Caregiver gets creative to show support despite coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions

Like many people, Albert Conner is avoiding unnecessary outings and staying at least six feet away from anyone not living in his immediate household, due to a local stay at home order intended to slow the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19. But he’s also dealing with an added layer of COVID-19 precautions: his wife, Kelly, is undergoing breast cancer treatment in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. And, like other hospitals in the Houston area, MD Anderson has temporarily stopped allowing visitors, in order to protect its patients and workforce members from COVID-19. That’s meant Albert has had to find creative ways to support Kelly during her chemotherapy treatments. New visitor restrictions means new plans for cancer treatment appointment Kelly was scheduled for a chemotherapy infusion on the morning of March 30, after she’d been diagnosed with stage II invasive ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer, two months earlier. Albert had accompanied her to all of her previous visits to MD Anderson in Sugar Land, the location closest to their home in Missouri City. But this was her first appointment since the new visitor restrictions had been implemented. This time, Albert either had to stay at home or wait outside the building until his wife was finished. “I think she handled it better than I did,” Albert says. “I was so stressed about it.” Albert Conner in the parking lot of MD Anderson in Sugar Land   Getting creative to show support during cancer treatment An hour after his wife left home for her appointment that morning, he drove his own car to MD Anderson in Sugar Land. He parked outside the infusion wing and pulled...

Coronavirus (COVID-19) glossary: 21 terms to know

The 2019 novel coronavirus disease – also known as COVID-19 – has introduced many new terms to our vocabulary: from “social distancing” to “community spread.” But what exactly do these words mean? What’s the difference between an “outbreak,” an “epidemic” and a “pandemic”? What about “self-isolation” and “self-quarantine”? And what does “flattening the curve” mean? We spoke with our infectious diseases and infection control specialist Roy Chemaly, M.D. Here are the words he wants everyone to know. Asymptomatic: not showing any signs of illness. The most common COVID-19 symptoms  are fever, cough, and shortness of breath, but you can still be contagious without showing any symptoms. Community spread: Used when the source of someone’s coronavirus infection is unknown. In the case of COVID-19, this means it was not due to recent travel to a high-risk area, or exposure to someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. Contagious: Communicable, or able to be passed from one person to another. COVID-19 is thought to be spread primarily through direct contact with an infected individual, by inhaling the microscopic droplets sprayed into the air during a cough or sneeze, or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth. Coronavirus: A type of microscopic organism that causes illness in humans. “Corona” alludes to the tiny spikes found on the surface of the virus, which scientists thought resembled a crown, when seen through a microscope. COVID-19: A shorthand way of referring to the novel COrona VIrus Disease, an upper respiratory infection that was first identified in 2019. The germ that causes it is formally known as SARS-CoV-2. Epidemic: A cluster...

COVID-19 and stem cell transplants: What you should know

By now, most cancer patients and their caregivers know the basic precautions they can take to minimize the risk of contracting the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19). They may also have determined whether it’s safe to travel for treatment, and learned what protocols MD Anderson has put in place to protect them once they’re here. But how does all of this affect patients who’ve had stem cell transplants? Are there any special considerations they should be taking into account while going about their daily lives? We spoke with our stem cell transplant chair Richard Champlin, M.D., for insight into this unique patient population. Here’s what he had to say. What are the risks of COVID-19 for stem cell transplant recipients? These patients are more sensitive to infection than any other group, because the treatment itself destroys their own immune system, and replaces it with a donor’s. This is by design, of course, but it generally takes them a whole year to recover. And during that time, these patients have a severe immune deficiency, so even regular respiratory viruses — such as colds — are a problem. We’re expecting a surge in cases of COVID-19 in the next few weeks, making it a major risk for our patients. Fortunately, not many stem cell transplant recipients have been infected with COVID-19 yet, but it’s going to happen more as the virus moves through the general population. What are the most critical times for stem cell transplant recipients to avoid infection? The first three months after a transplant are the most critical period. That’s why we have very strict rules about our patients...

Cancer caregiver: Why COVID-19 social distancing matters

My husband, John, and I had only been married 45 days when he was diagnosed with glioblastoma on Sept. 1, 2017. Hurricane Harvey loomed over the Houston area as John was admitted to MD Anderson and underwent a gross total resection to fully remove his brain tumor. As a result of the tumor's severe pressure on his optic nerve, John lost his eyesight but completed radiation therapy at the end of 2017 and chemotherapy the following fall. John was in a monitoring phase until last November. That’s when we learned the tumor had come back. John had a second craniotomy in December 2019 and began a clinical trial in January. He is responding well.   Then news began to spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Social distancing can help prevent spread of COVID-19 Like many of our friends and family, we have been trying to quell anxieties stemming from the mass amounts of information out there about COVID-19. We had seen the graph that's been circulating online, illustrating the importance of staying home to avoid spreading the coronavirus. However, the importance of social distancing really hit home for John and me when we went out to dinner last week. There was an hour-long wait, with lots of people standing around. John and I looked at each other and thought, “Should we really be here? Is this the right choice? Is our health at risk?” Preventing COVID-19 spread is personal Social distancing is a practice aimed at preventing sick people from coming in close contact with healthy people. The goal is to reduce opportunities for COVID-19 to spread...

How to cope with COVID-19 stress and anxiety

With the constant stream of information surrounding the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), it’s easy to feel stressed or anxious. But stress can weaken your immune system and make it harder for you to stay healthy. That’s why it’s so important to manage your stress and anxiety using healthy coping methods. We spoke with Diana Nichols, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at MD Anderson, about how to manage your COVID-19 anxiety and stress. Limit COVID-19 updates One of the easiest ways you can reduce stress and anxiety is to limit your exposure to things that trigger anxiety. Staying informed is important, but with so much new information coming out so rapidly on television and social media, it’s important to set boundaries for when and how much news you read about the pandemic. This can help keep feelings of anxiety at bay. “It’s important to choose your information sources carefully,” says Nichols. She recommends seeking information from trusted, reliable sources, including balanced media outlets, the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health care organizations like MD Anderson. “Moderation is key,” says Nichols. She recommends checking updates two or three times a day to keep from being overwhelmed. “Check in often enough to get only the information you need to know,” she adds. Take care of your body Stress can impact many parts of our bodies, and can cause shortness of breath, sore muscles and even fatigue. To avoid these side effects, it’s important to take care of your body. Deep breathing, meditation and yoga can all help. “Taking a few minutes to go through a short meditation...