We should all approach the year 2021 with feelings of hope and positivity, especially after the adversity we faced in 2020. However, because COVID-19 is still with us, cautious optimism is the mindset that makes the most sense for patients with cancer.
COVID-19 created the perfect storm against cancer services, treatment, and preventive measures in 2020. Many hospitals struggled with insufficient personal protective equipment, limited hospital capacity, and a lack of testing.
A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey from September 2020 showed that 45% of patients with cancer delayed their care, often deciding that the risk of exposure to the coronavirus outweighed the risk of postponing treatment, which was unfortunate. Delaying cancer treatment is not a viable option for patients with cancer.
Reasons for Cautious Optimism in 2021
Public health officials know much more now about the risks related to COVID-19 than they did 1 year ago. Patients with cancer should consult with their doctors before choosing to delay care. When are hospitals and medical facilities least crowded? What appointments are safe to be done virtually? What protocols have been implemented since your last visit to reduce the risk of exposure?
Beginning in April 2021, a new federal rule will provide patients with cancer greater access to clinical notes. During times of stress, especially when patients fear bad news, it can be easy to forget exactly what your doctor said. Having access to information about test results, diagnoses, and treatment options can help patients prepare for appointments, understand the care they receive, and feel more confident in their decisions.
We know that COVID-19 vaccines are coming. Because front-line healthcare workers are first in line for the vaccines, including those who work directly with patients with cancer, the risk of exposure in hospitals and doctors’ offices is likely to be lower than before the vaccines were available.
Many patients with cancer are likely wondering when they can receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and whether it will be safe and effective. For example, will a patient with cancer be able to produce the antibodies required to protect against the coronavirus infection? These questions will likely be answered on a case-by-case basis.
That said, the continued vaccination of front-line workers and the general public will reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus and should certainly be viewed as a reason for cautious optimism.
How Patients with Cancer Should Approach 2021 (You May Have Heard This Before)
The prospects for 2021 are infinitely brighter than they were in 2020. Hurdles remain, however, which is why cautious optimism is a safer, more realistic outlook for the new year than assuming that everything will be “back to normal.”
Although COVID-19 vaccinations are underway, patients with cancer who are immunocompromised still need to be careful. Pay attention to guidelines from local and national public health officials. For example, limitations on indoor gatherings and activities will most likely continue for the next few months in many parts of the country.
Washing hands frequently, wearing masks, and maintaining a physical distance of at least 6 feet are still recommended. You may be tired of hearing about these safety recommendations, but scientific research has proved that these simple measures dramatically reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Spend time outdoors as much as possible, weather permitting. Join or create your own online community. This will allow you to interact with friends and family in a safe environment, stay socially engaged, and reduce feelings of isolation and depression.
Finally, patients with cancer should avoid delaying screenings and treatment in 2021 as much as possible. Speak with your doctor. Use telehealth whenever possible. Don’t assume your cancer care has to wait. It cannot.
Although 2020 was a brutal year, it’s in the rearview mirror now. Instead of dwelling on the past year, look ahead to 2021 with hope and cautious optimism.