help immediately!

How can I defend myself against this virus?

Individuals with cancer who are at greater risk should take further precautions when it comes to going out and taking care of their day-to-day needs. The first step is to stay inside as much as possible. Do not go out unless you absolutely need to go out. If you can find ways to stay home and still get certain needs met, such as having a family member drop off groceries, try to make these arrangements in order to reduce your risk of exposure.

If you must go out, it is important that you take certain precautions like avoiding touching your face after you have touched certain items outside of your home, washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds once you return home, disinfecting any areas within your home that may be infected, wearing masks and gloves while in public to avoid coming into direct contact with any germs, and making sure to sneeze or cough into your elbow to prevent from spreading the infection if you do have it. Additionally, it is best to maintain your social distancing and avoid anyone who may be sick, even friends and family who say they aren’t.

The more precautions you take, the safer you will be from this virus moving forward.

What happens if I get sick? What do I do?

If you get sick, the first thing that you need to do is call your healthcare provider (or another local medical resource that can help) to let them know about your symptoms and your belief that you may have the Coronavirus. They will help you receive more information about how to get tested to see whether or not you do have the virus. From there, if you do have COVID-19, you will receive more information regarding how to best care for yourself during quarantine and what you need to do if your symptoms are growing more serious. Make sure to follow all guidelines and directions set forth by your doctor and other healthcare practitioners to be as safe as possible.

What resources should I turn to for help during this time?

The financial implications of COVID-19 had revealed themselves quickly. For many, the previous shutdowns and the subsequent shutdowns or closings have cut off their main source of income (and even insurance if they have lost their job in the process). Cancer treatment can be expensive, meaning that many need help now. But what resources can they turn to?

  • For individuals with a terminal illness, viatical settlement companies can purchase a life insurance policy that you may no longer need for one lump sum payment. If you are currently struggling financially and need help with end-of-life medical expenses and care, this can be one way to get the money that you need access to now.
  • For those who may be unable to get food, there are food assistance programs designed specifically for immunocompromised cancer patients to help them during this difficult time. You may also wish to look for government programs or non-profits that are known for helping with items like rent, healthcare, and other key areas.
  • If you are struggling emotionally, consider looking for online therapy resources that can help you receive therapy without putting yourself at risk of contracting COVID-19 during the process.

No matter where you may be experiencing difficulties in your life, look for resources that can support you until you find more stable options.

How has COVID-19 impacted healthcare?

There are a couple of things to know for cancer patients when it comes to healthcare. In areas where COVID-19 cases are rising, hospitals may be fully occupied and underequipped, meaning that it can be difficult to get the full level of care that you need (whether you are getting local cancer treatment in Franklin Lakes, NJ, or visiting a major city hospital). Additionally, doctors have changed certain guidelines when it comes to seeing patients, waiting for appointments, and getting care, especially if you have tested positive for COVID-19. Reach out to your doctors and specialists to learn more about what has changed during this time and how it will affect you as a patient.

The most important thing? Make sure to stay up-to-date on the virus by regularly looking at authoritative resources like the CDC’s website. This will help you stay on top of any developments and give you further guidance on navigating this pandemic. Hopefully, this will help you maintain your safety and your health as we move forward in this new environment.

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