Protecting yourself during cancer treatment
W With bad cold and flu season still hitting much of the country, many people are taking extra steps to avoid getting sick. For many cancer patients, these precautions are not just a seasonal consideration, but an established fact, because infection is more than a simple inconvenience, it can have serious effects on your health and your treatment program. Experts recommend that patients protect themselves by taking certain precautions, many of which can create socially awkward moments, such as refusing to shake hands at a business meeting or wearing a mask at the grocery store. But there are ways to manage both your health and your social relationships, and they often start with a good dose of information, such as telling your friends, co-workers, and loved ones that you should work hard to avoid illness and why.
“The infection-fighting capabilities of a cancer patient are not the same as those of the average individual. Infections in cancer patients are dangerous and protection is essential.” – Mashiul Chowhury, MD – Head of the CTCA Division of Infectious Diseases
Some cancer treatments weaken patients’ immune systems, making them more likely to get sick than the average person, whether it’s from contaminated food, airborne germs, or viruses on dirty surfaces. Practicing healthy hand hygiene is the first step in protecting yourself, says Dr. Choudary, because many infections are spread by touching dirty surfaces. Check out the other tips below to protect yourself during common social situations:
In their daily lives, cancer patients often find themselves in public places, coming into contact with tables, chairs, doors and doorknobs that are contaminated with other people’s germs. “This is why cancer patients should be very careful about what they do every day,” says Dr. Choudary. “It’s very easy to pick up germs in public.”
Advise patients to avoid crowded places, such as malls, supermarkets, airports, and public swimming pools and restrooms, if possible. If you have to go out in public, wash your hands often and use hand sanitizer if you don’t have a sink nearby. Dr. Choudary also recommends wearing a mask to protect yourself from airborne bacteria.
When you have cancer, you may need to take time off work for appointments and treatments, so it is often necessary to tell a supervisor or someone in Human Resources that you are receiving medical treatment. But it is up to you whether and to what extent you want to inform your co-workers or the employer of your diagnosis. If you decide to open up, you have options, such as sharing your news in an email or during a one-to-one meeting.
Also, be aware of how to protect yourself in the office. Consider bringing hand sanitizer to meetings and avoid co-workers who are showing signs that they may be spreading bugs. Telling workers your diagnosis can help open up those lines of communication, and tell your co-workers to take certain precautions, such as staying home when sick, to avoid spreading germs.
in his place of worship
Since many religious places are social in nature, including, for example, hugging, shaking hands or being around other parishioners, Cancer patients may have difficulty deciding whether or not to attend services. But Reverend Percy McCray, director of religious programs at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), cautions patients not to let cancer get in the way of their faith. Because avoiding illness is of paramount importance, each patient must decide what makes the most sense for his or her condition. “There are emotional and physical aspects to each individual’s decision,” he says. “Some people may feel more comfortable not attending social services. Others may feel comfortable only wearing a mask and explaining to those around them that they have cancer. Others may still prefer not to share that personal information at all and simply refrain from contacting others.”
If you feel more comfortable avoiding social worship, consider asking members of the congregation to pray for you in your absence, or having the congregation leader visit you at home or in the hospital so that you still feel connected to your faith during treatment.
At a friend’s house
After a cancer diagnosis, many patients make a conscious decision about sharing their diagnosis with more informal acquaintances in social gatherings. Whether or not you choose to share a diagnosis, consider bringing your own plate to parties and other food-based outings, says Carolyn Lammersfeld, MD, vice president of integrative medicine at the CTCA. ® . This is important, not only because you may need to follow a certain diet, but also because it may be the only way to know that the food has been safely prepared and kept at the proper temperatures, which is important for preventing disease borne illnesses. . “Especially during this time of year when colds and flu are rampant, it’s critical to protect yourself as much as possible from illnesses that might get in the way of your treatment,” Lammersfeld says.
It’s also important to make sure you and your loved ones get the flu shot, and if someone close to you gets the flu, keep your distance. Dr. Choudary says that in cancer patients, the flu can quickly become severe. If you are exposed to the flu during treatment, ask your doctor whether you should take an antiviral medication to reduce your risk of getting sick.