Coping with a natural disaster is hard. But, when you or a loved one is a cancer patient as well, that coping process becomes much more difficult. It is important to know what you can do to prepare for a weather emergency if you are in treatment for cancer
as well as what to do after the storm. In light of the many natural disasters so many are facing today, let’s share some important tips for those who are not only recovering from a natural disaster but from cancer as well.
First, let’s discuss 5 Common What Ifs:
- If you are in an emergency housing facility: Let those in charge know immediately you are receiving cancer treatment. Provide the name of your physician and the type of treatment. They will do their best to get you to the nearest emergency treatment center.
- If you don't know your treatment specifics:Contact your physician, your treatment facility OR your insurance provider for the information as soon as possible.
- If your facility is closed:Contact the facility AND your physician. They will help you arrange necessary visits to a new facility or a local emergency room.
- If you don't have access to OR don't know how to administer your cancer medication: Talk with a disaster-relief nurse at the shelter. This person or the shelter director can help connect you with a nearby physician or pharmacy.
- If your medication helps you manage pain or depression: An interruption in the use of these drugs may cause physical or mental problems. Make sure your new doctor, pharmacy, treatment center or shelter director know about ALL the medications you are taking.
Now, some shelters and emergency housing facilities have a separate area for those with special medical needs. In some areas, entire shelters will be devoted to those with special medical needs. But, IF
this is not the case and IF
you have just received your chemo, you will have a low white blood count and therefore you will be more susceptible to infection, illness and disease.
If that's the case, here are 7 Very Important Safety Tips to remember:
- DO NOT LET ANYONE GIVE YOU A LIVE VACCINE...unless a personal physician who knows your cancer history says it’s ok. Also, do not come into contact with anyone who has received a live vaccine. These vaccines include smallpox, measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), varicella zoster for shingles or chickenpox and the flu nasal spray. If you are receiving cancer treatment, your compromised immune system can make the diseases inside these vaccines deadly.
- Do take emergency vaccinations. Vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, tetanus, pneumococcus and the flu may be offered at your shelter. If so, make sure the person administering the vaccine knows about your cancer history and when you had your last treatment.
- Wash your hands with soap and water. Do this as often as possible for as long as it takes you to sing "Happy Birthday" from beginning to end – TWICE. If this is not possible, ask for alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Keep cuts and wounds clean and bandaged and use an antibiotic cream like Neosporin daily.
- Bathe or shower with clean linens. Also, don’t share eating utensils with others.
- Drink only bottled or boiled water. If there’s no safe drinking water. If boiling your water, make sure it has been boiled for one minute.
- Only eat thoroughly washed produce and fully cooked meat. Avoid anything that has been sitting around for more than two hours. Also, ask your new doctor if you should avoid certain foods until you return to permanent housing.
In this way, we can cope with Mother Nature AND
ensure safety and continued care for those being treated for cancer. For more information about what to do during a natural disaster while you're in treatment for cancer, visit the American Cancer Society's page
Have you ever been involved in a natural disaster as a cancer patient? If so, share your story in the comments below!
Photo courtesy of Breno Machado.