Before I even begin this post, especially for those who haven’t been here before, let me emphasize that I have absolutely no medical training. I am simply a neuroendocrine cancer (NETS) patient seeking answers and doing the best I can to weather the very unusual days that we all find ourselves in.
Does my cancer and the PRRT treatments that I’ve received mean that I’m at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than the general population? Not as far as I know. The reality, as I understand it, is that no one has immunity to this virus. It’s a brand new disease that our bodies have never encountered before; never had an opportunity to develop antibodies to. That’s why I’m doing what I think everyone should be doing. I’m not hiding out in fear, but I’m hunkering down at home and only going out for necessities such as food and medications.
When we hear about those people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, this refers to those who may be at higher risk for more serious complications IF they contract the disease. That’s why it’s so important for all of us to do our part in helping prevent these populations from getting the COVID-19 virus in the first place. Am I one of the vulnerable ones? Certainly, my age puts me at higher risk than those who are younger, but I haven’t been able to find any information regarding NETS and COVID-19. In reality, such information probably doesn’t exist. At least, not yet.
So, what are those risk factors?
- An older adult – Recent figures show that more than 50% of the patients who have been admitted to an ICU with the disease and 80% of those who have died were over the age of 65. At 67, I’m at the low end of that population, but still within the high risk category.
- People who have serious underlying medical conditions such as:
- Heart disease – Not me!
- Diabetes – I have been diagnosed as pre diabetic, but maintaining a careful, well disciplined diet has kept my blood sugar well regulated, so I doubt that this would put me at high risk.
- High blood pressure – Experts indicate that if a person’s blood pressure is under control and they don’t have other risk factors, they probably aren’t at any greater peril than the general population. I’ve been on hypertension medication for several years and it’s been keeping my blood pressure under control but, of course, I do have other risk factors.
- Chronic respiratory diseases – No again!
- Cancer – This one raises lots of questions for me. Cancer is such a broad category. The word actually refers to any of the 200 different diseases, affecting many parts of the body, that are characterized by the uncontrolled growth of cells that invade and damage the body’s normal tissues. Do all of them put a person at higher risk for COVID-19 complications? I doubt it, but what about the 3 completely unrelated cancers that I’ve been diagnosed with since August 2013? That’s right, 3! As I mentioned above, I haven’t been able to find any information about NETS and COVID-19, but what about my untreated thyroid cancer? At present, there has been no indication that thyroid conditions place a person at jeopardy.
- People who have a compromised immune system from a medical condition or treatment (e.g. chemotherapy) – In spite of having or having had 3 different cancers over the past 6 1/2 years, I’ve never had chemotherapy, but I haven’t been able to find any information on how PRRT affects the immune system, so once again, I’m left with questions.
The immune system is the body’s natural defence system. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple questionnaire that will tell you how strong yours is. There are, however, several signs that you might have a weakened immune system:
- Stress – Stress decreases the body’s lymphocytes, the white blood cells that help fight off infection. Thankfully, my life is relatively free of stress these days. For the most part, I think I can say with the apostle Paul, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Philippians 4:11b
- Frequent colds or infections – I’ve had two colds this winter; one mild and one nasty. That’s more than I usually get, but I recovered from both in a reasonable length of time and I don’t remember the last time I’ve needed an antibiotic for an infection.
- Frequent diarrhea or constipation – Diarrhea was one of the most obvious symptoms of my NETS cancer before it was diagnosed. Now medications tend to cause the opposite problem, but I can’t blame that on my immune system.
- Wounds are slow to heal – I don’t think so. I haven’t had any serious wounds in recent years, but minor ones heal just fine.
- Fatigue – When your immune system struggles, so does your energy level, but for the most part mine is good. My father passed away in the wee hours of March 1. I got almost no sleep that night and I definitely discovered that pulling an all-nighter in my 60s isn’t as easy as it was in my 20s! The week that followed was pretty exhausting too, but three weeks later, I’ve bounced back and feel completely rested. That seems to speak well of my immune system.
I do know, however, from regular blood tests, that my hemoglobin tends to be slightly on the low side which would make me somewhat vulnerable to infection and disease. On the other hand, I do all the right things to keep my immune system as healthy as I can. I don’t smoke, I eat a healthy diet, I maintain a healthy weight, I exercise regularly, I drink alcohol only in moderation, I get adequate sleep, I try to minimize stress, and I even wash my hands frequently!
So, what is my risk factor? I can only give a somewhat educated guess. Since I live in a sparsely populated area and I’m staying home most of the time, I’d say that my risk of getting COVID-19 is quite low. On the other hand, IF I do get it, my risk of suffering complications is probably moderately high.
Am I worried? No, but I’m definitely taking all the recommended precautions. I hope you are too!