Winter is coming, which means more “indoor weather.” This can create a certain level of anxiety about isolation that’s normal at this time of year. In addition, COVID-19 continues to prevent a return to normal and has added a layer of stress to an already difficult time of year.
At this point a year ago, holiday gatherings were strongly discouraged. Most indoor events were either canceled or strictly limited the number of people who could attend. The vast majority of students were learning either partly or entirely online. The first vaccines had just been approved.
For patients with cancer who are immunocompromised, winter brought the perfect storm for loneliness.
Although large indoor gatherings with multiple families still are not a good idea, there are reasons for optimism for patients with cancer this winter. Treatment plans are back on track. More people are getting vaccinated, and there is greater awareness of how to stop the spread of COVID-19 and what activities are safe or unsafe.
Winter is tough, but as a society we have come a long way since last year.
Appointments Are Safer
A year ago, the holiday season was followed by the highest rates of COVID-19 infection and deaths. Many medical facilities were overcrowded, and are still struggling to fine-tune their procedures and protocols for minimizing the risk of spread. For patients with cancer, this meant postponing or even canceling doctor visits, ongoing checkups, screenings, and treatment.
As we approach the second winter with the pandemic, infection and death rates are slowly declining in most areas of the country. Hospitals, doctors’ offices, and cancer treatment centers have implemented procedures that make visits safer and less stressful. As a result, patients with cancer are getting back on schedule with their appointments, which can lead to better outcomes.
Safe Vaccines Are Readily Available
As winter approached a year ago, the very first vaccines against the coronavirus were being administered. Currently, more and more people are now being vaccinated. Booster shots are available for at-risk populations, including patients with cancer, who are immunocompromised, to maintain a high level of immunity against the coronavirus.
To be clear, vaccines are not 100% effective, and another variant could emerge. Vaccines do, however, dramatically reduce the likelihood of serious illness and death. For patients with cancer, this can be a tremendous relief and help to reduce the loneliness and isolation that are common during cold-weather months.
You’ve Seen This Movie Before
COVID-19 is better understood than it was a year ago. The risk factors involved with different types of activities are better known. The science for reducing the spread of COVID-19 is clearer than it was a year ago. People are more comfortable with Zoom and other technology that allows for face-to-face interaction when gathering in person is unsafe.
Although the Delta variant has extended the pandemic and the risk remains, knowledge and familiarity provide a certain level of comfort. Patients with cancer can make more informed decisions about what they do and who they see so they can remain socially engaged.
Speak with Your Oncology or Patient Navigator
During COVID-19, patients with cancer haven’t always had access to their support systems. Family members and friends who are always eager to help often had to keep their distance. One constant source of support and information has been the oncology navigator.
An oncology navigator serves as an advocate and information resource for patients with cancer. If you are uneasy about becoming isolated during another winter with COVID-19, there are many ways your navigator can help you through it. A patient or an oncology navigator can answer your questions, coordinate care, and connect you with a wide range of services, such as counseling and financial support.
Cold-weather months can be difficult for patients with cancer, especially during the pandemic, but there are reasons for optimism that didn’t exist a year ago. Use the information, resources, and expertise available to make decisions that help you navigate the winter months with less stress and more confidence.