Editor’s note: For information about how coronavirus disease (COVID-19) affects pancreatic cancer patients, please see our blog covering frequently asked questions for patients.
Please continue to follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for up to date information and guidelines about COVID-19 and pay attention to policies and restrictions specific to your state or region, as they are constantly evolving. Please also speak with your healthcare team for personalized information and instructions.
Caring for a pancreatic cancer patient can be difficult at any time. When there is heightened fear and uncertainty, as is true during this COVID-19 pandemic, this difficulty increases.
As people around you isolate, quarantine and physically distance themselves, your concern for your loved one facing pancreatic cancer is likely growing.
We want you to know you are not alone. Here are some things for caregivers to keep in mind during this troubling time.
Communicate with Your Healthcare Teams – Yours and Your Loved One’s
Ongoing communication with your healthcare team and the patient’s is critical during this time.
Speak with the patient’s doctor about how their treatment and appointments may be affected by COVID-19 precautions.
Contact the patient’s healthcare team immediately if anyone in the patient’s household or anyone who has had contact with the patient recently has symptoms.
Don’t be afraid to check in with the healthcare team along the way. The situation is evolving, and recommendations may change.
Also know that some institutions and cancer centers are putting rules in place about visitors for hospitalized patients or those receiving outpatient care, like chemotherapy treatments. Some hospitals are also encouraging patients and healthcare professionals to cancel elective surgeries or unnecessary checkup appointments. Contact your institution to learn if any new rules are in effect.
Let your healthcare team know that you are caring for someone with pancreatic cancer. Ask if appointments are necessary and hold off on those that are not. But if your appointments are necessary, make sure to keep them. Your health is important, as well.
Know What to Do If You Develop Symptoms
Create a plan in case you or someone in your household develops symptoms. How will you isolate? Who can you ask to take over caregiving? Who will you need to contact (including the patient’s and your healthcare teams)?
Having a plan in place will help you act quickly and hopefully minimize the risk to you, the patient and others in the household.
Continue Getting Support from Others
If you generally rely on support from others to help get daily tasks completed, you may feel concerned about how you will manage everything while limiting contact. There are options.
Though it may be more difficult to get help with in-person tasks like errands, household chores and meal preparation, ask for help with things that can be done from a distance, such as gathering and tracking necessary information.
If it is appropriate for the patient’s needs, friends and family may be able to order food and other necessities to be delivered to your home. You may also consider delivery instead of running errands yourself.
Friends, family and neighbors may also help by keeping you and your loved one virtual company – over the phone and through video.
Seek expert help from home health services, psychologists, counselors or other specialists, if needed. Professional mental health experts may talk with you over the phone or video if you cannot come in for a physical appointment during this time.
Also, do not cut off social contact. Without social gatherings and visitors, it’s easy to lose contact with people outside your home. Schedule time – and keep the appointments – to catch up with friends and loved ones over the phone, through video or through social media.
Seek support from friends and family with whom you can share your feelings honestly. You can also join a support group (online or telephone groups) that allows you to talk with caregivers, or connect one-on-one with others who have been in a similar situation through programs like PanCAN’s Survivor & Caregiver Network.
Take Care of Yourself as Much as Possible
Though your self-care may be more difficult and not top of mind at times like this, it is critical.
Try to eat healthy, sleep well and get exercise.
Do whatever refreshes and renews you as consistently as possible. Reading, listening to music, cooking and writing in a journal are just a few options you might find helpful. You may also benefit from meditation, yoga or breathing exercises.
If you normally take a class or go to a public place for any activity, see if there is an online substitute available. For example, you can find many home workouts, guided mediations and more on YouTube and through mobile apps.
“This will be a challenging time,” said Nicole Feingold, MA, senior director of Scientific and Medical Affairs at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
“Right now, we are defining our temporary new normal. We have to adapt as well as put into place novel ways to maintain our emotional, physical and spiritual health while adhering to the recommendations to keep our communities safe. Taking these steps will enable us to better manage this situation.”