- Eight things patients can focus on to feel in control

Singapore, 21st April 2020 – Certain groups of people are particularly vulnerable during the current COVID-19 situation. These groups include cancer patients who are undergoing treatments like chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, which may weaken the immune system.
Cancer survivors may also feel worried about how the COVID-19 situation can affect them. While it is important that they follow advice from their doctor and the advisories by the Ministry of Health, there are steps that cancer patients and survivors can take to be psychologically resilient during this time - by focusing on things that are within their control.
Dr Irene Teo, Clinical Psychologist, Department of Psychosocial Oncology, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), shares eight steps that cancer patients and survivors should focus on during this pandemic:

1. Take sensible steps to protect yourself while continuing with treatment, such as by practicing safe distancing, washing hands frequently and wearing a face mask when out of the house. While waiting for a doctor’s consultation or treatment, minimise social interaction. Upon returning home from the hospital, you should wash your hands with soap immediately and change into clean clothes. Patients can also explore possible ways to reduce trips to the hospital. For instance, if you are taking prescribed medications, you can check with the hospital pharmacy if they can be delivered to your home. Otherwise, arrange for a family member to collect the medication on your behalf. Try and make sure there is enough supply of medicine at home.

2. Do not be afraid to seek treatment when it is necessary. In order to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19, some patients may postpone or reduce the frequency of their treatments. There are many factors to consider when doing so, such as the patient’s age, cancer type and cancer stage, and type of treatment. Therefore you should talk to your oncologist about the risks and benefits of doing so. If feeling unwell or if you observe changes, you should seek treatment.

3. Take care of your physical health by eating healthy, getting adequate amounts of rest and sleep, and finding safe ways to maintain fitness, such as exercising at home.

4. Be mindful of your stress levels and take note of what can makes it worse. Check-in mentally with yourself to gauge your stress levels from time to time. If reading and watching COVID-19 news is stressing you more than necessary, take a break from it. Use social media for social support, not as a source of information.

5. Be kind to yourself. Sometimes you may not feel as productive as you usually do. When this happens, channel some self-compassion during this time of uncertainty, rather than
allowing you to become more frustrated. Think about what you would say to a friend going through the same thing and how would you encourage them.

6. Nurture a positive attitude by looking for things to be grateful for and things to look forward to. Being thankful, even for the small things, can help us feel more positive.
Perhaps one positive thing could be that your immediate family members are now spending more time at home with you.

7. Find ways to occupy time meaningfully by engaging in activities that soothe or bring you a sense of satisfaction. This is very personal and is different from person to person.
While some may find it meaningful to participate in a hobby or express themselves through art or music, others may find it meaningful to engage in acts of service and doing
things for others.

8. Stay socially connected while practicing physical distancing. Staying connected with loved ones and friends can be important for your well-being, especially if you are usually a
social person. There are many ways to keep in touch - through messages, calls and videos, even if we cannot visit each other in person.

Patients may also contact their hospital’s medical social worker/ mental health professional for support during this time. “Coping with cancer is difficult, and Covid-19 has created
additional concern for many patients, survivors and caregivers. While we cannot control the Covid-19 situation and how it will affect us, we can choose to focus on what is within our
control,” said Dr Teo.

Cancer patients, survivors and caregivers may contact the NCCS Department of Psychosocial Oncology for support at patientsupport@nccs.com.sg.

Dr Irene Teo, Clinical Psychologist, Department of Psychosocial Oncology, NCCS is available to take interviews.

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