Special Episode: Prioritizing safety and health during COVID-19 with Susan Brown

During this time of uncertainty, it is important for breast care patients and survivors to minimize risk during COVID-19. Oncology nurse Susan Brown offers tips on how to prioritize safety and protect physical and mental health.

About Susan

Susan Brown, M.S., R.N.
Senior Director, Education & Patient Support
Susan has been with Susan G. Komen® since 2000. She currently holds the position of Senior Director of Education & Patient Support. Her team is responsible for providing relevant breast cancer and breast health information to the public and Komen Affiliates through multiple venues. She oversees the design, development, implementation, evaluation and coordination of educational materials, programs, and projects. She works internally to ensure that Komen’s breast cancer messages are safe, accurate, current, evidence-based and consistent. In addition, her team oversees patient support services. These services include the Komen Breast Care Helpline, the Komen Clinical Trial Helpline, the Komen Treatment Assistance Program, and a portfolio of educational grants. She collaborates with leadership in breast health and breast cancer organizations to penetrate target markets and create educational initiatives for designated populations.

In addition, she represents Komen as a spokesperson and content expert for national and international audiences. She has represented Komen at meetings and conferences and made presentations in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, South America and The Caribbean. She served as a panelist in the first Middle East North Africa Breast Care Conference and conducted training for community outreach in Dubai for master trainers from 12 international companies in the Middle East. She conducted training in Amman, Jordan on how to start support groups and training as part of the U.S. – Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research, facilitated a worksite 2-day train the trainer workshop in Dubai, presenting breast health information to a group of young university women in Abu Dhabi, and led breast cancer training for ancillary health care professionals at King Hussein Cancer Center in Amman, Jordan and facilitated training for health educators in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

She has participated on numerous committees, advisory boards and workgroups for advocacy organizations, government agencies and industry focusing on many topics related to breast cancer and has made oral and poster presentations at national conferences, co-authored several articles, and served as nurse faculty for Train-the-Trainer programs for the International Society of Nurses in Cancer Care.
Prior to Komen, she worked as a professional registered nurse in oncology, focusing on breast cancer exclusively since 1987. She is a member of the Oncology Nursing Society.


Adam: (00:34)
Hi and welcome to Real Pink. Today we have a special episode for you. We are going to talk about COVID-19 and how it relates to the breast cancer community. How you can stay safe, what you need to know, and where you can go for more information. So on the show today I have Susan Brown who is the senior director of education and patient support at Susan G Komen. Susan, welcome to the show.

Susan: (00:59)
Good morning. Thanks so much for having me.

Adam: (01:01)
Well, I’m really excited to talk to you. I really appreciate you coming on the show and just talking to us about some practical things that patients can be thinking about. Before we dive in. Tell us a little more about yourself.

Susan: (01:14)
Okay. Well my name is Susan Brown and I am senior director of education and patient support at Komen. I oversee the breast cancer information that is associated with Komen, so I oversee the website content. We have a common breast care helpline, a clinical trial information helpline, and our aim is really to empower people with information that they need as they are making breast care decisions for themselves and as they advocate for others.

Adam: (01:43)
So you’re the perfect person to talk to about COVID-19 because you’re the person that empowers people with information and that’s what you’re going to do for us today. All right, well that’s going to be great. So let’s just dive right in. Question number one, what can breast cancer patients do to lower coronavirus risk and what are some preventative measures?

Susan: (02:05)
Pretty much what patients have been hearing from others. That first and foremost is wash your hands, wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. I think 20 seconds is a long time. When I’m washing my hands. So singing that happy birthday song, twice.

Adam: (02:26)
ABCs, right. Is that another option? Seeing the ABCs twice

Susan: (02:29)
Or the ABC’s. Either one should get us to that 20 seconds.

Adam: (02:32)
I like that. I like that. I like the ABCs. It’s, it keeps me on point, so that’s great. All right, and any other advice?

Susan: (02:39)
If you don’t have access to soap and water, you use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol and make sure you cover all the surfaces of your hands with the sanitizer and rub them together until they feel dry.

Adam: (02:52)
Yeah, I think that’s, that’s one thing that’s critical too about hand washing and hand sanitizers cover all of your hands with it. Wash all of your hands.

Susan: (02:59)
That’s right. Absolutely. And ask visitors to your home to do the same thing. Ask them to wash their hands and use sanitizer when they arrive.

Adam: (03:07)
Okay. Any other preventative measures that come to mind?

Susan: (03:11)
You’ve already heard that clean and disinfect surfaces with regular household cleaning. Spray and wipes often, especially places that people touch often. Door handles, faucets, countertops, phones, touch screens, tablets, keyboards. Really important to keep those things, those surfaces clean.

Adam: (03:35)
Yeah. And I think people don’t realize how dirty their phones and tablets actually are. So that’s pretty important to clean those on a regular basis. Right. Absolutely. Clean them regularly. And what about masks? I mean, we obviously masks are all the rage now, but you know from what I’ve heard and what I’ve read, they don’t really help prevent, but if there’s somebody that has it, maybe they should wear a mask to sort of keep those germs, you know, not as airborne. Is that correct?

Susan: (04:01)
That’s exactly what we’re hearing. There are certain masks that are intended for people who are sick to prevent that. The spreading of prevent the spreading of the virus to others. And we’re hearing that other maksf or prevention really are effective as they don’t provide that barrier to the virus.

Adam: (04:24)
Okay. Okay. So that’s great that, that’s important for, I think, preventative measures. And I think we’re talking about, I do want to frame this up too, so we’re talking about preventative measures for people that are, they’re fighting breast cancer because they are, you know, immune compromised is that, is that right?

Susan: (04:39)
Right. There are certain patients in the active treatment with chemotherapy or immunotherapy who may be at higher risk for more severe illness due to the effect of those treatments, just as you said on the immune system or those with metastatic breast cancer as well. So it’s important for these people to be really extroverted.

Adam: (04:57)
Okay. And I think maybe we’d also add as far as preventative measures, you know, we talked about cleaning measures, but also just gaurunteeing measures, right? Being sure that you’re home, you’re not with large groups of people, you’re not around other people that have been around large groups of people, things like that. Right?

Susan: (05:12)
Absolutely. Avoiding exposure, limiting contact with people who were sick or have maybe been exposed and really aren’t even sick or don’t seem sick. Use social distancing. That’s kind of a new term for some of us that we started hearing last week, staying six feet away from others. So you know, avoid shaking hands, hugging, sitting too close to others, just being at in crowds and you know, these precautions are really important for caregivers and everyone in the household. So it’s important for them to protect themselves so they can in turn protect that person with breast cancer.

Adam: (05:50)
That’s right. That’s right. So next question, what should survivors who think they have symptoms do what their next step

Susan: (06:00)
1) Stay home 2) Contact the Doctor. If they think that they have any of the symptoms, if they have a fever, shortness of breath, cough or it, or if they think they’re sick in any way. And of course then again, what we’ve heard again and again is if you’re coughing and sneezing and coughing, do your elbow or a tissue, dispose of that tissue to trashcan yourself and then wash your hands.

Adam: (06:25)
Yeah, I think that’s smart. Also I think monitoring, temperature, monitoring, fever and looking to make sure that you know, your symptoms actually do match up with the COVID-19 symptoms. Right. Because it could be that you’re sick with something completely different. Absolutely. So where can patients go if they need more information? Where’s a good starting point?

Susan: (06:48)
So they can come to komen.org we are linking to the CDC website to keep current on updates as they occur. They also can call the common breast care line. The number for the common breast care helpline is 1-877-465-6636.

Adam: (07:07)
I love that. 1-877-465-6636

Susan: (07:10)
And then finally they can get news from their local authorities or their public health officials to learn of new restrictions, cautions, community actions that are being taken locally to reduce the risk of exposure. And as we all know, this is a rapidly evolving situation and we’re hearing updates sometimes multiple times a day. So keeping in touch, understanding what’s going on locally is important.

Adam: (07:36)
And I would maybe add to that following the common social properties would be really helpful as they begin to, you know, post out information and updates and things like that that are, that are forthcoming. Uh, that would probably be a good idea as well. Right,

Susan: (07:49)
Exactly. We do you hope you’re following us on all social channels.

Adam: (07:52)
That’d be great. Absolutely. Retweet, you know, repost, give out links and information. I mean, help your community. This is a great time for us to be socially aware and to connect and help one another in kind of the digital space. So,mwhat other tips do you have that you’d like to share with the breast cancer community?

Susan: (08:15)
So I think one is to be prepared if you’re going in for treatment a call first to make sure you should keep that appointment and to learn if any new restrictions kind of wear hearing that, uh, visitors are being restricted to perhaps only one where more than one could have at a company to treatment, in the past. So knowing in advance can help you prepare for this change. If it is a change planning for social isolation due to either self-quarantine or social distancing is really important. Keep in contact with others by phone, email, or through social media. Be deliberate. This because social support has many benefits for those with cancer. Most benefits include every decent anxiety and stress, depression, fatigue, the ability to help cope with stress, better to improve mood. So there are some real evidence based benefits for social support. And so that’s really important for those with breast cancer to remember during these times.

Adam: (09:20)
And if I can make a recommendation on that as well. From a social parts support perspective, maybe consider video chats. Maybe you’re not as comfortable with video chats, not something you’ve done, but consider FaceTime or Skype or could potentially look at zoom or Google Hangouts because there is something valuable about looking at another person as you’re communicating. It’s not as isolating it, you know, it really is helpful. So really consider that as, as a means for communication.

Susan: (09:47)
I totally couldn’t agree more. Great suggestions.

Adam: (09:50)
Okay. And any other final thoughts or final tips you’d like to share with our listeners?

Susan: (09:54)
Well, the other thing I think is to try to plan in advance, um, in regard to getting medication, food and other necessities without going out yourself. So you can consider refills by mail or food delivery or ask a family member or a friend to pick things up for you or if that isn’t possible to go out when the crowds are less likely first thing in the morning or perhaps, right. Absolutely. We’ve had an increase in the number of calls to our help line, uh, from people just experiencing general health anxiety. So the help of the comet helpline is open to provide information and psychosocial support and to help callers or those who reach out with coping strategies related to anxiety or all kinds of concerns that people have during this time.

Adam: (10:42)
Yeah, that’s right. You know, and one thing I’ll also mention is I have noticed more and more Facebook groups popping up to support local communities. And so if you are an isolated individual, there very well may be a Facebook group out there that could help to support you maybe even to the point of running to pick up a loaf of bread and leave it on your front door or something like that. So, so it might be worth looking into that as well.

Susan: (11:05)
Absolutely. That’s net neighborhood grapes are small community grapes can be very, very helpful during this time.

Adam: (11:11)
Yeah. Well Susan, this has been really informative, really helpful. You’re fantastic. I really appreciate the work that you’re doing in putting out great information for Susan G Komen. Thank you for such great work and thank you for joining me on the show.

Susan: (11:25)
Thank you so much. It’s my pleasure.


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