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 from person to person. By actively choosing to stay home, avoid large events, reduce unnecessary trips, and maintaining physical distance from others in ways both big and small, we can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and lower the risk that cancer survivors like John catch it.

For us, this is personal. We know that although John looks totally normal on the outside, it could be extremely dangerous for him if he were to get COVID-19. Despite John’s outward appearance, his health and his stable white blood cell count, he is particularly vulnerable along with countless others who may not look sick.

We feel strongly that we can protect many people by making a really simple choice. Sit on the couch. Relax. Clean your house. Take care of the tasks you have always wished you had more time to accomplish.

Empower yourself by staying away from others

There are so many people out there who are vulnerable to COVID-19. But you can’t always tell who they are just by looking at them. I wouldn't say John looks more vulnerable than anyone else, but this demonstrates to me how many people out there like him could be vulnerable, too. By choosing to engage in social distancing, you are supporting cancer patients in their fight to end their disease. You are doing good for others just by choosing to stay home.

Just the other night, two of John's best friends invited us to their home for dinner. John responded with a simple text: “I'm practicing social distancing. Thank you for the invite.” Their response? “Oh right! That's probably a good idea.”

John made two people think twice about whatever choice they will make next. Whose mind will you help change?

Learn about precautions MD Anderson is taking to protect patients and employees from COVID-19.