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How Cancer Patients Should Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic

When awareness of the pandemic hit in March of this year, like all cancer patients, I was worried about what it meant to me. I knew I was highly vulnerable to a virus like COVID-19 since my immune system had been compromised by my cancer treatment. My oncologist advised me to hide out at our home in rural Maine. I learned that since I had lymphoma and have taken medications to suppress my white blood cells, my immune system might not be able to develop antibodies to fight COVID-19, even if a vaccine is developed for it. I will need to depend on "herd immunity" – an indirect shielding of at-risk populations by the vaccinated or naturally immune populations. I have prepared myself for the possibility of being in self-quarantine for years.

I have written this article for other cancer patients (and their caregivers) to share what I have learned and the decisions I have made in the hope that it might be useful. We should follow guidelines for safe and healthy behaviors that strengthen our immune systems even more strictly, and reconsider trips to the clinic. If we can defer treatments we should. For example, in light of COVID-19, my oncologist and I decided to delay my scheduled infusions for the foreseeable future. The risks of increasing the suppression of my immune system by continuing my maintenance therapy, possible exposure to the virus at the hospital, and the expense were greater than the marginal anti-cancer benefits of continuing my infusions.

For the full article in The Journal of Precision Medicine, please click here.

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