By Amanda Sangster - August 21, 2023
Hurricanes and tropical storms are scary for those living near the coastlines. For those also living with cancer and undergoing treatment, there may be an added fear of the unknown: what to do if your treatment is disrupted.
While stocking up on water and nonperishable food is important, there are additional preparations patients with cancer should consider to help weather a storm. Whether sheltering with your loved ones or evacuating to higher ground, here are some tips to keep in mind.
Make a Plan Before the Storm Hits
You hear it all the time: Have a plan before the storm hits. For patients in the middle of chemotherapy or radiation, this can be a crucial element to ensuring successful treatment. The first step is to contact your care team for instructions. If you are currently receiving daily treatment, ask your care team at your next visit about what to do if your treatment is disrupted.
Patients receiving treatment from Moffitt Cancer Center can also contact their care team through the Patient Portal or by calling 1-888-663-3488. If you’re in the middle of a storm experiencing a health emergency, immediately call 911.
Questions to ask your care team:
- If the cancer center closes while I’m receiving daily treatment, what do I do?
- If I have to evacuate, where should I go for emergency care?
- What should I do if I miss a treatment?
- Do I need extra refills on medication?
- Ask for help filling out your emergency medical card (below).
Having a hurricane plan in place is the best way to ensure safety for you and your loved ones. Establishing an evacuation plan and thinking about how you will contact your family if you’re not together can make this process easier. The Centers for Disease Control recommends choosing two places outside your home where your family can meet if you’re separated after a storm.
Fill Out Your Emergency Medical Card
Before a storm, it’s crucial to write down information about your treatment in case you must evacuate. Moffitt provides an emergency medical wallet card for patients to track this information. We recommend writing your information on the card and laminating it to make it waterproof. It’s also important to always have your insurance card with you.
Key information includes:
- Type and stage of cancer
- Type of treatment such as chemotherapy and/or radiation
- Date of your last treatment and information on where you are at in your treatment plan
- Name of your doctor and treatment center
- Any medicine you’re taking (cancer medicines and other medicines, including over-the-counter drugs)
- Other illnesses or health problems
Information about your physicians and treatment is available on the Moffitt Patient Portal, but it’s good to have a hard copy of the information in case the storm interrupts internet access.
Keep Sanitization Supplies in Your Disaster Kit
Patients may experience low platelet and white blood cell counts, which make them more susceptible to infection. Hand sanitizer, soap, face masks, wipes and gloves will come in handy if a patient is forced to evacuate to a shelter.
Your kit should include your medications, wound care dressings, antiseptic spray and other items you need for routine care. Put the contents in a resealable, waterproof plastic bag to keep them dry. If you have liquids in your collection, such as rubbing alcohol or liquid medications, use a separate bag for each.
The best way to stay healthy during a hurricane evacuation is through handwashing and social distancing. Use only clean water when bathing, use clean towels, sleep on clean bedding, and keep wounds and cuts bandaged.
Preregister for a Special Needs Shelter
If you or a family member are immunocompromised, have a medical condition or a disability that could be exacerbated in a general population shelter, you can preregister for a special needs one. While a special needs shelter does not provide the comfort of home or the level of care found in a medical facility, it can serve as a backup plan to your personal sheltering plan.
Special needs shelters are designed to provide safety for people whose medical condition may require the use of electrical equipment, oxygen and/or dialysis. These shelters are designed to meet the needs of those requiring assistance beyond the services provided at a general population shelter. However, these shelters should never be treated as emergency medical services.
To qualify for a special needs shelter, a patient must meet one of the following criteria:
- Need assistance with medication
- Require observation by a health professional
- Need electricity for life supporting medical equipment
- Require basic nursing care, oxygen therapy or assistance with evacuation
Florida residents can preregister for special needs shelters by visiting the Florida Special Needs Registry.
Contact Your Pharmacy and Refill Your Medications
Patients should contact their pharmacies ahead of time and make sure they can pick up their medications before a storm hits. Though the storm may disrupt your medical appointments, it’s important to keep taking your medications on time. Keep medical supplies and medications on hand to last a minimum of a week.
Call Moffitt’s Patient Hotline at 813-745-3500
Finally, patients should remember that Moffitt’s level of care will not change during a storm. If a hurricane threatens the Tampa Bay area, patients can stay up to date on possible cancer center closings by logging onto the Patient Portal or calling the Patient Hotline at 813-745-3500. If Moffitt cancels your appointment due to a storm, a representative will contact you.