It’s no secret that cancer and COVID-19 disease are not a good combination. During the past 3 months, many patients with cancer and cancer survivors have postponed or canceled appointments, cancer screenings, elective surgeries, and other cancer-related services and treatments.
In many cases, medical facilities had no choice but to push back certain appointments, because they were overwhelmed with caring for patients with COVID-19. For less critical cancer cases, avoiding exposure to the coronavirus outweighed the risk of missing appointments.
As summer gets underway, stay-at-home orders are starting to be lifted, states are rolling out their plans for reopening, and patients with cancer are looking to get back on schedule with their medical appointments. Of course, the pandemic is far from over, so it’s important to gather information and proceed safely with cancer screenings and treatments.
If you’re receiving active care, we encourage you to speak with your oncologist or oncology navigator who is guiding you through the various stages of your cancer treatment. Be proactive about gathering information, understanding your options, and getting critical appointments and services back on your calendar.
Some of the questions to ask your oncologist or oncology navigator include:
“What steps have been taken to protect patients and staff from contracting COVID-19?”
Most cancer centers and medical facilities have been communicating these steps. However, it’s a good idea to confirm social distancing measures, mask requirements, availability of hand sanitizer, increased frequency of cleaning, the staggering of appointments, patient and staff screening and temperature checks, and visitor limitations.
“Have any procedures changed?”
Just as many restaurants are limited to outdoor seating and curbside pickup, many healthcare providers have temporarily changed how they operate. Do you enter through the same door? Are patients being checked in differently? What is the screening process? Should you expect longer wait times?
“Are protests affecting access to my medical facility or cancer center?”
The recent protests and the potential for dangerous conflict, especially in large cities, can add another layer of stress and complexity for patients seeking cancer services. Find out if protests are making it more difficult to enter your facility, and whether there are other options for receiving the care you need.
“Will virtual appointments continue to be available?”
Ideally, you have used virtual appointments for your cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic. To minimize exposure to the disease, find out if continuing with virtual appointments is appropriate for you, and whether these appointments are just as effective as in-person appointments for your specific care.
“What counseling and support services are available?”
If you have cancer, COVID-19 may have added an enormous burden of stress and uncertainty to an already difficult situation. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find out what counseling and support services are available for patients with cancer during the pandemic.
Gather Information and Make a Plan
By now, you’ve probably discussed with your oncologist which cancer treatments, screenings, and routine follow-up appointments can be safely delayed. If you put any part of your cancer care on hold, now is the time to start the process of catching up and getting back on schedule.
With different states entering various phases of reopening, and the very real chance of a second wave of coronavirus infection in the fall, we encourage you to speak with your oncologist. Find out your options for in-person appointments and the risk of further delays.
Ultimately, you have control of your care, not COVID-19. Don’t let COVID-19 stop you from getting the help and guidance you need. Start gathering information, consult with your oncologist, and make plans to get back on course with your cancer care.