Health safety practices not new to chemo patients

Social distancing is a new practice for many people throughout the United States as guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are established. These practices, however, are not new to me since I have been undergoing chemotherapy for B Cell Lymphoma since December.

Therefore, I wanted to share what I have learned about protecting yourself when immune compromised and how we need to change our attitude about personal interactions that help prevent the spread of disease. Many of the suggested guidelines could help reduce illnesses we have become accustomed to, such as the flu and the common cold.

When you are vulnerable, you learn meticulous hygiene. You become conscious of every surface you touch and consistently wash your hands and use hand sanitizer after every contact. There are a multitude of commonly touched surfaces and items that include light switches, store product, doorknobs, flush handles on toilets, gas dispenser pumps and the self-checkout keypads at stores. Wiping the handles of grocery carts with a disposable wipe is a common practice with many people, but consider wiping other shared items as well. Also remember to wash your coats and sweaters consistently if you use the sleeves to open doors and don’t wipe your face with the sleeve of your coat.

While undergoing cancer treatment, I have been advised to take many steps to keep from being exposed to illnesses my body would have difficulty fighting at this time. I practice self-isolation for the 10-day period after chemo when I am most vulnerable. I had my fifth treatment Monday, March 16 and was told by my oncologist to extend that for two weeks this time. Isolation can be difficult.

However, I have been able to work from home, writing articles for the newspaper that I can complete via telephone and email interviews. Although I cannot always attend the women’s Bible study at my church, I continue to complete the lessons on schedule. Keeping as much of your routine in place as possible and finding ways to be productive is very helpful. Getting “cabin fever” is a problem, so I often go for a short drive with my husband, maybe around Lake Almanor, which is a safe way to get out of the house.

Often there are projects we have not had time for that we are now able to do. I have purged many old files and sorted through boxes of stored items during this time. I have also been able to read books and magazines I don’t normally find time to read.

I have been going shopping for household essentials during times when I am least susceptible to contracting an illness. However, I go at the times when there are the least number of shoppers and I, as taught by cancer specialists, wear a facemask. I was given a box of facemasks after my first chemo transfusion in Renown Hospital. Attending church, I wear the facemask and sit apart from other people.

During this time of chemotherapy, I have become very aware of unsanitary practices. For example, people cough without appropriately covering their mouths. Also, I have realized people need to be more aware of the health issues of others that differ from theirs. Often they will almost insist on touching you in some way, even though you try to make them understand you cannot hug or shake hands because you are immune compromised.

I think of a young woman I know who has had a kidney transplant and will be immune compromised for life. I think of another friend who is highly allergic to caffeine and waiters and waitresses who are not careful about making sure they are serving decaffeinated coffee. So often we complain when asked to serve gluten free options and or make sure we eliminate peanut products when serving a group of children since peanut allergies are so prevalent now. Let’s be willing to be considerate of those with health issues and do what we can to accommodate their needs.

We often memorize health facts such as the signs of a heart attack. Do we know the signs of commonly transmitted illnesses and the amount of time we are contagious? It is not okay to go about our regular routine when we can infect other people. People need to stay home from work and keep children home from school when they are contagious with any illness.

Many of the practices that are being developed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus should become our regular habits, and with those practices we would become a healthier nation.