By Vanessa Steil – May 20, 2020
As some states begin to lift the lockdown restrictions surrounding COVID-19, and businesses slowly start to reopen, you may wonder how to best approach venturing out. If you are a pancreatic cancer patient, survivor or caregiver, you’re likely concerned or anxious about how lifting these restrictions could affect you and those you love.
For those who are considered high risk for contracting COVID-19, which includes people over 65 and those with an underlying health condition (such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, a lung condition or cancer), it is wise to be cautious. Experts advise those at high risk to continue taking additional precautions to limit your potential exposure to COVID-19, for which there is currently no vaccine.
We asked Patricia Gambino, a gastrointestinal nurse navigator specializing in pancreatic cancer at the Penn Pancreatic Cancer Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, PA, about what precautions you and your loved ones should take in the coming weeks as cities and states reopen.
How should those at high risk of contracting COVID-19 approach reopening?
While the number of new diagnosis and deaths are on the decline in some states, COVID-19 is still active and present in many communities. For those who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, like pancreatic cancer patients, they should continue to exercise the same precautions they took during the lockdown. This may mean sheltering at home, if possible, continuing good hand-washing hygiene, practicing social distancing by staying six feet away from others when they do have to go out, and wearing a mask when in situations where the recommended amount of social distancing is not possible, recommends Gambino.
Is there anything pancreatic cancer patients should avoid doing?
If possible, patients should still have their groceries and prescription medications delivered to their homes or have a loved one go out for them. “With COVID-19, it is important to avoid lines and crowds as the disease can spread from person to person, so it’s better if patients are not in situations where they are likely to come in contact with many other people,” said Gambino.
What about seeing my doctor or going for a follow-up appointment or scan?
Doctors’ offices and hospitals are taking every precaution possible, including limiting the number of people in their waiting rooms and how many people a patient can have accompany them to an appointment, or consolidating appointments to reduce multiple visits, said Gambino. If your doctor offers a telehealth option and your appointment can happen virtually, it’s still best to use this service for high-risk patients. Of course, if that isn’t feasible due to the treatment you are receiving or another issue that requires in-person attention, patients should continue to wear masks when visiting their doctor’s office or hospital.
My workplace is reopening. Is it safe for me to return to work?
This is a conversation patients should have with their doctor to see if he or she believes this is a safe option given the patient’s overall health. Patients should discuss with their doctor the kind of environment in which they work and should mention the following:
- Type of office environment: Do you work in an office with a door? A cubicle in an open office?
- How many people do you work with? Can you safely maintain social distancing guidelines?
- What kind of daily interactions do you have at work? Just colleagues? Clients? Customers?
These questions will help patients and their doctor determine whether returning to work is a safe option. If cleared to return, patients should ensure their workspace is clean by using a disinfecting wipe when they arrive in the morning and have a mask and gloves on hand.
What precautions should my caregivers/family members who I live with take to continue to keep me safe, now that they might be going back to work/other activities and interacting with others?
Anyone coming into the house should change out of the clothing they were wearing outside as soon as they return and must be vigilant about their hand hygiene. Anyone who provides care to a high-risk patient should take extra precautions when outside the home and avoid high-traffic areas and crowds. Gambino suggests trying to visit places like parks and grocery stores either early in the morning or later in the day to avoid peak times.
What strategies would you recommend for helping cope with the anxiety many report feeling related to COVID-19?
It’s easy to feel isolated while social distancing, which is why staying connected to loved ones via social media or a video platform is critical. As a nurse navigator, Gambino talks to her patients about the importance of exercising, eating well, limiting how much time they spend watching the news each day, and maintaining a routine. “Getting up at the same time each day, taking a walk, or starting a hobby like gardening are all great ways to create a sense of normalcy during this time,” Gambino said.
For more useful information about COVID-19 and how it specifically impacts pancreatic cancer patients, visit our affiliate, Let’s Win! Pancreatic Cancer.