Talking with your healthcare team about cancer and coronavirus

daffodil centre with Aileen

Irish Cancer Society Support Line Manager Aileen McHale tells patients how they can discuss care with their medical team while cocooning at home

If your treatment has been changed or been delayed

Some cancer treatments can affect your immune system, making you more at risk of becoming ill from coronavirus. This has led to some changes being made to hospital appointments and treatment plans in the interests of reducing the chances of patients getting an infection.

Doctors everywhere are weighing up the urgency and potential benefit of treatments with the risks of them going ahead, and how to best manage the risk of exposure to coronavirus during hospital visits. As a result you're likely to have some telephone appointments with your specialist nurse and consultant rather than seeing them in the hospital.

It’s good to prepare for a telephone appointment as it can be difficult to remember everything you want to say.

Preparing a list of questions and taking notes can be helpful as it can be difficult to remember everything they say, especially on the phone. If you don’t understand something ask them to explain it to you again. This is your time so don’t be afraid to ask anything you need to.

Examples of questions you might want to ask your specialist doctor or nurse:

  • Will my cancer treatment affect my risk of becoming ill from coronavirus?
  • What should I do if I, or someone I live with, gets coronavirus?
  • Can you make changes to my treatment to lower the risk of becoming seriously ill if I do get coronavirus?
  • Will my treatment continue if I have confirmed or suspected coronavirus?
  • My treatment has been delayed - when can I expect to have the treatment?
  • Will a delay to my treatment affect how well it will work?
  • My treatment has changed, can you explain why?

Contact the Irish Cancer Society’s Support Line on Freephone 1800 200 700 to speak with a cancer nurse who can further discuss with you any concerns you have about treatment delays or changes, and help prepare you to talk to your medical team.

If you’re worried you have cancer, you should still contact your GP and go for any tests you need.

You should still contact your GP if you notice a change that isn't normal for you or if you have any possible signs and symptoms of cancer. The symptom might not be due to cancer but if it is, the earlier it's picked up the sooner you can be treated. 

Because of the coronavirus outbreak GPs are screening those who visit their surgeries, so you will need to call your GP in advance. The GP will ring you back to discuss your symptoms and tell you if you need to go into the surgery to see them.

They may suggest that you keep an eye on your symptoms and arrange another appointment to check in with them after a certain amount of time. Make sure you know when and how to contact them, and contact them again if your symptoms get worse or don’t get better.

It can be difficult to remember everything you want to say, especially on the phone and especially if you are worried or anxious. It can be helpful to:

  • Write down your symptoms including when they started, when they happen and how often you have them and if anything makes them worse or better.
  • Don’t be afraid to explain anything you don’t understand.

Remember, GPs can still make urgent referrals to specialists or for tests if they’re worried you might have cancer. The hospital should contact you to tell you more about your appointment.

Frequently asked questions and comments

Will I need to have my treatment at another hospital?

Some private hospitals are being used for the treatment of public patients during the current pandemic, including cancer patients.

In some hospitals cancer treatment facilities are being moved to new locations, sometimes within the hospital campus and in other cases to other hospitals nearby. The reason for this is to help prevent infections by keeping different groups of patients separate, including anyone in need of isolation.

Many of the staff who work in cancer care have moved to these locations too so as not to disrupt the service to patients.

If your treatment has been or is going to be moved to another hospital you will be contacted to let you know this and will be given directions for where to go.

If you are attending hospital for chemotherapy treatment you can still avail of the Irish Cancer Society’s Volunteer Driver Service, a service where volunteers drive patients to and from their chemotherapy treatments in our partner hospitals. You can read more on this on Cancer.ie, or call our Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.

If you have questions or concerns about any aspect of your treatment contact your specialist nurse or doctor. Bear in mind that they are doing more telephone work with patients during the coronavirus pandemic, and so it may take them longer to get back to you.

I’m feeling very isolated and alone at this time

Coping with a diagnosis of cancer is difficult enough without the added worry of coronavirus. It can be very difficult if you are advised to stay at home and reduce face-to-face contact. 

It’s important to look after your physical and mental well-being. We know this isn’t easy to do when you have to stay at home. Help and support is available at the following sources:

  • Irish Cancer Society’s Support Line open 7 days/week Monday – Thursday 9am-8pm, Friday – Sunday 9am-5pm. Speak with one of our cancer nurses who can guide you through any help and support you need on Freephone 1800 200 700
  • Visit our Online Community and chat with people who maybe going through a similar situation
  • Contact your local Cancer Support Centre as many are offering services over the phone or online
  • There are a number of other Government-led initiatives to help people who are affected by measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including community programmes and helplines. You can find out more about these at www.Gov.ie/Together and on the Citizens Information website.

Things you can do to help yourself:

  • Keep in touch to those close to you by phone or video chats – sometimes seeing someone’s face can help you feel less alone
  • Get into a routine at home
  • Try to eat healthy and keep active

These can be difficult to achieve if you can’t leave your home, but there are lots of great resources online to help you on the Irish Cancer Society’s website.

I’m finding it difficult to cope with my emotions at home

It’s perfectly understandable that you might be feeling more anxious than usual. Common causes of concern can include worries about cancer treatment changes and delays, or concerns about coronavirus and how it could affect you.

You might miss the reassurance of going into the hospital or clinic to see your doctors or nurses. Talking about cancer can seem overwhelming and if you are feeling you can’t cope it is okay to ask for help. 

You may need to seek help from a healthcare professional. This could be from your healthcare team at the hospital, your specialist nurse or your GP. You can contact the Irish Cancer Society’s Support Line on Freephone 1800 200 700 to chat with a cancer nurse to discuss your feelings, and how to get the appropriate help and support for you.

The Irish Cancer Society have partnered with Cancer Care West and the National Cancer Control Programme to build a virtual community of care called Together 4 Cancer. It’s especially for people who are struggling with the emotional and psychological effects of living with cancer during this very challenging and uncertain time.

Anyone who feels they need support can contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line, and they will then be linked in with the necessary service if suitable for their needs. This ensures that everyone, no matter what their level of distress, can access the right support, at the right time.

Contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line

If you have worries or concerns about cancer, you can speak confidentially to an Irish Cancer Society Cancer Nurse through the Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.

Monday to Friday, 9.00am - 5.00pm