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Dealing with the emotional and practical impact of coronavirus and pancreatic cancer

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Coping with the emotional impact of coronavirus (COVID-19)

We know that this is a very worrying and upsetting time. Dealing with pancreatic cancer is tough anyway, and the situation with coronavirus will probably cause further stress and anxiety. You may be frightened of getting coronavirus and getting seriously ill from it. And you might also be worried about how it will affect your cancer treatment.

It is hard to get away from the news about coronavirus, and you may feel it’s dominating everyday life. Staying at home and not seeing friends and family can also be difficult – especially as you may want to spend more time with those close to you if you have pancreatic cancer, not less.

Worries about what coronavirus means for your treatment and care

If you have had a letter from the NHS telling you not to go out (shielding), you may have lots of worries about what this means for your care and treatment. You may also need to make some difficult decisions. Shielding aims to protect you from the coronavirus, but it is your choice whether to follow the shielding measures. If you have been told by your medical team that you only have a few months to live, the NHS acknowledges that you may decide not to do shielding. This will be a deeply personal decision for you. For example, you may decide you want to spend time with people close to you. You should speak to your GP or medical team before making this decision. You will probably also want to discuss it with your family.

Even if you haven’t had a letter about shielding, you may be worried about how coronavirus will affect your treatment. The NHS will try to continue providing treatment and care for people with cancer, but some things may change.

What can help?

  • Speak to your medical team about what coronavirus means for you and your treatment. They will be able to discuss the best options for you personally.
  • You can speak to our specialist nurses on our Support Line about any of these worries and concerns. They can support you emotionally, and discuss what coronavirus means for you and your treatment. The Support Line is free and open 10am-4pm. Call 0808 801 0707 or email nurse@pancreaticcancer.org.uk
  • Talk to your friends and family about your worries and concerns. Sometimes, just talking things through can help.

But some people find it hard to talk to people close to them. You can speak to others affected by pancreatic cancer and share experiences on our online forum.

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Coping with having to stay at home

Being told to limit how much you go out is a big change in the lives of many people, and you may struggle with this. At stressful times, many people will often turn to friends and family for support, so it can be hard if you can’t do this. If you have pancreatic cancer, you may particularly want to spend time with loved ones and need the support and normality they can provide. It might be particularly difficult if you live on your own and aren’t able to see friends and family. You may feel isolated and cut off from the outside world and people you love.

Try some of the tips below to help you stay in touch with people and deal with the emotional impact of staying at home.

If you live with other people, you might be struggling with spending more time with them than you’re used to, as this can put pressure on relationships. You may also be worried about how you will fill your time if you have to stay at home, and how you will keep yourself fit and well.

What can help?

  • Stay in touch with friends and family – try phone, email, social media or online through things like Skype or Zoom.
  • If the house feels quiet, try playing the radio, music or TV to provide background noise, even if you’re not really listening to it.
  • Try to get into a routine. This can help you feel more in control, and gives some structure to your day.
  • Try to keep busy – find activities that you enjoy that you can do at home. Some ideas might include reading, listening to or playing music, hobbies, jigsaws or watching films.
  • If you have a garden, go out in it. Your garden counts as your home, so you can spend as much time in it as you want – whether that’s gardening, or sitting enjoying the weather, plants and any wildlife that visits the garden.
  • If you don’t have a garden, open the windows and let some fresh air in. You could also try sitting where you have a view out of the window.
  • Try to keep active. This can be difficult if you can’t go outside, but there are still some things you could try. Have a look at our information about physical activity, or on the NHS website. There are also online fitness classes – just make sure you choose one that’s right for your level of fitness.
  • Try to eat well. This can be difficult if you are feeling anxious, and pancreatic cancer can also affect your digestion, which can make this harder. Read our information about how to manage problems with diet and digestion, including pancreatic enzymes to deal with symptoms.
  • Try to find ways to relax. This might include reading or watching the TV. Or you could try mindfulness, which uses meditation and breathing to change the way you think and feel about a situation. There is more information about mindfulness on the NHS website.
  • Try to sleep well. If you are worrying about things, this may affect your sleep, and if you are tired, this can make it harder to cope with things. There are things you can do to improve your sleep. Read more in our booklet, Fatigue and pancreatic cancer. Try to limit how much you watch, read or listen to the news if it is making you more worried. You could try tuning in just once a day at the same time each day – and then focus on other things the rest of the time.
  • Make sure you get information about the coronavirus from reliable sources. The government and NHS website will have the most up-to-date and accurate information.
  • Maggie’s have information about cancer, loneliness and coronavirus, and things that might help.
  • You could try online learning. There are lots free courses available – just search for something you are interested in.

You can find more information about dealing with the emotional impact of coronavirus and looking after your mental health at:

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Dealing with the practical impact of coronavirus (COVID-19)

Make some plans so that you are prepared for staying at home for as long as you need to. Remember that this may be for quite a long time, so try to think ahead. Use the planning checklist below to help you plan.

Let friends, family and neighbours know if you aren’t going out, especially if you are shielding. Ask if they can help out if you need it. It is important to think about what you would do if someone you live with gets symptoms of coronavirus. For example, is there someone else you could stay with for 14 days?

There are local community volunteer groups being set up across the UK to support people who are self-isolating or shielding. You can find local groups through the Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK website, or some groups are distributing leaflets locally telling you how to get in touch.

Getting food and supplies 

  • Ask friends, family or neighbours if they can buy supplies for you. If you need to avoid seeing people, ask them to leave the supplies on your doorstep.
  • If you live in England and have had a letter from the NHS telling you to stay at home for 12 weeks, register as someone who is extremely vulnerable and needs support on the GOV.UK website or call 0800 028 8327.
  • If you live in Scotland, the Scottish government has set up a text message service to provide support to people who have been told to stay at home for 12 weeks. They should write to you to tell you how to register for this. You can also contact your local authority’s shielding support line.
  • If you live in Wales, you can contact your local authority for support – the contact details should be in the letter from the NHS.
  • If you live in Northern Ireland, the Consumer Council and Community NI have information about services and organisations that can provide support.
  • You can contact the NHS Volunteer Responders for help with shopping and essential supplies, or for a friendly chat.
  • You can also see if there is a local group on the Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK website. Some groups are also distributing leaflets.
  • If you aren't shielding but you need urgent food or care, contact your local council.
  • The supermarkets may be busy at the moment. Try online shopping – although this is also busy, some supermarkets are prioritising vulnerable people.
  • You could also try takeaways for cooked meals. Some local restaurants and pubs are now offering takeaways and meal deliveries.
  • It is unlikely that you can catch coronavirus through food or food packaging. The GOV.UK website has more information about this, including advice on good food hygiene.
  • If you are having supplies delivered, leave a note on your door saying where to leave the delivery so that you can avoid the delivery person. 
  • If you need prescription medicines, ask someone to collect them for you, or contact your pharmacy to see if they can deliver. You should be able to order repeat prescriptions through your GP’s website or by phone.

If you need medical help that’s not for coronavirus

If you need medical help for pancreatic cancer or another condition that isn’t coronavirus, contact your medical team or GP and follow their advice. Don’t go to your GP, pharmacy or hospital in person. You can also speak to our specialist nurses with any questions about pancreatic cancer.

If you are having chemotherapy and have symptoms of a fever or feel unwell this could be an infection or coronavirus. Contact the emergency number your chemotherapy team will have given you for advice. If you can’t get through, contact your medical team. You could also try the consultant’s secretary or hospital switchboard if you struggle to get through to your medical team. If you still can’t get through, call 111, or 999 if it’s an emergency.

Work and money

Coronavirus may have a big impact on your finances if it affects whether you or your family can work. There is support and advice available to help you cope financially.

If you are currently working, the government has said that everyone should work from home if possible. If you can’t work from home, you can continue going to work as long as you aren’t at higher risk of getting seriously ill if you get coronavirus. You should always stay 2 metres away from people and regularly wash your hands well. Some businesses are having to close to help to stop coronavirus spreading. The government has put measures in place for businesses and employees affected by coronavirus.

If you need to stay at home because you are at higher risk of getting seriously ill from coronavirus, you should not go to work.

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, or live with someone who has symptoms, you should not go to work. You can get an isolation note from the NHS website to give to your employer.

There is lots of information available about what financial support you might be able to get.

  • GOV.UK has information about government measures and financial support.
  • The Money Advice Service has information about what you are entitled to and things you can do to make sure you get what you are entitled to and plan your finances.
  • Citizens Advice can provide information and advice about what coronavirus means for your finances.
  • Macmillan Cancer Support have financial information for people with cancer, including information about coronavirus and finances. They also have financial advisors on their Support Line.

Pancreatic cancer may also affect whether you can work and have a big impact on your finances. Read our information about work and money if you have pancreatic cancer.

Scams and misinformation related to coronavirus

There have been reports of scams related to coronavirus, including emails or scammers pretending to be health officials. Always follow the usual precautions against fraud and scams, and be vigilant. You can read more on the GOV.UK website.

If you are contacted through the NHS contact tracing service, there is information on the NHS website about the phone number they will contact you from, so that you can check it's them. They also explain what they will ask you - and what they won't ask you.

There is also a lot of inaccurate information online and on social media. Always follow the government information for the country you live in. The government has launched a free WhatsApp service to provide regular updates and information. To use this service, add 07860 064422 in your phone contacts and then send a message saying ‘hi’ to that number in WhatsApp to get started.

Reputable charities are also a good source of accurate information.

If you receive information and you’re not sure if it’s genuine, you could speak to our specialist nurses. They can discuss what you have received and whether it might be official. 

Planning checklist

You might find this checklist helps you plan for staying at home.

  • Try to think about what you will need if you have to stay at home for quite a long time, and who can help out.
  • Let friends, family and neighbours know if you aren’t going out, and ask if they can help out.
  • If you don’t have someone nearby who can help, see if there are any local voluntary groups who can.
  • If you are shielding, register on the GOV.UK website for support.
  • Think about who can help out if someone living with you gets symptoms of coronavirus.
  • If you live alone, think about who you can ask to help if you get symptoms of coronavirus or need any care.
  • Agree with friends and family how you will stay in touch.
  • Plan how you will buy food – can someone get supplies for you, or can you set up online supermarket orders.
  • Order repeat prescriptions on your GP website. Ask someone to pick them up, or ask the pharmacy if they can arrange delivery.
  • Keep a list of key phone numbers near the phone – including family, friends and neighbours who can help out, your medical team at the hospital, the emergency number if you are having chemotherapy, your GP surgery and NHS 111.
  • Think about how coronavirus and staying at home might impact you financially, and get some advice if you need it.
  • Plan a routine for the day to maintain some control and normality.
  • Think about how you will fill the time if you have to stay at home – read some suggestions.

Always remember that if you have any questions about pancreatic cancer and coronavirus, you can speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.

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