After a Hurricane: 6 Things People With Cancer Should Know

August 30, 2017
Greg Guthrie, ASCO staff

A hurricane can leave a path of destruction behind. What should you do after an event of this magnitude? share on twitter If you have cancer, there may be special considerations regarding your health and safety. Your immune system may be weakened, putting you at greater risk of infections, bleeding, fatigue, and injury. Here are some steps to take to help in the aftermath of this natural disaster:

1. Create a waterproof supply kit

If you haven’t already, collect all of your important items for your medical care and put them in one place. It should include items like your medications, wound care dressings, antiseptic spray, and other items you need for routine care. Put the contents in a re-sealable, waterproof plastic bag to keep them dry. If you have any liquids in your collection, such as rubbing alcohol or liquid medications, use a separate bag for those.

2. Have your cancer information available

Be sure to write down your important medical information and keep it with you at all times. This information can help a doctor or emergency personnel help get you the care you need. ASCO and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have created a useful wallet card just for this purpose. If you don’t have access to a printer, writing these details on a simple piece of paper will work as well. Do not rely on your cell phone for storing this information; batteries can run out.

Make sure you write down the following information:

  • Your full name

  • Your cancer diagnosis

  • The name of your doctor and their contact information

  • Your current cancer treatment plan, such as which medication(s) you are taking

If you have medical insurance, keep your insurance card in the same place as your medical information, such as in your wallet.

3. Find a place to continue receiving your cancer treatment

If you are in active treatment for cancer and you cannot get to your regular doctor or hospital, finding somewhere to continue your treatment plan is important.

  • Try contacting your doctor and/or hospital, to see if they have specific directions for you.

  • Review this list of oncologists who have volunteered to see patients displaced by a hurricane.

  • Contact the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Contact Center at 800-422-6237. This center is prepared to assist patients whose cancer care has been interrupted due to severe storms.

  • Contact CancerCare at 800-813-4673 to speak with an oncology social worker. CancerCare can help connect you to local and regional resources to help you address a wide range of needs resulting from a hurricane’s devastating impact

4. Be careful using water

Floodwaters can be very dirty, and access to clean, running water may be difficult. Do not use floodwater for handwashing, dishwashing, brushing teeth, preparing food, making ice, or making baby formula. If your tap water is not safe, use bottled water if it is available. If not, you can try boiling or disinfecting the water as long as the water has not been contaminated with gas or toxic chemicals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has good instructions for making water safe.

Once you have clean water, handwashing is an important step to help you avoid infection. Wash your hands properly with soap and either warm or cold water.

  • Rub your hands to create a lather.

  • Scrub all over your hands, including the backs of your hands, between the fingers, and under the nails.

  • Scrub for at least 20 seconds.

  • Rinse your hands and dry on a clean towel or allow them to air-dry.

5. Be cautious about what you eat

Do not eat any food that has touched floodwater. Eat only foods that have been in a waterproof container. Containers with screw tops, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps are NOT waterproof.

Power outages can also cause food to spoil, which can lead to foodborne illness. Keep food cold in the refrigerator and freezer by keeping the doors closed as much as possible during the power outage. Throw away perishable foods that have been warmer than 40°F (4°C) for 2 or more hours. For power outages that have lasted for several days, check the temperature in the freezer. If it is still below 40°F, then the food in there is still safe.

Do not taste food to find out if it is safe. Read more about food safety during an emergency.  

6. Travel carefully

  • Do not enter swiftly flowing water, even if you are a strong swimmer. Cars and other vehicles can also be swept away by moving water.

  • Avoid standing water. It may be electrically charged from damaged power lines or other sources of electricity. Dirty water can also be a source of infection, particularly if you have any open wounds.

  • Be careful moving in areas where floodwaters have been. Debris from the storm could be anywhere, and the water may have eroded roads and walkways.

Revised September 12, 2018.


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