Chemotherapy, in and of itself, is no walk-in-the-park. It's a battle that requires not only strength from within ourselves, but strength from others around us. When mankind was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic and this unknown illness began to spread around the world like wildfire, it added more uncertainty and worry to our plates. For those of us diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, we could no longer bring our loved ones with us to our oncology appointments. We could no longer give or receive the hugs that we so desperately relied on. We could no longer look forward to visits from our friends and support groups. Emotional support aside, another factor came into major play: chemotherapy, the medicine that's helping to rid our bodies of cancer, is the very thing that's putting us at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Our immune systems are already compromised. Oh, sh*t.
What does this mean for us? Do we become reclusive from people, places and things completely in order to prevent a potential contraction? We've gathered some FAQs that may be of help - for you physical well-being and your mental well-being, as well.
Let's start with the basics, shall we?
Is someone with cancer at higher risk of contracting COVID-19? It's not necessarily known. There are just as many people contracting the virus that don't have cancer as there are people contracting the virus that do have cancer. One thing is for sure, since some cancer patients are immunosuppressed, the susceptibility is certainly higher.
If contracting COVID-19, would it be more severe? Again, the immune system is often weaker, so there could be additional complications that come into fruition when contracting the virus - just like any illness. Be mindful of your medical history and consult with your doctor if anything feels too out of sync.
How long are you immunocompromised after chemotherapy? This depends on your chemotherapy treatment, but your immune system is typically suppressed for a week after you've received your chemotherapy treatment. It will remain that way for seven to eight days and then recover in about three to four weeks.
Is there anything I can do to boost my immune system? There are certain antibiotics that can help to protect the body, but nothing has been proven for COVID-19. There are also "immune booster shots", which don't help the immune system from being suppressed, but help it to recover more quickly. The best thing you can do for your immune system during these troubled times is to quarantine yourself and remain socially distanced from others.
Is it safe for me to go into a medical facility to receive my treatments if I know I'm at risk? This one depends on your diagnosis and should be considered on a case-by-case basis. It may be that your cancer is of higher risk to you than contracting COVID-19 and, if that's that the case, your doctor will advise you to continue with your chemotherapy treatment. If you don't feel comfortable doing that, you and your oncologist should come up with an alternative plan.
What should I do if I start seeing symptoms of COVID-19? Call your oncologist. Your next steps will depend on your diagnosis, where you are in your treatment, what systems you have, etc. They will advise you on a plan.
[Source: Andrew M. Evens, DO, MSc, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey; COVID-19: What Cancer Patients Need To Know]
These questions are easy to ask, but the answers are a little bit difficult to hear. Just know that we are always here for you if you need anyone to talk to and please make use of our online support group and forum found here.
Chemo, Cocktail & Lots of Love,