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The new coronavirus (COVID-19)—what you need to know as a cancer patient, survivor or caregiver

March 23, 2020

Last updated May 11, 2020

[man speaking on phone]A respiratory virus, COVID-19, has been spreading around the world and was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020.

If you’re a cancer patient, survivor or caregiver, you may be wondering what this means for you. “Social distancing,” the recommended practice to minimize your exposure and slow the spread of the virus, can be particularly difficult when you are dealing with a cancer diagnosis.

For patients, survivors and caregivers looking for support, our friends at Cancer Support Community have you covered. You can utilize MyLifeLine.org to keep your family up to date on your cancer journey or join more than 2,000 online discussion boards with people sharing the same experience.

You can also access the CSC’s helpline (with services in English and Spanish) by phone at 1-888-793-9355 or live chat. The helpline is staffed by counselors and resource specialists Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. ET. The helpline is now featuring extended hours Saturday-Sunday from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. ET to support additional requests as a result of COVID-19 concerns.

Then catch a special episode of Frankly Speaking About Cancer addressing questions from cancer patients and caregivers about COVID-19.

You can also do your part to help slow the spread of the virus by self-reporting daily, even if you are well, in the COVID Symptom Tracker from Massachusetts General Hospital, Stand Up To Cancer and Nurses’ Health Study. The questionnaire takes one minute to complete and includes questions for cancer patients and survivors.

Financial assistance

There are several organizations and new initiatives that can help ease the financial burden of your diagnosis during this difficult time.

  • If you’ve become unemployed and have lost your health insurance, you can purchase insurance coverage on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace. Under the ACA, insurance companies cannot refuse you or charge you more because of preexisting conditions. See your options at healthcare.gov.
  • If you’re a cancer patient (or have multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis) and are experiencing difficult accessing or affording food due to COVID-19, you can apply for “The COVID-19 Emergency Food Assistance Program.” The program comes from Team Rubicon, in collaboration with the Patient Advocate Foundation (PAF), and funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS).
  • The PAN Foundation offers nearly 70 disease-specific assistance programs to help patients pay for their out-of-pocket costs, such as deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance, travel expenses and health insurance premiums.
  • The Patient Advocate Foundation (PAF) provides financial aid to Americans with chronic, life threatening and debilitating illnesses. They offer co-pay assistance and financial relief funds.
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) has expanded patient support to help unemployed patients in the U.S. who have lost their health insurance because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible patients with a current BMS medication prescription can get free medication. Call 1-800-721-8909 or visit BMS.com.
  • PAF provides financial aid to Americans with chronic, life threatening and debilitating illnesses. They offer co-pay assistance and financial relief funds.
  • BMS has expanded patient support to help unemployed patients in the U.S. who have lost their health insurance because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible patients with a current BMS medication prescription can get free medication. Call 1-800-721-8909 or visit BMS.com.

Health insurance

There are new coronavirus resources available through healthcare.gov for those seeking new or alternative health insurance coverage due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The site is a single source for information on purchasing exchange plans, continuing prior employer-sponsored coverage through COBRA, or getting help with premiums if you’ve lost your employer-sponsored coverage or have had a significant change in income.

What are the symptoms?

The following symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure and can mimic flu-like symptoms. They include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

In most cases, people recover with rest and at-home treatment. In some cases, patients will need to be hospitalized, and infection can lead to serious, and sometimes fatal, illness.

How can I protect myself?

There is currently not vaccine to prevent against COVID-19. The best ways to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community include:

  • Prevent being exposed to the virus by practicing social distancing. Stay home as much as possible, and when you must go out, keep at least 6 feet of space between yourself and other people.
  • Wash your hands frequently, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds. If you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow instead of your hand.
  • Wear a cloth face covering when out in public, especially in settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain (e.g. grocery stores). The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators, which must be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders.
  • If you are sick, call your doctor for guidance before going in.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Do your best to continue taking care of your health. The Prevent Cancer Foundation and Cancer Support Community are here to support you during these uncertain times. Check out our 7 Steps  for more ways to live a healthy lifestyle.


Need more information about COVID-19?

You can find more information on COVID-19 and how it spreads, how it is treated and more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While most people who get COVID-19 will experience mild symptoms (and some may not have any symptoms at all), there are some people at higher risk of series illness if exposed to COVID-19, including:

  • Adults over the age of 60
  • People with serious health conditions, including lung disease and cancer

At-home testing for both the virus and antibodies to the virus (in those who have recovered) has great potential to slow the spread of COVID-19, but this option is not yet available.

2 Comments

I would like information on the at-home test. I have had a cough for several weeks. I visited the doctor in Feb. I was given some medicine. I took most of it. I am taking the rest now. The cough is getting better. It gets worse at night. I practice isolation and I have not shopped in at least 2 weeks. I went to the pharmacy last Friday. My grandbaby has a cough. I took the whooping cough shot before he was born. He has been checked by the doctors. He had croup but has since gotten over it. What do you recommend to me?

Reply

Thanks for writing, Sonya. We’re unable to give medical advice specific to a particular condition. We encourage you to contact your doctor again for advice. We hope you get well again soon.

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