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Coronavirus: Quarantined and Needing Chemotherapy

Coronavirus: Quarantined and Needing Chemotherapy
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Published on March 23, 2020

About 20 years ago, I went to the New Orleans Jazz Festival with friends, one of their fathers and the father’s friend, who was also his cardiologist. I remembered this so vividly last week, thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a member of your medical team with you, even at concerts or on vacation?”

In watching the COVID-19 news unfold online, my heart sank for a woman on a cruise ship, the Grand Princess, medically quarantined off the coast of San Francisco, and needing to get to her next chemotherapy appointment. Another patient was in the same boat, literally, and also in need of her next scheduled chemotherapy. This second patient had been treated for stage IV breast cancer, and the chemotherapy was helping the cancer stay stable.

It’s one thing to be quarantined at home, but I imagine the dismay of being sequestered in a cabin with only recycled air getting into my room, floating off the coast, surrounded by a growing number of sick patients.

A Second Quarantine

A husband and wife duo who were also aboard the Grand Princess were alerted, without much warning, that they would be able to exit the ship. They were taken to Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, where they received basic healthcare but not cancer care, as the husband needed. It’s a strange time, and I am sure the authorities are doing the best they can, but it is concerning that some of the most vulnerable patients are unable to get the scheduled cancer care they need.

We know that the entire country of Italy has locked down to protect the citizens, especially those with compromised immune systems. What can be learned from their experience? For one thing, patients have to decide whether it is worth the risk to go to the clinic for their latest treatment or if it is too risky. What we’re now calling social distancing can be a great way to slow the spread of a virus, but patients with cancer are unlikely to skip an appointment, unless the risk of going to the clinic far outweighs the risk of staying home. 

Unfortunately, the patients on the cruise ship were not able to make that choice for themselves. They were not allowed off the boat to get home and discuss next steps with their medical teams. It’s likely this experience will motivate them, and others, to create a contingency plan for future trips. 

Check With Your Medical Team Before Traveling

Some tips for preparing for vacation when we’re in a post-COVID-19 world: 

  • Discuss your travel plans with your oncologist before confirming flights or hotels—ask if they have concerns about your destination, mode of travel or length of time you plan to be away.
  • If you are receiving IV chemotherapy, ask if oral or transdermal options are available.
  • If you are taking any medications, see if your doctor is willing and able to prescribe an extra supply in case of unexpected travel delays. 
  • Ask your oncology team how they would communicate your treatment plan to other medical providers in case you need care while traveling; also, be sure you know the best way to get ahold of them.

With contingency plans, people undergoing cancer care should be able to enjoy time with their friends and loved ones. How patients and their medical teams do during this virus outbreak will help inform plans in the future. 

 ~Lauren Evoy Davis

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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