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What doctors say cancer patients should do after social distancing ends

Cancer patients have a weakened immune system, which makes them more susceptible to COVID-19 now. But, what about when people stop social distancing?

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Doctors say cancer patients with a weakened immune system are at high risk for contracting COVID-19, but what happens when daily life goes back to normal?

Kathy Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer and then lung cancer for three years.  She says these days she's disinfecting everything to protect her self and her immune system.

"I'm spraying everything," says Smith. "If I pick up something, I get it through the drive-through and after they hand it to me I spray again."

As a lung cancer patient with an oxygen tank, she already has shortness of breath, which is a symptom of COVID-19.

"Unless it's a fever I probably wouldn't know it because I am short of breath," clarifies Smith.

She says the only places she's going is Walmart (where employees load up her car), the pharmacy, and her immunotherapy treatments at Iowa Cancer Specialists. She says her son also goes to the store for her and uses disinfectant spray when he drops groceries off. 

"A high fever is characteristic in 90% of patients," says Dr. Susannah Friemel, a physician and president of Iowa Cancer Specialists. "It can sort of come and go."

Dr. Friemel urges cancer patients to quarantine and have someone else go to the store if possible. So far, Dr, Friemel says the clinic has tested two lung cancer patients who had a shortness of breath for COVID-19; both came back negative. But she says lung cancer patients with shortness of breath shouldn't be too concerned unless they develop a fever.

"We have some patients who are concerned with continuing with their current regiment because of the known immunosuppression that can occur," says Tami Sheldon, Iowa Care Specialists nurse practitioner. 

Sheldon says most patients choose to stick with treatment during this time since the clinic is smaller and not a hospital setting.

"This virus is more virulent, one patient can affect 3 patients," says Dr. Friemel. "Whereas the flu, one patient can only affect one other patient."

Even after life goes back to normal, doctors say patients like Smith can't let their guard down.

"I wouldn't say they need to stay home and not do things they normally would, but they should be very careful about someone coughing on them or touching things and touching her face," Dr. Friemel explains.

But Smith says the open world without social distancing will be a concern for those going through treatment.

"I'm kind of scared we are going to get the numbers again until they get a cure," Smith comments.