Sarah Cannon - April 14, 2020

While everyone is experiencing the impact of COVID-19, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to help people you love - especially family and friends who are immunocompromised. Danielle Brown, RN, BSN, OCN, CN-BN, ONN-CG, Sarah Cannon Director of Navigation with the North Florida Division and Michelle Sawdon, RN, Sarah Cannon Breast Cancer and GI Cancer Nurse Navigator at Ocala Regional Medical Center, share what you should know about how COVID-19 is impacting people with cancer, and ways that you and your loved ones can support them during these times.

How is COVID-19 impacting cancer patients?

Isolation and loneliness

Cancer and cancer treatment may cause a person to have a weakened immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight infection. Many immunocompromised patients who were already limiting contact prior to COVID-19 may now experience complete isolation.

Fear of exposure

Cancer patients may not be able to pause or postpone treatment, requiring them to go into hospitals or centers for their care, where they may be nervous about exposing themselves to the virus.

Concerns about changes in treatment

Depending on the situation, a patient may need to adjust their current care or delay their treatment schedules and regimens, which can cause fear and anxiety. They may have already had a plan in place, but are now having to rethink those decisions and consider more factors than ever before.

Shortage of supplies

Before COVID-19, if a patient needed to go out in public, they might choose to wear a mask. However, with the current pandemic, people facing cancer may be concerned about shortages for masks and other protective items that they were accustomed to using.

Unfamiliar with technology

With telehealth becoming vital during this time, people may lack either the appropriate technology (smart phone, tablet or computer) or the understanding needed for these types of virtual appointments.

Financial challenges

Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, a patient and/or their spouse may be concerned about finances and insurance coverage as they continue treatment.

Support systems

Caregivers may be unable to attend appointments in-person, meaning patients cannot have their support systems with them during appointments.

How can I support someone facing cancer during this time?

Offer help with technology

Offer to help set up technology for telehealth visits, and if needed, spend extra time walking them through how to use it. If the person does not have the technology required for telehealth visits such as a smartphone, computer or tablet, offer your equipment.

Stay connected

Using FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or Houseparty, stay connected with friends and family while staying at home. If your family or friends have a tradition such as Sunday night dinner, continue the tradition virtually!

Help with errands and chores

Offer to pick up groceries, and help run any errands that they may have such as picking up medication. If you are not able to bring groceries, send a delivery through Instacart or Whole Foods on Amazon. Also, send them a meal from their favorite local restaurant if they are offering delivery. Volunteer to walk their dog and take care of pets, offer to get their mail/newspapers and place them by their door. You can also help with any yard work, taking out the trash or other household tasks.

Provide support

If the patient has to go to a clinic or hospital visit alone due to visitor restrictions, ask the care team if the patient can call the caregiver using FaceTime or Skype so that they may participate in the appointment and continue to provide support. “Patients are a little nervous about asking providers about calling their caregiver, but they shouldn’t be, as the rooms often have phones or patients can bring their cell phones. This way, the person may be outside of the clinic, but still a part of the conversation.”

Get creative

Get the whole family involved and use sidewalk chalk to draw pictures and leave inspiring messages in front of a cancer patient’s home. Make them a care package and consider including items such as slippers, a journal and items that they may not be able to get without leaving their home such as masks or disinfectant wipes. Also, start a book club by sending or delivering new books for them to read, and then hosting a virtual book club.

Share hobbies

Music can be soothing and therapeutic, so suggest some virtual concerts, such as the free performances offered by the Seattle Symphony or Global Citizen’s “Together at Home” concerts on YouTube. Band Against Cancer with Sarah Cannon offers inspiring playlists full of “Strong Songs” to encourage people during this time. Keeping social distancing in mind, encourage them to get outside for a walk or spend time simply in their backyard.

Please keep in mind when you are helping people facing cancer that these tactics are not intended to be in-person visits.  As much as you can, keep activities contactless (deliver food and mail to their door, for example) and stay outside of the patient’s home. If you do have to come into contact with each other, make sure that you are both wearing a mask/face covering, educate yourself about the symptoms, be mindful about screening yourself before each visit and take extra precaution to protect yourself.

Are there more resources that I can share?

For more information on how to support someone with cancer, call askSARAH at (844) 482-4812 to speak to a nurse who is specially trained to help with your cancer questions.