At Fight CRC, we strive to create a safe place for colorectal cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, and loved ones. Virtually, and during our in-person events, your health and wellbeing are our priorities.
We know that there is a lot of attention right now on the new coronavirus (COVID-19), and want you to know that we are here for you. Unfortunately, coronavirus poses an extra risk for colorectal cancer patients due to the immunosuppressive treatments they receive. As the spread of coronavirus occurs throughout the world, researchers, public health officials, and individuals all play a role in slowing the spread of the virus in order to protect colon and rectal cancer patients, cancer patients at large, and any other vulnerable population.
Preparedness and awareness are paramount in these times. We’ve compiled information from the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about steps to take in an effort to keep you and your loved ones healthy. Staying up to date can easily lead to anxiety and panic for some, so we have also included some information for how to manage anxiety. Read on to find out what colorectal cancer patients should know about coronavirus.
Face Mask Update
A recommendation has been made by the Centers for Disease Control to wear masks when outside the home. Specifically advising everyone (except infants) to wear a cloth face-covering in public places where social distancing measures cannot be maintained. This is because asymptomatic people who don’t know they are infected could be spreading the virus. According to the CDC’s website, it’s important to note that “The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.”
Colorectal Cancer Screenings Update
Many Americans are facing decisions about their cancer screening and prevention schedule. According to the American Cancer Society, Dr. Rich Wender, Chief Cancer Control Officer for the ACS, stated:
“The American Cancer Society recommends that no one should go to a health care facility for routine cancer screening at this time…Remember, these screening tests save lives. When restrictions lift, it’s important to reschedule any screening test that you’re due to receive…Getting back on track with cancer screening should be a high priority.”
This statement does not refer to individuals who are being screened for cancer recurrence or who are being screened as a diagnostic measure due to signs and symptoms of CRC. Talk to your doctor if you have a screening scheduled in the near future.
Do colorectal cancer patients have an increased risk of contracting Coronavirus?
Anyone can get the new coronavirus, but cancer patients and survivors have an increased risk of complications and severe events from coronavirus due to treatments that suppress the immune system.
Additionally, people over age 60 and people with comorbidities (such as diabetes, heart disease, etc) who contract coronavirus are at an increased risk of complications. According to a recent ASCO article the steps cancer patients and survivors (whether in treatment or not) should take to avoid coronavirus are the same for the general public:
- The most important way to protect yourself is to avoid being exposed to coronavirus, whenever possible. Follow the guidance on travel restrictions issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO).
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, about the amount of time it would take to hum the “Happy Birthday” twice. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
In addition to washing your hands frequently, it’s important to:
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- If you must cough or sneeze, use a tissue. Then throw the tissue away and wash your hands. Or, cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than your hand.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Clean frequently touched objects and surfaces with household cleaning spray or wipes. These surfaces and objects include doorknobs, counters, toilets, keyboards, tablets, phones, and more.
When should I call the doctor?
If you think you may have been infected with COVID-19 (through travel or contact with a person known to have COVID-19), call your doctor if you have a fever and/or other symptoms such as a cough or shortness of breath.
What is social distancing and should I be doing it?
The CDC recommends social distancing and describes it as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance” whenever possible to limit the ability of the virus to spread. This is different than self-quarantine, as self-quarantine limits how far someone can go outside a specific location (for instance, their home or county), and is more strict about eliminating contact with others.
As this virus is still new, and so little is known about it, there are no specific treatments or vaccines, and the data on how this specifically affects colorectal cancer patients is limited. For these reasons, it’s not only important for colorectal cancer patients and survivors to begin social distancing efforts, but it is important for everyone to begin doing so – especially as many people show no symptoms of being infected and can unknowingly pass the virus along to others.
It is important for you, your caregivers, and your loved ones to implement this practice to reduce your risk of getting the virus, as the risk of serious complications are seemingly higher for cancer patients.
How can I manage my anxiety?
Anxiety is often described as a feeling of unease, worry, or fear, and it truly is a natural human response to a threat – and the new coronavirus is certainly a threat.
Anxiety focuses our attention on problem-solving and kicks off our innate “fight or flight” reaction. For many people, occasional emotions of anxiety and panic are not a result of an underlying anxiety disorder. If you are feeling anxious – don’t feel bad about it and don’t ignore it! It may be a good idea to focus on reducing those feelings through action and putting your attention on preparedness instead.
Here are some ideas:
- Get your information from a reputable source. There are a lot of opinion pieces out there, and there’s a lot of false information as well. Your best bet for accurate information is from your local public health department, the World Health Organization, and research institutions.
- Limit your time on social media. It’s easy to spend hours down the rabbit hole. Get the information that you’re after, scroll through stories, and put down your device.
- Make sure you have what you need. Social distancing means staying away from groups of people. Therefore, avoid restaurants and shopping malls. With that said, make sure you have what you need – food to last a few weeks, household items like cleaning supplies and paper goods (again, enough for a few weeks – not a few years!).
- Breathe. Stop what you are doing, and take five deep, full belly breaths. This will bring you into the present moment and into a place of mindfulness.
- Get some fresh air. Spend time in your backyard or on your patio if you have one, or go for a walk in the neighborhood. Research shows that spending time in nature can reduce stress and anxiety. If you are under self-quarantine, stick to your own yard or patio for the duration.
- Call your loved ones. Check-in on your friends and family!
- Exercise. If you can, incorporate some physical activity into your routine. Not comfortable going to the gym or a group class? There are a lot of free YouTube exercise videos available, and a number of apps designed to help you stay active.
Fight CRC has compiled a collection of health and wellness resources, webinars, podcasts, and blogs to support you and your family during this challenging time for many survivors.
What about the flu?
The new coronavirus is not something to be compared to influenza; however, it is important to recognize that the steps we are taking to limit the spread of COVID-19 are the same steps we should be taking each year to limit the spread of the flu. Check out this Q&A from the CDC about the flu and cancer patients, and then read Fight CRC’s blog.
What Fight CRC has been doing. Staff at Fight CRC have been working around the clock to make sure the colorectal cancer community is up to date and as healthy as possible. For these reasons, we canceled Call-on Congress 2020, which would have had over 150 people affected by CRC in attendance in Washington, D.C. Additionally, travel plans for major research conferences have been suspended as organizations across the country begin to cancel these events.
Fight CRC’s community is made up of relentless champions of hope around the globe. Although COVID-19 has changed our plans for the near future, it will not slow us down. Together, we will continue to persevere. We will not stop advocating to better the lives of all those affected by colon and rectal cancer.
Fight CRC is keeping a page on our website updated regularly with the latest leading and expert resources. Click the button below.