Coping With Cancer After a Natural Disaster

Recent earthquakes and devastating floods in New Zealand have reminded us of the need to be prepared for events that can cause chaos in our daily lives. 

For people with cancer and their carers it can be especially important to make sure you get your health and support needs met in such a situation.


In your emergency kit keep an up-to-date copy of your medical records with information about your cancer and treatment, in case you need to evacuate your home and/ or see a different doctor.

Include things like:

• The type of cancer you have and stage of your cancer if you know it.

• Type of treatment e.g. chemotherapy (include the names of your chemo drugs, how and when they are given), radiation treatment, surgery, hormone treatments.

• Date of your last treatment.

• Name of your doctor and treatment centre.

• Any medicine you’re taking (cancer medicines and other medicines, including over-the- counter drugs).

• Other illnesses or health problems you have. 


If you are still in the area where your cancer doctor or treatment facility is located but can’t get to treatment due to damage to your home or the treatment centre, or you have no transport options, contact your doctor as soon as you can and find out what you need to do to continue treatment. If you can’t get in touch with your cancer doctor or your treatment centre, try the local emergency department or your GP. 

If you have to leave the area where you were getting treatment, take your medication with you if possible. You will need to find a new cancer doctor and treatment centre as soon as you can. Ask for help from the evacuation centre staff, Red Cross, Salvation Army, or other local agencies providing assistance. If this is not possible, go to a local hospital information desk and ask for help.

If you are having a course of chemotherapy you will be at increased risk of infection.


• A temperature of 38 degrees or more.

• Chills, shaking or sweats (which often go along with a high temperature).

• Redness, swelling, drainage, tenderness, or warmth at the site of any injury, surgical wound, or intravenous cannula catheter, or anywhere on your skin.

• A new pain or one that’s getting worse.

• A headache.

• A stiff neck.

• A sore throat.

• Shortness of breath or a cough.

• Burning, pain or bleeding when you pass urine.

Your nearest evacuation centre may have nursing staff who can help get you to an emergency department or medical centre. Make sure you tell any health professionals you see about your cancer and what treatment you are having.

If you have your medicines with you and know how to take them, keep taking them. If you need medicine, are almost out of medicine, or are unsure how to take it, talk to a nurse or someone at the evacuation centre for help getting in touch with a pharmacist or doctor.


• Wash your hands with soap and water as often as possible. If you can’t get soap and water, use an alcohol hand sanitiser. Dry your hands well – use a hand towel or paper towel, not a tea towel.

• If there’s no safe water, drink only bottled water, or boil water for at least one minute. Allow it to cool before drinking.

• Make sure all meats are thoroughly cooked and all fruits and vegetables are washed in safe water. Don’t eat cooked foods that have been left at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

The Getting Thru website has great information for putting together emergency supplies, and making a family and workplace emergency plan.

 Always, call 0800 CANCER if you want to know more.