No matter where you live, you could be affected by a natural disaster. Whether your region is prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, blizzards, or wildfires, preparing for a disaster can help keep you and your family safe. But if you are living with cancer or another chronic illness, you need to take extra precautions.
Everyone, whether chronically ill or not, should have a disaster preparedness plan. Some aspects of the plan—such as a 3-day supply of drinking water and nonperishable food—will be the same for anyone. Preparation guidelines are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security. However, other precautions will depend on the type of disasters that are likely to affect your region (the American Red Cross lists some of these). Likewise, there are some general precautions that all people with chronic illnesses should take and others that vary according to the type of illness you have and its treatment.
“People should assess their surroundings and their health and think about what challenges they might run into,” said Matthew Berkheiser, Dr.P.H., chief safety officer and associate vice president for Environmental Health and Safety at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
“Anyone who takes prescription medications should have 3–5 days’ worth of their medications on hand,” Dr. Berkheiser said.
In addition, it’s a good idea to keep a list of your medications, including the doses, in your phone or wallet, as the list could be useful if you have to evacuate your home and need prescription refills before you can return.
If you have a chronic illness, you should also keep the phone number for your doctor or hospital on hand. If your doctor or hospital has an online patient portal, such as MD Anderson’s MyChart, you might want to keep the portal’s Web address and your login information with you so that you can access your records if you need to.
If you have cancer or another serious illness and are receiving outpatient treatment such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or another treatment requiring special equipment (such as dialysis), you should discuss disaster preparedness with your care team. “Patients need to know how long they can go between treatments and be okay,” Dr. Berkheiser said. “That’s a conversation they need to have with their physician.”
During Hurricane Harvey, for example, some MD Anderson patients may not have come in for treatment because of flooding near their homes. In addition, Houston’s mass transit system was affected by the storm, limiting service to some areas for several days.
“Patients should understand that travel limitations may occur during a disaster,” Dr. Berkheiser said. “In case they can’t make it to the hospital where they get treated, they should find out if there’s a local doctor or hospital that can provide the same treatment.” For example, dialysis for people with kidney failure is widely available, whereas an experimental cancer treatment in a clinical trial might be available in only one center or a few centers.
Another important travel consideration is how to evacuate your home. If you have mobility issues, you can register in advance with your state or local agency for evacuation assistance. People in the United States and parts of Canada can register for such assistance and get other disaster preparedness and emergency information by calling 211 or visiting www.211.org.
Specific disaster preparation guidelines for various chronic illnesses are available from the CDC. For cancer patients in particular, the National Cancer Institute offers tips for disaster preparation. Combining this information with advice from your care team and general preparedness tips for the types of disasters that can affect your area can help you ensure that a natural disaster doesn’t cause a setback in your care.
For more information, ask your physician, call askMDAnderson at 877-632-6789, or visit www.mdanderson.org.
OncoLog, May-June 2018, Volume 63, Issue 5-6