These 5 everyday habits of cancer patients teach others how to stay well
The COVID-19 pandemic has made people think about hand-washing, social distancing and even wearing a face mask. But for those who have cancer, these practices have already been a part of everyday life.
Cancer patients can teach us a lot about how to stay safe during the pandemic. Because they are immunocompromised, they have to be extra careful to avoid people who are sick.
“Before this started, our cancer patients were more cautious than most of the population,” said Justin Klamerus, M.D., M.M.M., president, Karmanos Cancer Hospital & Network. “They were already practicing some good habits such as social distancing and hand-washing that the general community has now embraced.”
Here’s what we can learn from cancer patients — and how we can keep ourselves safe and well during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. See your doctor regularly — even virtually
People who have cancer tend to closely monitor their health. They are often aware of any symptoms or warning signs that require a call or visit with their doctor, and they pay attention to when something seems “off.”
Likewise, with COVID-19, watching for early warning signs of the virus — a fever, cough, loss of taste or smell and other symptoms — is important for seeking medical advice and avoiding the spread of illness. Regular communication and advice from your doctor or other medical professionals can help to keep you safe and well — education from a medical professional is always better than self-diagnosis.
“We always protect the patients and the staff because our patients are immunocompromised,” said Laura Zubeck, RN, M.B.A., director for patient/community education and volunteer services at Karmanos Cancer Institute. “We provide staff, patients and caregivers with education about hand-washing and masking and staying home, and we’re taking the right steps to help them protect themselves.”
If something doesn’t feel right or you suspect you might have the COVID-19 virus, talk with your doctor. Thanks to telemedicine, a visit with your doctor can be held over the phone or virtually on your tablet or computer. Telemedicine was an option for many patients before the pandemic, but now it’s more valuable and convenient than ever. For cancer patients, telemedicine is extremely valuable because questions and concerns can be addressed quickly and conveniently and transportation to a clinic is not required.
2. Wash your hands and avoid touching your face
Doctors have always talked about the importance of proper hand-washing — it’s the easiest way to prevent illness. And that’s something that cancer patients know very well.
Washing your hands — or using hand sanitizer if soap and water isn’t immediately available — can help stop the spread of viruses such as COVID-19 or the flu, but it is also important to do it properly.
In addition to regular hand-washing throughout the day, cancer patients are very careful to wash their hands after coming in contact with any frequently touched objects or surfaces and before eating or preparing food.
It’s also important to avoid rubbing your eyes or touching your mouth. Many people might not even notice they’re doing it, but as cancer patients know, these actions can lead to illness.
Be cautious and aware of when you’re touching your face — and if you find yourself doing it, try to break yourself from the habit.
3. Wear a face mask
One of the many ways that people are protecting themselves from the coronavirus is by wearing face masks, which serve as physical barriers to protect people from viral particulates that are in the air. Some cancer patients were already employing this safety precaution after talking with their oncologist about the benefits of face coverings.
Wearing a face mask is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic because research shows that people who are asymptomatic (not showing symptoms) can transmit the virus to others before they begin showing symptoms.
It also is important to stay home if you think you are sick, or if you think you have been exposed to someone who has the virus.
4. Maintain social distancing
Only months ago, few people knew the term “social distancing” — but now it’s a regular and important part of our lives.
Person-to-person transmission of viruses such as COVID-19 is reduced when people limit contact with others and take the state of Michigan’s stay-at-home order seriously. Cancer patients have always practiced social distancing, worn masks in risky situations and stayed away from people who are sick.
“A lot of the precautions we used for COVID-19 are the same precautions we use with our cancer patients every day, so we reinforce those,” said Joseph Uberti, M.D., Ph.D., Karmanos’ division chief for hematology and co-director for the Blood & Marrow Stem Cell Transplant Program. “They are a little more stringent now so we do enforce things like wearing masks all the time, limiting exposure to other people, as everyone should be doing now, and just being careful.”
5. Focus on your health and safety
Even as the state begins to lift some restrictions, it’s important to think about your individual health and safety as well as the needs of others.
Before COVID-19, when public places were open without restrictions, many cancer patients made sure to avoid crowds and kept a safe distance between themselves and others. Even as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, they’ll continue to practice that — and it’s something for others to consider as well.
For instance, ask yourself if that extra trip to the grocery store is necessary or whether it can wait. As stores and restaurants begin to re-open, think about whether you need to go inside or if delivery is an option. Limiting your exposure to others in public spaces is a good, safe practice for avoiding the virus — even as restrictions are lifted.
As we continue to learn more about the coronavirus, it’s important to stay informed about best practices for staying safe. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns. As cancer patients can teach us, having an ongoing, open dialogue with your healthcare provider is now more critical than ever.
To learn more about Karmanos’ commitment to patient safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit karmanos.org/KarmanosSafeCare.
Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.