February 25, 2021
One of the country’s leading voices on cancer care gives practical guidance
- After nearly a year of living with COVID-19, many cancer patients want to get back to seeing their families and friends
- Caution is still imperative, as patients remain with an increased risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms and mortality
- Once patients are vaccinated, they can loosen restrictions somewhat, but they should still wear masks and practice social distancing
We’ve been living with the pandemic for nearly a year, and COVID-19 fatigue is real. That’s especially true for some cancer patients, who mark every passing milestone — holidays, the birth of a baby, or an engagement — with a sense of fear and frustration that time is slipping away from them.
“Things happen in a person’s life. And those things become even more important to somebody who’s dealing with cancer and may be at the end stage of their own life,” Dr. Mikkael Sekeres, formerly of Cleveland Clinic, who is now chief of the Division of Hematology at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, tells SurvivorNet Connect.
One of his leukemia patients had her first granddaughter born during the time of COVID-19. “She said to me, ‘Is it okay if I go and hold my new grandbaby?’ Or I’ve had patients who have a very close relative who’s died, who’ve asked me if they can attend the funeral,” he says. “These were important life events, particularly when somebody may not have many days left on this earth to enjoy these life events.”
With cancer patients there is a need to balance the desire to participate in life with the very real risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms, especially in those with blood cancers. Dr. Sekeres works individually with each patient to discuss safe ways to participate. For example, with that patient who wanted to hold her new granddaughter, “Absolutely, I said that was okay,” he says — with a few caveats. “Her daughter should be masked. They should socially distance. My patient should be masked and should be careful to wash her hands after handling her granddaughter.”
What about patients who have received the COVID-19 vaccine? “It’s probably okay to loosen the leash a little bit, but not too much,” he says. “We know that it’s 95% effective. We have to recognize it’s not a hundred percent. And we don’t know that it’s 95% effective in patients who have cancers that affect their immune system.”
“We should continue to urge our patients to practice social distancing, to wear masks, and to stay away from other people outside of their nuclear family,” Dr. Sekeres stresses.