6 ways to cope with social isolation during COVID-19

As we each do our part to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) by practicing social distancing and staying home, many of us are experiencing boredom, anxiety or even social isolation.   “We’re all going to have a new normal for a while,” says Catherine Powers-James, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in our Integrative Medicine Center. “Try to be flexible and take it one day at a time.” Despite how different your days may look now, you can still connect with loved ones and find satisfaction in what you accomplish. Here, Powers-James shares advice on ways to reduce the emotional effects of social distancing and stay productive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay connected through virtual dates “Luckily, we live in an age of technology,” says Powers-James. With apps and software supporting mobile video chatting, you can connect with many people around the world from your device. And, because we’re spending more time at home, we have the time to check in more often. “Especially for people who live alone – trying to connect is very important,” says Powers-James. She suggests scheduling times to meet over video the same way you’d schedule an in-person get together. Also, many gyms and churches are offering online sessions, which allow you to stay connected with your community, even when you can’t be with them physically. MD Anderson is offering online support groups for patients, family members and friends so they can meet others facing similar challenges.   Schedule some “me” time With school closures and stay-at-home orders, many of us find ourselves home with our families more than ever. “We’re...

7 things to know about COVID-19 antibody testing

As more people recover from the novel coronavirus and seek to resume their normal activities, there’s been a lot of talk about testing for COVID-19 antibodies. But what are antibody tests, exactly, and how do they differ from diagnostic tests for COVID-19? What do the results indicate for the people who take these tests? And what do they mean for how we should conduct ourselves during the COVID-19 pandemic? To learn more about COVID-19 antibody testing, we spoke with Laboratory Director James Kelley, M.D., Ph.D. Here’s what he had to say. What is antibody testing, and how does it differ from diagnostic testing used for COVID-19? Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 involves looking to see whether an active virus is present — in this case, the coronavirus formally known as SARS-CoV-2. Laboratory technologists use a testing process to detect genetic material from the virus in samples swabbed from the very back of the nasal cavity. This testing is based on a common molecular testing technique: polymerase chain reaction (PCR). By contrast, antibody testing (also called serology testing) is done with blood samples, because you’re looking for evidence of the body’s immune response to the virus. After your body is exposed to a foreign pathogen, your white blood cells start to learn about it and make antibodies to neutralize it. So, when an antibody test comes back positive for this coronavirus, it means 1) you were exposed to SARS-CoV2 at some point in the past and 2) your immune system was robust enough to launch an antibody-forming immune response. How long does it usually take people to generate these antibodies? There...

Reflections on caring for cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic

I think the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is one of the most serious – and important – times of our generation. Right now, as the U.S. heads toward the peak of daily new cases, we’re in the thick of long and lonely days. I’ve seen and lived this firsthand the last couple of weeks while I’ve been rounding on MD Anderson’s inpatient leukemia unit. When it’s all said and done, I think we’ll truly recognize the enormity of what we’re going through. Appreciating the power of human connection during the coronavirus pandemic Since I started my April rounds, I’ve realized the power of human connection and touch. Even though most of our patients don’t have COVID-19, they are all still greatly affected by it. Leukemia patients often have to be hospitalized for extended periods of time. They may be in the hospital for weeks while facing complications from their cancer and treatment. Like most other hospitals in the U.S., MD Anderson has temporarily restricted visitors to protect our patients and workforce from COVID-19. Cancer patients are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. And our leukemia patients and stem cell transplant recipients are uniquely vulnerable because the rigorous treatment they undergo weakens their immune system, often for a long time. It’s necessary, but devastating, for most of our leukemia and stem cell transplant patients to be alone right now due to social distancing and other COVID-19 precautions. Over the past few weeks, I’ve witnessed how hard it is for someone to receive bad news without a loved one beside them for support, and I have seen our faculty and...

My kidney cancer treatment before and during the COVID-19 pandemic

I was first diagnosed with kidney cancer in spring 2019. I had a chest X-ray because I’d recently quit smoking. My lungs were OK, but the scan caught a tumor on my kidney. Dr. Christopher Wood cut out the baseball-sized tumor with clean margins, and I didn’t worry about anything for another year. In March 2020, I learned the cancer, renal cell carcinoma, had returned and spread to my spine. This time, everything has been very different, from my treatment to all of the precautions MD Anderson has put in place to protect patients and employees from the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. New coronavirus precautions make MD Anderson safe for patients Last year, when I was facing my kidney cancer diagnosis, I brought my wife to appointments. She would listen, ask questions, and we could talk to each other. I had someone to lean on. But, right now, MD Anderson isn’t allowing patients to bring visitors to appointments in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Everybody at MD Anderson is wearing masks, and you have to answer COVID-19 screening questions at the designated entry points. Having to go through all of my tests and listen to the doctor alone is scary. But I’ve got to hand it to MD Anderson for being proactive and making the hospital a safe place for patients like me. It’s just amazing to see such a large institution so ready, like a well-oiled machine. How I’m staying connected with my family despite COVID-19 precautions MD Anderson has offered many different ways to help us patients stay connected to our loved ones during appointments during the...

My kidney cancer treatment before and during the COVID-19 pandemic

I was first diagnosed with kidney cancer in spring 2019. I had a chest X-ray because I’d recently quit smoking. My lungs were OK, but the scan caught a tumor on my kidney. Dr. Christopher Wood cut out the baseball-sized tumor with clean margins, and I didn’t worry about anything for another year. In March 2020, I learned the cancer, renal cell carcinoma, had returned and spread to my spine. This time, everything has been very different, from my treatment to all of the precautions MD Anderson has put in place to protect patients and employees from the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. New coronavirus precautions make MD Anderson safe for patients Last year, when I was facing my kidney cancer diagnosis, I brought my wife to appointments. She would listen, ask questions, and we could talk to each other. I had someone to lean on. But, right now, MD Anderson isn’t allowing patients to bring visitors to appointments in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Everybody at MD Anderson is wearing masks, and you have to answer COVID-19 screening questions at the designated entry points. Having to go through all of my tests and listen to the doctor alone is scary. But I’ve got to hand it to MD Anderson for being proactive and making the hospital a safe place for patients like me. It’s just amazing to see such a large institution so ready, like a well-oiled machine. How I’m staying connected with my family despite COVID-19 precautions MD Anderson has offered many different ways to help us patients stay connected to our loved ones during appointments during the...