Treatment changes and coronavirus restrictions

Wednesday 01 April 2020

Coping with cancer treatments is always a challenge and a tough time. Now that the coronavirus restrictions have been brought in across the UK it can feel as though we are in the middle of a storm. Many cancer treatments are needing to be changed or delayed in some way. This can bring up very strong emotions and if this happens to you or a family member you might have a lot of fear, anxiety and worry.

Be reassured though that your treatment team will aim to make sure that you have all the tests and treatments that you need to give the best chance of your cancer being cured or controlled. Doctors and nurses meet as teams to decide on the best treatment for each patient and these meetings are continuing even if they need to be carried out by video link. Your treatment team will carefully consider the risk of you catching and becoming ill from coronavirus and balance that against the need for you to have certain treatments for your cancer.

Some people are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they get coronavirus. This might be due to their type of cancer or their treatment. If this is your situation you are advised to stay at home for 3 months and only to go out for absolutely essential reasons. This can feel impossible but it is to keep you as safe as possible and reduce the risk of you coming into contact with coronavirus. It can be very difficult to stay inside for so long, especially if you don’t have a garden or balcony or any outside space. We have some tips on coping with isolation during the coronavirus restrictions

Delaying treatment

With some very slowly growing cancers your doctors might decide that they don’t need to start your treatment straight away. They will only do this if it is safe to monitor you for a while until the coronavirus risk gets lower. This might make you feel scared that the cancer will grow and spread but if there is a risk of that happening your doctors won’t delay your treatment. Talk to your treatment team if they suggest delaying treatment and you are worried. You can also talk to us at Maggie's about ways of coping with fear and anxiety.

During treatment

Once treatment has started you usually need to go to the hospital quite often for blood tests or scans and to have the treatment. During the coronavirus restrictions, treatment teams are finding ways of minimising the number of times that you need to go to the hospital. So they might talk to you by phone or on a video call instead of having a face to face appointment. 

It can sometimes be difficult to understand what is being said on a phone call or video call. Feel free to ask questions to clarify what the doctors or your specialist nurse are saying. You can also ask the doctor beforehand if you can record the call. Then you will have a clear account of what they said.

The hospital will have a number that you can call if you have questions after the discussion or are worried. Make sure that you know who you can contact and keep in close touch with them.

Ways of having treatment

Your doctor will recommend that you have treatment with tablets or capsules whenever possible. This is so that you can have treatment at home instead of needing to go to the hospital to have treatment by drip into a vein. You might feel worried if your treatment team changes your treatment plan part way through. You might feel that the treatment won’t work so well. But your doctors will aim to give you the most effective treatment that they can. They won’t put you at risk.

Stopping treatment early

Your doctor might also suggest stopping your chemotherapy or targeted drug treatment a bit earlier than planned This can also be frightening and you might worry that you are not having enough treatment. But the reason for suggesting this would be to limit the amount of time that you have a low resistance to infection. This lowers your risk of getting very ill with coronavirus. If you are worried about this, talk to your specialist nurse or cancer treatment doctor so that they can explain and reassure you.

Contacting your treatment team

Hospitals tend to be very busy at the moment and it might take longer than usual to get through to your nurses and doctors but do keep trying. If you would like to talk things through with someone else you can call your nearest Maggie’s centre or phone our general support number  Tel 0300 123 1801.

Going to the hospital

When you go to the hospital for tests or treatments the staff there will do all they can do reduce the risk of coronavirus infection. It might feel very strange. You will be advised to wash your hands when you go into the hospital or leave it (or use antiseptic hand gel instead).

Staff in the clinics or hospital will try to keep a distance from you, which can feel unfriendly. They will wear protective clothing such as masks, aprons, and gloves, or possibly theatre scrubs (like blue or green pyjamas).

Some hospitals have a one-way system to reduce the chance of getting too close to other people. It might feel quite confusing. You might not be allowed to take anyone with you to support you, or perhaps only be allowed to take one person. So you may feel very alone.

Coping with changes

All of these changes can make things feel very uncertain. It is natural to feel scared or sad or lonely. Check out our page about managing emotions for tips about coping. And you are always welcome to talk to us at Maggie’s and share your experiences.

With best wishes

Debbie Cancer Support Specialist

Useful links

COVID-19 rapid guideline: delivery of radiotherapy - National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, March 2020

COVID-19 rapid guideline: delivery of systemic anticancer treatments - National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, March 2020

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