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Superstorm Sandy Tests Emergency Preparedness of Cancer Patients

When Superstorm Sandy hit New York and New Jersey, it tested the emergency preparedness of many people. But for those with chronic or life-threatening illnesses, natural disasters don’t let you put your health on the back burner.

A cancer patient living in New York City writes about her hurricane experience in this New York Times blog, saying “while you can gather a first-aid kit, canned goods and extra batteries, you can’t stockpile chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics or emergency medical advice in the same way.”

People with cancer need to be particularly concerned about disaster situations because their weakened immune systems can put them at higher risk for infections, bleeding, fatigue and injury.

If you have cancer, take these important steps to be prepared in an emergency:

  • Talk with your doctor about what to do and how to stay in contact in during a disaster. You can download this wallet card from the National Cancer Institute.
  • Make a plan with your family, friends, and neighbors or whoever may need to help you during a disaster.
  • Know your exact diagnosis, cancer stage, and any medications you take. If you are receiving chemotherapy or radiation, know where you are in your treatment cycle. This is critical information in case you are seen by a doctor who is unfamiliar with your treatment.
  • If you are on a clinical trial, know the trial number (NCT number, preferably), Principal Investigator, hospital, and drugs or treatments being given.
  • Be sure to have important phone numbers written down on the wallet card or elsewhere, because cell phones may not work and batteries can drain.
  • If you have insurance, make sure to carry your insurance card. Contact your insurance provider in the event you are displaced and need to seek care.
  • Make a kit with items you may need like dressings, antiseptic, medications, a thermometer, etc. Store them in a zip lock bag to stay dry.
  • To manage symptoms of chemotherapy or radiation treatment, consider packing these items: if you are on Xeloda or 5FU, make sure you pack enough Imodium or “Bag Balm” cream if you have severe hand and foot syndrome. If you are on radiation treatment and have dry mouth, include Biotene mouthwash or any other OTC supplements that are recommended by your physician.

"While you may have all your paperwork and 'ducks' in a row," says Iffa Hughes, chemotherapy clinic supervisor, "symptom management is often key in helping a cancer patient feel so much better in an emergency situation."

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