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Italy's Coronavirus Lockdown: How Are Cancer Patients Impacted?

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Published on March 17, 2020

Key Takeaways

  • ​​If you're on an immunosuppressant treatment, ask your healthcare team whether it's more important to stop therapy to give your immune system strength or to fight the cancer.
  • It's critical for care partners, or anyone interacting with cancer patients, to manage this connection safely during the outbreak. 

The Italian government enforced nationwide quarantine restrictions to combat the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19); closing schools, restaurants and most stores, suspending weddings, funerals and cultural events, and instructing people to stay at home, except for essential travel. 

What does Italy's lockdown mean for cancer patients? ​​Is it safe to go to the clinic for treatment? Reporting from Turin, Italy, CML patient advocate Felice Bombaci describes the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the cancer community. Watch to hear his perspective on the pandemic and how he's coping.

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Transcript | Italy's Coronavirus Lockdown: How Are Cancer Patients Impacted?

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.

Andrew Schorr:

Hello and welcome to Patient Power. Andrew Schorr, north of San Diego, California. And we're joined by my dear friend, Felice Bombaci from Torino or Turin, Italy. Felice, for many years has been a leading patient advocate for cancer patients, particularly blood cancer patients in Italy and has been living with chronic myelogenous or myeloid leukemia for many years. Felice, there you are in Italy, and the country is kind of locked down. So you're stuck in your home, aren't you?

Felice Natale Bombaci:

Yes. I stay at home, because it's necessary to stay home. We need to stay at home because of the emergency. Now all patients, all people stay at home, because we have many problems. We need to not spread this flu, this virus, because it's very dangerous, especially for patients with immuno-depressed system. Then we need to pay more and more attention, as a patient advocate, I am working with the physicians to address, to reply, to create like a factory, at least for patients, to understand how they manage their disease in this particular period.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. So here we are in America, many of us, and we're saying, "Well, what's going on in Italy?" And the questions that you are facing are ones we have to face here, so let's talk about that. For cancer patients, so I have chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which affects my immune systemI also have myelofibrosis. We have other patients with myeloma, for example. We're wondering when do we come to the clinic and if we need infused therapy, is it safe to come to the clinic, or do we stay home? And that's what you're talking about in Italy, right?

Felice Natale Bombaci:

Yes, because there are two kinds of the problem. One is the problem that you say is the, "I go in the clinic. Is safe for me to take my treatment?" But then another is, "The treatment is it dangerous for me, exposes me to more risks because of this kind of drug, this kind of treatment, reduces my immune system response, destroys my immune system. This is the also for doctor, but because the doctor is in a new situation now. They manage the patient in this field where they at the moment are not experienced. But also we need to understand more and more.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. As we know for patients, there are many guidelines that we establish over time the world-famous doctors get together. Here are the guidelines of what we do in this situation or that. But now we're in a whole new situation. And what Felice is talking about is might you take a pause in certain medicines, your treatment, because they would depress your immune system further, and that is more important to stop the therapy to give your immune system some more strength, or is it more important to fight the cancer? That's what they're trying to figure out.

Felice Natale Bombaci:

And this is the question for the patient, but it's also for physician. They need to have a conscience about how they manage the diseases in different stages, in this moment, in this emergency, not just to look at the disease and how we manage the disease, about how we manage the disease with the coronavirus. This a different approach. And guidelines for this don’t exist. How will the patient pay attention who don't have the flu, take vaccines? But now we have no vaccines. We have no…

Andrew Schorr:

…no guidelines. No guideline.

Felice Natale Bombaci:

We need to understand more and more. And also the problem is the caregiver stays with the patient. Goes to work, come back to the house, to home, creates problem to patient or not. How is it important to, with how we manage this connection between patient, caregiver, family?

Andrew Schorr:

Right? Big, big questions. So Italy is trying to figure this out. You have 60 million people. Your country is on lockdown. You're at home. We should mention that besides my friend Felice, folks, being an angel in patient advocacy, he has two children who are doctors. And he has a third child who's studying to be a doctor. So he has a medical family, and Felice might as well be a doctor himself for all he knows. So, Felice, a couple of questions, in Italy you people naturally hug and kiss and shake hands. And now we're seeing social distancing. But I know that you people have been singing songs out your window with your neighbors. How are you coping? You have a smile now. How are you coping? How are the Italian people coping?

Felice Natale Bombaci:

When we change, we try to change our behavior. We find the new normality, because we go in the balcony in some time, in some hour. And the [inaudible] in the afternoon at 6:00 PM, we stay in the balcony and give in the song, something with the other people, say “ciao” to the people because for me, for the Italian people, it's very complicated to stay alone from the other people, to maintain distance, because we normally hug, kiss and then we change it. We go to lecture by Internet, to visit the museum, because the people stay at home. Also, we work at home. For example, I work for FCA, and iWork is not working.

Andrew Schorr:

This is Fiat and Chrysler and all that, right?

Felice Natale Bombaci:

I’m at home, work at home. And also we need to change the food needs, because we stay in the [inaudible]. We stay in the [inaudible]. We do not go around, then we need to change our diet.

Andrew Schorr:

Less pasta? Less pasta.

Felice Natale Bombaci:

Pasta, how much? Reduce the food also, because many changes from this experience—a change in your life.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, Felice Bombaci, we wish you, your wife Risa, your three children, medical student and medical doctors, all the best. And we'll be back with you Felice. But as you stay in your home, thank you for the work you're doing on the Internet with patients and doctors throughout Italy as we try to get past this. And thank you for sharing your perspective with us today. We'll talk again, okay, Felice?

Felice Natale Bombaci:

Okay. Thank you to you. And you, give ciao to your family, lovely family.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. Ciao! Andrew Schorr, with my friend Felice Bombaci, who's in Torino, Italy, and in lockdown right now, staying in this home, but using the Internet to help so many people, in his medical family, in the hospitals, as they can to help as well. Remember, knowledge in community now can be the best medicine of all. 

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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