As we enter the third year of living with coronavirus, many people in Australia are understandably feeling anxious, exhausted and frustrated. There is no denying that the pandemic has taken a huge toll on people’s mental health and the impacts of it will be felt for years to come.
Cancer patients have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, with profound long-term consequences on cancer care in Australia.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen a significant drop in new cancer cases due to the temporary closures of cancer screening programs and people generally feeling anxious about visiting their GP or a hospital. Oncology experts fear that – as a result – cancer patients are being left undiagnosed and will be detected in later stages, which often require more complex lengthier treatment regimes.
This Friday, February 4, is World Cancer Day. This year’s theme is “Closing the Care Gap”, which is focused on raising awareness of the equity gap that affects many individuals and communities, potentially costing the lives of those impacted by cancer.
This year, World Cancer Day is also a pertinent opportunity to raise awareness of the physical and psychosocial impacts of coronavirus on cancer patients.
While lockdowns are a thing of the past in most states across Australia, many cancer patients are in self-enforced lockdowns to reduce their risk of transmission. As a result, many cancer patients are feeling socially isolated from their friends and family.
For some patients, it is a constant balancing act between doing things that make you feel happy, like socialising and visiting a new restaurant, and keeping yourself safe and reducing your risk of transmission.
If you are currently supporting a friend or family member diagnosed with cancer, there are some small steps you can take to help them navigate this balancing act and ensure they still feel supported and connected with their social network.
When planning social events, such as birthdays or a catch up with a group of friends, consider outdoor activities such as picnics or backyard barbecues, to help reduce the risk of transmission.
Remind others attending to stay at home if they are feeling unwell, and consider keeping the events to a small group to ensure your friend or family member feels comfortable to attend.
Your friend or family member may not feel comfortable socialising in a big group, particularly if they are on an active treatment such as chemotherapy. It is important they still feel connected and supported by their social network, so why not offer to come along to their home for a socially distanced catch up, where you sit in the backyard or front lawn.
Travelling to and from treatment, particularly on public transport, can be a particularly anxious experience for cancer patients. Check in with your friend or family member to see how they are travelling to and from treatment. If they are taking public transport, put a call out to see who may be able to help.
Similarly, grocery shopping can be pretty daunting for a cancer patient during the Omicron outbreak. Offering to do their groceries will take one more thing off their plate.
Alternatively, you can teach your friend or family member how to online shop, so they can do their grocery shopping from the comfort of their own home!
Most importantly, make sure you check in with your friend or family member regularly. The pandemic has had a huge impact on people’s mental health and it is important to encourage anyone struggling mentally to seek professional help and support.
Encourage your friend or family member to join (virtual) cancer support groups so they can connect with other cancer patients who have similar shared experiences to them.
Covid-19 has impacted us all in some way. As a radiation oncologist, I have seen firsthand the challenges and pressures faced by cancer patients and other immunosuppressed patients during the pandemic.
Cancer doesn’t stop during Covid-19, and it is imperative that we continue to support cancer patients, their friends and family members, through undoubtedly one of the most challenging periods of their lives.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.