Keeping Patients Safe - Lets Fuck Cancer

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A guide to

Keeping Patients Safe

When dealing with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, your immune system is weakened. This is also called being immunocompromised. It means that people with cancer and those around them need to be extra careful and take precautions to avoid any additional strain on the patient’s immune systems, which can be life threatening.

PATIENT SAFETY

When your immune system is weakened from cancer, you are at a higher risk for infection. Sometimes, an infection can be life threatening if it’s not found and treated quickly. For the most part, your risk of developing an infection is temporary because your immune system recovers. This is often based on where you’re at in your treatment plan.

HOW TO LOWER YOUR RISK OF INFECTION

Here are a few tips to lower your risk of infection when you are immunocompromised.

Wash Your Hands

Duh. Wash your hands often, almost like there’s a pandemic. Anytime you eat, touch your face, use the bathroom, blow your nose, sneeze, or cough, wash your hands. Tell everyone around you to do the same.

Get All Recommended Vaccines

Getting a flu vaccine every year, and others if your doctor recommends them, will help prevent you from catching that year’s strain. People in your household should be vaccinated as well.

Bathe Regularly

Hopefully this goes without saying, but take a shower or bath every day. Using mild soap will help prevent bacteria from lingering. Afterwards, check your body for any redness, swelling, or soreness.

Brush Your Teeth

Use a soft toothbrush several times a day to remove bacteria from your mouth. You shouldn’t use alcohol-based mouthwash, but your medical team may give you a special mouthwash.

Avoid Cuts

Be careful when using knives, scissors, and other sharp objects. If you do get cut, wash it thoroughly, use antibiotic cream, and cover it with a bandage.

Prevent Constipation

Drinking enough fluids every day and routinely exercising can help you have regular bowel movements.

Keep Groin and Anal Area Clean

Use disposable bathroom towlettes or baby wipes after using the toilet and/or if you notice any irritation in these areas. If you have a vagina, avoid tampons, vaginal suppositories, and douches.

Avoid Falls

Some treatments cause dizziness or fatigue, so avoid falls by clearing clutter and wearing safe footwear. Wearing shoes all the time will also keep germs off your feet.

Practice Cancer-Safe Sex

Use water-based lubricants and latex or plastic condoms. Learn more about sex, relationships, and cancer here.

Don’t Change Diapers

If you can, don’t change any diapers while you are immunocompromised. If you must, wash your hands very well afterwards.

Avoid Sick People

Stay away from anyone who may be sick, including loved ones or other patients at medical offices. Your medical team may also advise you to stay away from children.

Skip the Nail Salon

Avoid manicures and pedicures at a nail salon or spa. Save money and do your nails at home with your own, personal tools.

Stay Vigilant

Notify your doctor if you notice any signs of infection, especially a fever.

Talk to Your Medical Team

They will tell you if you are at an increased risk for infection and how you can help prevent an infection from developing.

SYMPTOMS TO LOOK FOR

Sometimes, the only symptom of an infection will be a fever. Other times, you’ll experience a few symptoms. Alert your medical team immediately if you notice any of the following.

  • Fever. Your doctor will tell you what temperature is considered too hot in here
  • New redness, tenderness, or swelling anywhere on the body, especially near surgical wounds or ports
  • Pus or yellowish discharge
  • New cough or shortness of breath
  • New stomach or rectum pain
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Chills that may be followed by sweating
  • Burning or pain when peeing, or increased urination
  • New or strange vaginal discharge or irritation
  • Sore throat
  • Sores or white patches in your mouth
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sore neck

FOOD SAFETY

You can catch infections from food and drinks, so it’s important to practice good food safety when you’re immunocompromised.

Wash Your Hands

Before handling any food products or eating, wash your hands thoroughly.

Thoroughly Cook Meat and Eggs

Make sure all meat and eggs are cooked through before eating to make sure any bacteria has been killed.

Special Diet

Your medical team may put you on a special diet during treatment.

Fresh Fruits and Veggies

These raw foods can have germs on the outside of them. Your doctor may ask you to avoid all fresh fruits and veggies for a period of time, or to thoroughly wash and/or peel them before eating to remove any germs. Be especially cautious of salad bars since they have been linked with bacterial infections.

Avoid Raw or Unpasteurized Products

Avoid raw and unpasteurized products because they contain bacteria. Look at the labels of dairy products to make sure they are pasteurized.

Clean Food Areas

Use a disinfectant to clean your countertops and tables when you prepare and eat food. Use hot water or a dishwasher to clean your dishes.

Refrigerate Leftovers

Throw any leftovers in the fridge or freezer ASAP to prevent germs from growing. Eat all refrigerated leftovers within 24 hours.

PET SAFETY

Pets are the best – they make us happy, they make us laugh, they’re our best friends. But they’re also covered in germs. Taking these precautions, especially when your immune system is at its weakest, can help you prevent infection.

Avoid Cleaning

No cleaning up feces, bird cages, litter boxes, fish or turtle tanks, or soil that may contain feces. Have a caretaker or friend do this for you. Aren’t you lucky! If you must do this yourself, wear vinyl or household cleaning gloves and wash your hands immediately after.

Avoid Dust

This means staying away from chicken coops where it’s easier to inhale bacteria.

Wash Your Hands

Wash your hands immediately after interacting with your pet and especially if you pick up their poop.

Keep Them Away From the Kitchen

Keep your pet away from eating areas, especially litter boxes.

Wash Your Wounds

If you are scratched or bitten by a pet, immediately wash the area with soap and water.

No Licking

Don’t allow your pet to lick your mouth or any open cuts you have. They carry tons of germs in and around their mouths.

AVOIDING COVID-19

As an immunocompromised person, it is critical that you stay safe and protected against COVID-19. Unfortunately, because your immune system is weakened, if you catch the coronavirus, you will likely experience more severe symptoms than if you were healthy.

Get Vaccinated

Get all suggested vaccinations and boosters for COVID-19 and encourage everyone that you spend time with to do the same.

Wear a Mask

Wear a well-fitting mask when not at home and change it when it becomes soiled. Ask others to do the same.

Stay Home

Your risk of catching COVID-19 is highest in public, so allow others to do errands for you.

Use Telehealth Appointments

As available, use telehealth appointments to decrease your risk of exposure as much as possible.

Clean and Disinfect

Clean high-touch areas in your home, especially after having visitors, as well as any items you bring into your home.

Wash Your Hands

Use soap and water to wash your hands often, particularly after touching high touch surfaces, such as door handles and credit card machines. If you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitizer.

Avoid Crowds

Stay six feet away from people when you are able and avoid poorly ventilated spaces. Gathering outside is always safer than inside. Wear a mask when you’re close to other people.

Get Tested

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, get tested to prevent spreading it to others. If you are positive, alert your medical team immediately.

SUMMER FUN

If you live in or travel to a warm area, it’s important to keep these things in mind.

Stay Hydrated

Cancer treatment can make you dehydrated, so especially during the summer, drink more water than normal.

Swim With Caution

Ponds, rivers, and lakes often have bacteria in them and can be a source of infection. If your treatment plan includes radiation, it can make you more sensitive to the chemicals used in pools and water parks. Be cautious.

Avoid Overheating

Your treatment could make you more susceptible to overheating, heat stroke, or heat exhaustion. You could also be more sensitive to sunlight than normal, so limit your sun exposure and practice sun safety.

AROUND THE HOUSE

There is absolutely zero pressure to clean your home when you’re not feeling well. In fact, this is a perfect task to ask a caretaker or friend to help out with until your health improves. If you really want to clean, though, use precaution.

Use Disinfectants

Disinfectant sprays and wipes will kill germs on kitchen countertops, floors, door handles, phones, and around the bathroom.

Wash Your Hands

Wash your hands well with soap and water after cleaning and taking out the trash.

Whether you have a green thumb or not, gardening can be a nice way to get outside when you’re going through cancer. Try to avoid gardening when your immune system is at its weakest.

Avoid Cuts

Gloves can help you avoid cuts and scrapes, which can allow germs to enter the body and become an infection. Wash your hands after removing the gloves.

Don’t Touch Soil

Soil can contain bacteria, mold, or feces from animals. Wear gloves as a protective barrier when you are gardening, and wash your hands after.

Wash Your Hands

Wash your hands well with soap and water after gardening.

BEING A SOCIAL BUTTERFLY

Your family and friends are critical pieces of your support system when you’re going through cancer. It’s important to spend time with them if you feel up to it. Just remember that while you’re immunocompromised, you and your loved ones should take extra precautions to avoid infection including washing hands thoroughly and wearing masks if necessary. For the most part, unless a loved one is sick or highly contagious, it’s more beneficial for you to spend time with them than to isolate yourself.

If you are going to public places while you are immunocompromised, try to avoid crowds, maintain your distance, meet outside if you can, and consider wearing a face mask. This is especially important during cold and flu season.

SURVIVOR SAFETY

If you finished treatment a few years ago or longer, your immune system has likely kicked back into gear. This is dependent on the type of cancer you had, the treatment you received, and any other medical issues you have that affect your immune system. Your medical team can let you know what precautions you do or do not need to take.

HOW CAREGIVERS & VISITORS CAN HELP PATIENTS 

A cancer patient’s immune system is weaker than a healthy person. This means it is critically important for you to be in good health if you are going to be visiting someone with cancer in person. Here’s how you can help the patient in your life.

Visit Only When You’re Healthy

Seriously, you don’t want to be the reason someone with cancer catches an infection. If you’re feeling sick at all, stay home. You can always call or video chat with your loved one until you feel better.

Watch for Signs of Infection

When you’re around someone with cancer, keep an eye out for signs of infection (see a full list above). In particular, look out for a fever, shaking chills, if they feel or seem “different,” and/or if they’re unable to consume fluids. Notify their medical team immediately if they have any symptoms.

Be an Amazing Caregiver

Help the person with cancer take their medicines on schedule, drink lots of fluids, and maintain good nutrition. You could set up a meal train with all of the loved ones in the patient’s life to take some of the burden off of you.

Protect Yourself Against COVID-19 and Other Vaccine-Preventable Illnesses

It’s important to make sure you don’t contract COVID-19 or other illnesses both for your own health and for the patient’s. Get vaccinated and boosted, and wear a well-fitting mask in public.

Source: American Cancer Society; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; MD Anderson

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