Information on COVID-19 for cancer patients and their families

What is COVID-19?

Corona viruses are a common group of viruses that infect a range of animals and humans. The “Corona” word reflects a corona-like structure when these viruses are seen under a microscope in a laboratory. Genetic analysis of the virus behind COVID-19, named SARS-CoV-2, shows strong similarities to other corona viruses found in bats and there is reasonably strong evidence that mutations in a bat Corona virus led to the current strain.

In humans the strains of Corona viruses (until now) infect cells of the throat and lungs and are responsible for about one third cases of colds and similar respiratory illnesses. In healthy people these previous strains are highly contagious, annoying but usually self- limiting. This COVID-19 is a new virus in humans. No one has immunity and everyone can potentially be infected.

The coronavirus is a flu-like virus that affects the lungs and airways. Symptoms of COVID-19 are a cough, high temperature, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath.

For most healthy people, the coronavirus will not cause serious health problems. For members of high risk groups, such as those currently undergoing cancer treatment or who may be immunosuppressed or with respiratory conditions, for example like Asthma or Chronic Obstructive Airways Disease (COPD) the virus can cause serious complications.

 

For up to date information on COVID-19 figures and information regarding your county, see the COVID-19 hub here.

How does the virus affect people with cancer?

 

People currently receiving cancer treatment can be immunosuppressed , your Oncologist or Nurse will advise you if you are. Due to treatments such as chemotherapy, the immune system, which is designed to protect the body from infection, is compromised and the body has a reduced capacity to fight off illness. People that are currently on cancer treatment are in a vulnerable position and may be more at risk of contracting  the coronavirus.  This can have a serious effects on your health and all precautions should be considered always, in fact you should manage yourself as if you had the Coronavirus.

The HSE have encouraged those undergoing cancer treatment and members of high-risk groups to take extra precautions to protect yourself and your family against infection.

In this uncertain time, we all must play our part in helping to protect the most vulnerable in our society from the spread of the coronavirus.

Ways we can help to slow the spread of COVID-19

It is vital that you take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and any member of your family and friends that may be high risk. To do this, it is recommended that you:

Wash your hands properly and often with soap and water or alcohol hand rub

Cover your cough, dispose of the tissue, wash your hands

Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surface

Avoid contact with anyone who is ill with a cough or difficulty breathing

Avoid unessential travel, follow travel advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.

Do not share objects that touch your mouth – for example, bottles, cups.

Do not shake hands.

By following these steps, we can help to slow the spread of the virus and protect those most at risk.

Advice for those currently receiving treatment for cancer

 

If you are currently receiving cancer treatment, you should continue to attend appointments until contacted or your appointment is rescheduled.

Some treatment decisions may be changed at this time. These changes are to protect
individual patients and achieve best outcomes. Any changes will be made by your
Consultant and will be discussed with you. These changes may include;

  • Changes to the medication you are given or how often you need to attend
  • Change to where you receive your treatment
  • Assessments by phone where possible

These changes will be made by your oncology team in your best interest.

You will be contacted by your oncology unit 1-2 days before your appointment, to check if
you have any symptoms of coronavirus or have been in contact with anyone with the virus. For planned hospital admissions, it may be necessary to cocoon and be tested for COVID-19 in advance. Your oncology team will tell you what to do if this is required.

No matter what your age, if you are being treated for cancer, it is advised that you take these steps to help resist infection.

 

Do's and Donts

  • Cover your cough, dispose of the tissue, wash your hands
  • Avoid touching your face with unclean hands
  • Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
  • Avoid all non-essential indoor visits to other people’s homes
  • Avoid all crowded places, especially indoors but including parks and public amenities
  • Individuals should work from home
  • Avoid close contact with people - keep 1-2 metres between you and others
  • Avoid arriving early for appointments to minimise time spent in day wards and
  • waiting rooms
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is ill.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.
  • Do not share objects that touch your mouth – for example, bottles, cups.
  • Do not shake hands

 

Cancer Diagnoses During COVID-19

While the recent COVID-19 pandemic has but many things on hold, cancer is not one of them. During this time of uncertainty, it is possible to ignore a change in your body over time or to put your health on the long finger. But we are encouraging everyone to stay on top of their physical health, and speak to their GP, in person or over the phone if they notice any changes.

If you notice:

  • A new or changing lump
  • Changes to the skin
  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Constant fatigue/ tirendess
  • Unexplained weight loss

You should speak to your GP without delay. Your symptoms may not turn out to be cancer, but the sooner you seek help, the better it will be if you are referred on for treatment.

 

Cocooning

Cocooning is a measure put in place to help protect those that are more likely to become serious ill if they contract COVID-19. This includes those receiving treatment for cancer. The practice is a technique used to help prevent those who are at a very high risk of becoming sick from contracting COVID-19.

If you are unsure if this applies to you, contact your GP and they can let you know.

Do not have visitors to your home or garden unless it is essential for your care. If you live alone, it's okay for someone to check in on you to see if you are okay. If you have a specific condition which means your doctor has advised against meeting other people, always follow your doctor's advice.

There are different levels of restrictions in place in some counties. Visit gov.ie for more information about levels of restrictions across Ireland.

Recommendation for those previously cocooning are as follows:

Meeting people indoors

You can have visitors to your home or you can visit another household.

Wear a face covering when you meet with anyone indoors. This includes visitors and people you visit.

The people you meet should:

If you choose to visit other people’s homes, tell them in advance that you are coming. Make sure that no one in the household is unwell with coronavirus symptoms.

You should stay 2 metres away from other people and wash your hands on returning home. You should wear a face covering if you cannot maintain a 2 metre distance.

People should not visit you if they have symptoms of coronavirus.

After visitors leave, it is good practice to clean surfaces they have been in contact with. Use your usual household cleaning agents and detergents.

Meeting people outdoors

If you choose to meet people you should:

  • only meet up in small groups
  • only meet for very short periods of time
  • keep a distance of 2 metres between you and other people in the group
  • wash your hands when you get back home

Going for a walk

If you go for a walk, you should:

  • keep a distance of 2 metres between you and other people
  • avoid other people as much as possible
  • avoid surfaces
  • avoid shaking hands
  • wash your hands when you get back home

Going for a drive

If you go for a drive:

  • go alone, with someone who is cocooning with you or someone who is in your core group of family or friends
  • and need to share with someone outside of your core group, such as a taxi, you should both wear face coverings and keep as much distance as possible
  • keep a distance of 2 metres between you and other people when out
  • wash your hands when you get back home

Travelling

Stay at home as much as possible and avoid physical contact with other people if you are cocooning.

If you do travel within your county or to another county, look at the level of the spread of the virus in that region. This can help you think about the best way to protect yourself before you travel.

To read daily updates on the latest cases by county, visit GOV.ie and search for 'cases by county’. You'll find this information in the latest 'Statement from the National Public Health Emergency Team'.

Using public transport

You should avoid using public transport if possible.

If you need to use public transport:

  • go at non-peak times, if possible
  • wear a face covering - this is the law
  • stay 2 metres away from other people
  • wash your hands when you get back home

Going to restaurants

If you choose to go to a restaurant, you should assess the risk before you go.

The restaurant you choose should:

  • be large enough to accommodate 2 metre distancing between tables
  • have safe entry and exit that allows you to keep 2 metres away from others
  • follow public health guidance around strict hygiene measures

To help minimise your risk:

  • keep your visit as short as possible
  • tell the service provider that you are cocooning, if you wish
  • wear a face covering when you move around the restaurant
  • wash your hands when you get back home

Shopping

If you are cocooning, it is best to ask friends or family to go grocery shopping for you. This is because it can be hard to keep a 2 metre distance between you and other people in shops.

If you choose to go shopping, you should:

  • wear a face covering - this is the law in shops, shopping centres and some other retail environments such as hairdressers and cinemas
  • go during the dedicated shopping hours for people who are cocooning - check these with your local supermarket
  • follow strict social distancing guidelines, keeping a distance of 2 metres between you and other people

Read more advice on shopping safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

Moving Forward

As we evaluate our current standings and work to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our own localities, it is more important than ever that we take all available health precautions and follow recommendations to help keep those most vulnerable safe.

What are some of the things you can do?

  • Ensure you are maintaining social distancing of 1m at all times
  • Where a face-covering where possible when in public places, and especially in enclosed areas such as shops or public transport.
  • Continue to practice good hand washing and hygiene etiquette

Face Coverings

Facemasks or coverings are a great way to help prevent the spread of COVID if you have been in contact with the virus. Masks do not protect you from the spread of COVID-19 but it can protect others in the case where you do not know you have been infected.

Here are some helpful tips on how to wear a face-covering most effectively:

  • Before putting on your mask, make sure you clean your hands thoroughly with soap or hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with the mask and make sure there is no gap in between
  • For ear-loop type masks, make sure you position the ear loops around both ears. Avoid touching the covering after placing it on your face.
  • To remove the mask, hold the mask by the ear loops and pull away from the face gently (do not touch the front of the mask).
  • If you have discarded the mask, ensure you clean your hands thoroughly afterwards.
  • Wash the mask in a high-temperature wash to disinfect before each use.

 

Irish designer Aideen Bodkin has created non-medical grade face covering to help keep people safe from the spread of COVID while also helping to support charities like ourselves, whos funding has been devastated by the current pandemic. A pack of two masks is available for just €12 euro and a donation from the sale of each mask goes towards supporting our services. To order a face covering for yourself or those you love, click here.

 

 

 

Seek advice

GP surgeries are open and waiting to take your calls if you have any concerns about your health. One of the things that wasn't put on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic was cancer and illness so if you have noticed any changes to your body or if you have any concerns regarding your health, please reach out to your GP without delay.

Now is also the time to start practising healthy lifestyle choices and helping to prevent cancer through daily routine changes like wearing sunscreen each day and keeping active. Our Your Health Your Choice programme helps you to kick start your healthy lifestyle journey, all while reducing your risk of 4 in 10 cancers. For more information on this programme click here.

 

Keeping up your mental health

While many of us are practising social distancing and cocooning, it's important to look after both our physical and mental health while at home.

Some things that can help keep you busy, and help preserve your mental well being while staying home are -

Staying connected

In this day and age it has never been easier to keep in contact with friends and family. If you are feeling lonely or stressed or simply just want a chat over a cup of tea all you have to do is pick up the phone or send a text. We are also here to talk if you need support or advice surrounding treatment or coronavirus related worry. You can contact us here.

Keeping active

Staying on top of your physical health is just as important as your mental health and going for a walk if possible, do doing 30 minutes of excersis in your home is great way to stay fit while helping to boost your mood.

Make a plan

Try your best to stick to your daily routine as much as possible. If you're working from home, wake up at the same time each day, have your breakfast and get ready for the day. If you start your morning by feeding the dog or putting the washing on, do this each day and create an at home schedule that you can follow. This routine will help you to organise your day and take out some of the uncertainty of staying home.

Looking after your sleep

While it might not seem like the most important thing, your sleep plays a huge part in your mental health and wellbeing. Making sure you are keeping a consistent sleep schedule and are getting enough sleep each night is very important and will affect how you live daily. If you are struggling with sleep, try taking some time out before bed to read or meditate, practising some breathing exercises or play around with your room to make the decor as restful as possible.

Taking time to do the things you enjoy

When we are stressed or worried, it can be easy to let the things we enjoy fall by the wayside. Take a half an hour each day for yourself to relax and let yourself unwind. Whether that be reading a book, watching your favourite TV show or learning a new skill like baking or another language, taking time for yourself is an important and necessary step in making sure you stay mentally healthy. Many people find meditation helpful, especially during periods of high stress and uncertainty. Meditation instructor Orlaith O'Sullivan has kindly created a playlist of the Foundation to help those on a cancer journey relax and unwind during this stressful time. These sessions can be found in the resource section of this page.

A mental health and wellbeing campaign has been launched to help those struggling while staying home, work through their anxieties and fears during this difficult time. More information about the #Together campaign including tips on coping while at home and looking after your mental health can be found here. 

How you can help us

Due to the essential decisions that have been made by the Government in relation to gatherings and social distancing, the Marie Keating Foundation has been forced to cancel all of its upcoming fundraisers, which has had an immediate impact on the cancer charity’s income.

As a result, we are making an urgent appeal for the public’s help as they face an unprecedented situation with fundraising being curtailed and services stretched.

Director of Fundraising Linda Keating explains “The Marie Keating Foundation is so reliant on our main source of income, namely our own events and the public getting behind us with fun runs, coffee mornings, sponsored cycles, overseas walks and taking part in events like the Mini Marathon etc, that for all of these to be cancelled immediately with little notice is potentially devastating for us. We really do need the public’s help to help us continue to offer help to those we support who are now more vulnerable than ever.”

How COVID-19 has changed our services?

Circumstances surrounding COVID-19 are constantly changing and evolving and as a result, our services have too.

 

Positive Living:

In an effort to protect our Positive Living group members from further risk while also continuing to provide a vital service, we have decided to suspend face to face group meetings and instead are now offering online monthly meetings for members both existing and new.

Each month, members will be invited to log in to our virtual meeting and discuss the issues they have encountered, and memories they have made in the past month with their fellow group members and friends. As well as this, we have now established a new community WhatsApp group, meaning group members as well as our nurses can provide support and advice to members each week. For more information and to register for Positive Living, click here.

 

                                      Corporate Webinars:

We understand that businesses want to protect their staff, so we have designed Corporate Wellness Webinars to cater to this need. Our nursing team can now provide educational talks on how to stay healthy, recognise signs and symptoms of cancer as well as providing  information on how to reduce your risk of cancer off site, and employees can login from the office or home. Our aim is to make cancer less frightening by enlightening while also protecting the most vulnerable in our society from illness, and our new wellness webinars do just this. Find more information on how you can book one of our specially trained nurses to speak with your staff here.

 

 

Our Nursing Team:

Our nursing team across Ireland have been working tirelessly to help provide information and support to men and women on a cancer journey and to help them navigate the evolving coronavirus pandemic. Our nursing staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty, some redeploying to help support our health service, while others helping to  support members of high risk community on the ground through their community work.

If you are currently receiving treatment for cancer and would like to speak to one of our nurses, please visit the contact section of our website.

 

 

 

Staying healthy and making good lifestyle choices is still as important as ever when it comes to helping to reduce your risk of cancer. Our Stay Home, Stay Healthy page is designed to help you stay healthy at home during this difficult time. Tips tips on how to exercise while cocooning to how to be SunSmart when social distancing outdoors, now more than ever it is essential to stay healthy  while protecting those most vulnerable. For more information, click here.

Additional Resources

  • The Marie Keating Foundation's six week wellness webinar series for cancer patients and survivors is available on demand here.
  • For up to date information on the coronavirus in Ireland, visit the HSE website
  • To download a copy of the Stay Safe COVID-19 Guideline booklet, click here
  • For posters and educational materials translated into a wide array of different languages, click here. 
  • For information and advice on how to cope with fear and worry related to COVID-19 click here.
  • Mental Health Crisis Textline - A new Crisis Textline – Text 50808, was recently launched. The HSE text-based mental health service will provide support to anyone struggling with any issue, big or small, for free and at any time of any day. The service is staffed by 300 trained crisis volunteers and people can access support by texting 50808.
  • Download information about how to manage long term illness during the pandemic here.
  • To watch a range of videos designed to give information on the coronavirus here

 

  • A new National Bereavement Support Line
    The Irish Hospice Foundation, in conjunction with the HSE, has set up a new National Bereavement Support Line to provide connection, comfort and support to those grieving in these exceptional times.
    It is a freephone service and will be open from 10am to 1pm, Monday to Friday, starting from today, Tuesday 9 June.
    The number to call is 1800 80 70 77. Please find more information here

 

  • ALONE's Q&A for older people, or those caring for the elderly can be found here. For more information about ALONE and the work they do to support older people across Ireland, visit their website here.
  • For more information about Age Action's  Care and Repair Hardship fund click here
  • For information and advice on how to cope with asthma during the COVID-19 pandemic from the Asthma Society of Ireland click here
  • To find information on the Irish Hospice Foundation's Funeral Fund, click here
  • HSE Hospital Service  disruption Information can be found here

Guided meditation sessions with Orlaith O'Suillivan

Deep relaxation:

Great for during the day or at bedtime (it’s fine to fall asleep) - this is a key practice to help soothe our nervous system and give ourselves space to rest, refresh and heal.

Post Work Reset:

This is good for transitions, to help us let go of a busy time or a difficult exchange. We make a gift of this little space so that we can refresh ourselves - then we can be more present for ourselves and our loved ones.

Walking with Marie:

Walking meditation is great when we’re feeling strong emotions. You can walk at any pace and feel safety and kindness in your footsteps

 

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