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.

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 close contact with people - keep 2 metres (6.5 feet) between you and others

Avoid crowded spaces, especially indoors.

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
  • Treatment break 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.

Someone will be in contact with you to make sure you are well before your scheduled appointment. You and the person accompanying you to your treatment appointment may have your temperature checked but this is just a precaution.

You are advised to attend appointments without family members or carers, where possible, to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the infection.
We would also advise avoiding arriving early for appointments to minimise time spent in daywards and waiting rooms.

If you have concerns regarding the coronavirus’s symptoms, call your GP or oncologist for advice before attending. If you start to experience any symptoms associated with the virus, contact your oncology unit by phone without delay.

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

  • Tell visitors not to call if they have any symptoms of coronavirus.
  • Meet people in a well-ventilated room or outdoors.
  • Ask visitors to wash their hands properly.
  • Ask visitors to keep a space of at least 2 metres (6.5 feet) between you and them.
  • Make a joint plan with family, friends and neighbours for the support you need now, or if     you become unwell.
  • Refill your prescription medications and have over-the-counter medicines and supplies, for example, tissues and a thermometer
  • Keep physically active, if possible.

  Don't

  • Do not have any more than 2 visitors at a time to your home.
  • Do not shake hands with visitors.
  • Do not isolate yourself from friends and family.

 

 

Another way to help protect against the spread of COVID_19 is to practice social distancing and  reducing the amount of close contact you have with people. Close contact is considered as

  • Face to face contact
  • Living in the same house
  • Spending more than 15 minutes in a room with someone.

This is a very uncertain time and living with COVID_19 uncertainty can become increasingly difficult for those living with a cancer diagnosis. For advice on coping with coronavirus rooted worry while living with cancer, click here.

 

 

Advice for those volunteering with cancer patients

If you are working with people that are receiving cancer treatment, you should cease activity and avoid contact if you experience any of the following-

  • You have any symptoms of possible coronavirus, such as cough or fever (phone your GP)
  • In the last 14 days, you have been in contact with someone with coronavirus. You will need to restrict your movements until the 14 days are up.
  • You have been to any country outside the island of Ireland in the last 14 days. You will need to restrict your movements until the 14 days are up.

 

This advice is particularly important for volunteers working with cancer patients currentlyon treatment, as their immune system may be weakened, making it harder for them to fight infection.

The most important thing you can do for the people you are caring for is to reduce your risk of becoming ill so that you in turn have a lower chance of passing the illness on. By following the below steps, and encouraging others to do the same, you can help protect those with a compromised immune system.

 

Do

  • Coordinate with others to limit the number of visitors
  • Meet in a well-ventilated room or outdoors
  • Wash your hands properly and often.
  • Keep a space of at least 2 metres (6.5 feet) between you
  • Refill their prescription medications and check they have over-the-counter medicines and supplies, for example, tissues and a thermometer.
  • Think of different ways that you can offer support, such as by phone or dropping off groceries

 

Don't

  • Do not allow more than 2 visitors at a time.
  • Do not shake hands
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
  • Do not volunteer to help if you have any symptoms of coronavirus or you have been asked to restrict your movements for 14 days
 
 

 

Cocooning

Cocooning is a measure put in place to help protect those over 70 or those with extreme medical vulnerabilty such as those actively 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.

Those that have been advised to cocoon are those over 70 years of age as well as those with specific kinds of cancers such as cancer of the blood and lukemia. If you are unsure if this applies to you, contact your GP and they can let you know.

When cocooning, its is recommended that you:

 

  •  Strictly avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of COVID-19. These symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough.
  • Stay at home. However, you may go out for a short walk for exercise beyond your garden or yard but should strictly adhere to the 2 metres physical (social) distancing measures, maintain a ‘no-touch’ policy and wash your hands on returning home. Avoidance of shops is still recommended.
  • Do not attend any gatherings. This includes gatherings of friends and families in private spaces for example family homes, weddings and religious services.
  • Do not go out for shopping and, when arranging food or medication deliveries, these should be left at the door to minimise contact.
  • Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media.
  • Do use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services.
  • Ensure you keep phones/devices charged, and have credit on your phone so that you can stay connected.

Living with someone who is cocooning

If you are living with someone that is cocooning, you do not have to take on these measures for yourself but it is expected that you keep up strict physical distancing practices. To help support those cocooning within your household, you should:

  • stay away from those cocooning in your home most of the time unless in a well-ventilated room with a window to the outside that you can open.
  • try to keep at least 1 metre (3 ft) and where possible 2 metres away from them at all times
  • You should clean your hands regularly and practice good respiratory etiquette.
  • If you can, you should use a toilet and bathroom that those cocooning don't have to use. If this is not possible, the toilet and bathroom you use needs to be kept clean. Another tip is to consider drawing up a rota for bathing, with those cocooning using the facilities first.
  • Make sure you use separate towels from the other people in your house, both for drying after bathing or showering and for hand-hygiene purposes.
  • If you share a kitchen, avoid using it while those cocooning are present. If you can, take meals for those cocooning back to their room to eat. If you have one, use a dishwasher to clean and dry the family’s used crockery and cutlery. If this is not possible, wash them using your usual washing-up liquid and warm water and dry them thoroughly. Do not share cutlery and utensils. When using your own utensils, remember to use a separate tea towel for drying these.
  • Clean all surfaces, such as counters, table-tops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets and toilet handles, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables, every day with your usual household cleaning products, like detergents and bleach as these will be very effective getting rid of the virus. Follow the instructions on the manufacturer’s label and check they can be used on the surface you are cleaning.

We understand that it will be difficult for some people to separate themselves from others at home. You should do your very best to follow this guidance and everyone in your household should regularly wash their hands, avoid touching their face, and clean frequently touched surfaces such as door handles and table tops. If the rest of your household stringently follow advice on physical distancing and minimise the risk of spreading the virus within the home by following the advice above, there is no need for them to also cocoon alongside you.

For more information on cocooning, visit gov.ie here or to watch a video about what cocooning is and why it is so important, 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. 

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.

 

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

For up to date information on the coronavirus in Ireland, visit the HSE website

For information and advice on how to cope with fear and worry related to COVID-19 click here.

To purchase non-medical grade face coverings and help support Irish charities, click here. 

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

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.

 

Educational Materials-

To dowload a copy of a How to prevent the coronavirus infographic click here

Dowload a copy of the HSE's information booklet here

Prevention poster - here

Symptoms poster –here

Who is at risk poster –here

Hand Hygiene poster – here

Social distancing when outdoors poster - here

General Information poster – here.

 

 

 

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