BY LAURA NATHAN-GARNER

The best thing we can all do right now is to stay home and practice social distancing.
Roy Chemaly, M.D.
Physician

Want to help a friend or loved one facing cancer during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but not sure how?

“Cancer patients are uniquely vulnerable to the coronavirus, so it’s critical to practice social distancing to help protect them from COVID-19,” says Roy Chemaly, M.D., our infectious diseases and infection control specialist.

At the same time, it’s important to understand that for many cancer patients, social distancing and anxiety over COVID-19 may be compounding feelings of loneliness and social isolation. “Cancer patients have been hit with a double whammy,” says Dave Balachandran, M.D.“They’re anxious and missing the lives they had before cancer, and COVID-19 turned everything upside down.”

So, what can you do to show support from a distance during the coronavirus pandemic? Here’s what cancer patients and caregivers in our Facebook community suggest.

1. Practice good hand hygieneWash your hands frequently and properly, washing every part of your hands and nails with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to follow proper hand-washing before delivering any food or packages.

2. Help with the grocery shopping and other necessities. Do the shopping and deliver the groceries, leaving them outside to avoid contact. Or, place an order online and have them delivered or ready for curbside pickup.

3. Schedule video chat or phone “dates.” By putting it on the schedule, you’ll give both of you something to look forward to.

4. Donate blood or platelets to MD Anderson Blood Bank. Your blood donation will help ensure an adequate blood supply for cancer patients during this critical time. Each blood donation can help up to three cancer patients. Learn about donating blood to MD Anderson Blood Bank.

5. Check in regularly. Text, call, email, video chat – whatever it is, make a point to reach out. Even a daily text to check in or to share a joke or encouragement can make a big difference in reducing feelings of social isolation.

6. Give gift cards. Gift cards for takeout and restaurant delivery can be helpful now, but you can also think about gift cards for activities and shops that may give them something to look forward to when your friend is able to get back out.

7. Offer to attend appointments with them virtually. MD Anderson and other hospitals are not allowing visitors to attend appointments with patient at this time, as a precaution to protect patients and employees from COVID-19. But friends and family can still attend and provide support via video chat. Here’s how one couple is making this work for them.

8. Send meals. You can drop off homemade food or food picked up from restaurants, leaving it outside. Or have food delivered. “Make sure you wash your hands properly before delivering any food,” Chemaly says.

9. Listen. We’re all dealing with challenges, anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. But those going through cancer treatment face added challenges, so give your friend or loved one to share what’s on their mind and what they’re feeling.

10. Make a video. Video chats are great, but a video can be watched over and over again, potentially bringing your friend or loved one even more comfort.

11. Send a care package. Include favorite snacks, photos, magazines, jokes or anything else you think will lift their spirits.

12. Visit through the window. Stand outside and wave through the window, share a laugh, smile or even dance.

13. Mail a letter or post card. There are many apps that enable you to easily create and send a postcard from your phone or tablet. It really is the thought that counts.

14. Create new memories and traditions. Use video chat to play games, watch movies, cook and even enjoy coffee or meals together. Or make a point of sending photos or jokes every day. Repeating these small moments can create new traditions and bonding moments.

15. Use sidewalk chalk to show your support. Write messages on their driveway or sidewalk to provide encouragement.

16. Stay home. “The best thing we can all do right now is to stay home and practice social distancing,” Chemaly says. By doing your part, you’re helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect those who are most vulnerable to coronavirus infection. Spread the word of the importance of staying home to protect cancer patients by decorating our coloring sheet and sharing it with your friends and family on social media, tagging MD Anderson. You can even hang it in your window.