“Is it ok to visit my friend who’s just had chemo while I’m sick?”.
Well this will be a short one this week as unfortunately, your writer is very under the weather battling a cold. It’s got me thinking about immunity after cancer, as I know I am more susceptible to bugs, even nine years after treatment. Every year I get the flu vaccine, but without lymph nodes under my arm it doesn’t seem to take much for a head cold to turn into a chest infection (I also have to be careful of scrapes as I’ve managed to get cellulitis twice!). Last year my cold turned into severe bronchitis that had me laid low for a couple of weeks and I’ll be keeping an eye on this should it get any worse. You may not know that some survivors have an emergency antibiotics prescription on hand so they can tackle the inevitable infections that pop up, as quickly as possible. Some even take a low-level antibiotic, every day!
So I’m a stickler for washing my hands when I’ve been out and about, and I avoid touching anything that might be too “germy” (I’m that person on the airplane wiping down the chair and the tray!) but other than living in a bubble, it’s very difficult to avoid the normal bugs that we pick up as we go about our day. But what about people going through chemo? Their immunity is very poor in the week after a treatment so what is the right way to handle that situation?
Well for friends and family, if you have a cough or cold, it’s best to keep your distance from the patient until you are well. And for patients, it’s ok to ask people to stay away for a few days and when they visit, you might prefer they wear a mask over their nose/mouth (easily purchased at a pharmacy). You could use the CanDo app to send an update to friends/family that if they have a sniffle or a runny nose, they’re best to visit another time as otherwise they could unwittingly make you sick. Especially if you have friends with small children, who pick things up at daycare or the playground, they may not realise how their sniffle that they’ve gotten used to, can be a danger to someone with compromised immunity. But they’d rather know and not feel bad about exposing you to danger.
If you’re looking for tips on “chemo ettiquette” there are a number of guides online to help you. I liked this one from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute because it gives some practical guidelines on how to manage when visiting.
It’s also worth remembering that the reason we have vaccines is not just to protect the person who has the jab, but to provide herd immunity to those with a compromised immunity – like those who’ve recently had chemo. So if you’re around someone who is seriously ill, consider getting the flu vaccine. And in the event that you’re not well, please don’t “soldier on” but stay home until you’re not spreading those bugs around.
My lungs and those of many others, thank you!
Speaking of lungs, November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.
While smoking is still probably the worst thing you can do for your health, and particularly your lungs, lung cancer is on the rise amongst people who’ve never smoked. So it makes sense for all of us to be aware of symptoms and the importance of early detection. Find out more here.
So that’s all for today. Will be back (hopefully) stronger and with more CanDo news this time next week.
The CanDo app is supported by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.
When the question is “What can I do?”, CanDo helps turn empathy into action.
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