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COVID-19 Information for Caregivers of Cancer Patients

  • patient with spouse

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new challenges for the caregivers of cancer patients. During this time, there are actions you can take as a caregiver to reduce your risk of getting sick or infecting others with the disease.

    Prepare Your Home

    If you are caring for someone who is at a higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) encourages you to plan ahead:

    • Contact the patient's health care provider to ask about possibly obtaining extra, necessary medications. If this is not possible, see if you can have the medications mailed to you instead of picking them up in person.
    • Be sure to have over-the-counter medical supplies on hand that can be used to treat fever and other symptoms.
    • Have enough household items and groceries available so that you limit the time you need to be outside or at the store.
    • Be sure to clean and disinfect your home to remove germs. A good practice is to routinely scrub often-touched surfaces, such as tables, doorknobs, and light switches. When cleaning these items, use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfecting.

    Take Everyday Precautions

    The best way to keep others from getting sick is to ensure that you yourself are not exposed to the virus. To do so, please keep the following tips in mind:

    • Wash your hands properly and often. This needs to be done for at least 20 seconds using soap and water. If you do not have access to soap and water, be sure to use hand sanitizer that contains 60% alcohol.
    • Avoid touching your face, nose, and eyes, especially if you have come in contact with "high-touch" surfaces in public areas, such as elevator buttons, door handles, and handrails.
    • Work to avoid crowds, and practice physical distancing (a minimum of six feet).
    • Cancel all non-essential travel. This includes vacations as well as everyday trips to the store.

    Practice Self-Care

    As a caregiver, it is important to have your own support, too. So, it is essential to take some time for yourself (and having support around you can help).

    Try to delegate responsibilities. If you are feeling overwhelmed or need to take a step back, it is very helpful to talk with someone about your feelings and needs. Make sure you also practice good personal wellbeing, healthy eating, and hygiene. Try to find an outlet to address the additional stress and anxiety you may be experiencing; it's difficult to give someone else the support and time they may need if you aren't also taking care of yourself.

    Not sure where to start? Juliana G. Berfield, PhD, movement instructor at Dana-Farber's Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies, suggests trying these six science-based, self-care strategies that can help reduce stress:

    • Exercise: Physical activity is an instant mood booster and stress reducer that also helps to improve your circulation, digestion, immune system, and sleep.
    • Sleep: Make sleep and rest a priority, and always aim for quality over quantity.
    • Connection: Make sure to stay connected with family, friends, and your community. This can and should be done virtually. You can remain socially connected by using tools such as Zoom, FaceTime, Google Duo, or other video communications services.
    • Appreciation: Take time every day to think about what you are grateful for. This may also be a great time to start a gratitude journal if you haven't done so already.
    • Laughter: Don't forget to laugh. Laughter has been shown to increase endorphins, soothe tension, and provide instant stress relief. FaceTime a friend, or check out some comedies on TV.
    • Breathing: Meditation and breathing to relax are the most important things you can do to calm your anxieties, reduce stress, and enhance your focus. Take 3 to 5 slow breaths, and tell yourself to "slow down" or "stay calm." You can also count your breaths up to 10, and repeat as often as necessary. This is a highly effective, all-natural, anti-anxiety exercise.
  • Self-Care for Patients and Caregivers

    Both patients and their caregivers need to practice self-care for emotional and physical well-being in this challenging time. Read helpful information on coping day-to-day with COVID-19 uncertainty.

  • Grieving During a Pandemic

    COVID-19 has up-ended our lives and routines, creating fear and anxiety. Coping at this time is extremely stressful, especially if your loved one has died during the pandemic, whether or not as a result of COVID-19. If your loved one has recently died, this guide offers suggestions for grieving during this difficult time.

  • Find more resources and information for caregivers in our web section, Caring for a Loved One.

  • Webinar: Living With and Caring for Immunocompromised Patients in the COVID-19 Era
    Paul Richardson, MD, Clinical Program Leader and Director of Clinical Research, Jerome Lipper Multiple Myeloma Center, led this webinar for the families and friends of adults with cancer.