By Angela Dunbar, program manager, Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients

“I wonder if they will all say the same thing,” I thought as I waited for the steady flow of my medical team to begin filing in and out of my exam room.

You see, I had breast cancer and was just about to begin 6 weeks of treatment. Six weeks, 42 days… sounds like nothing, right? But to me it was everything. During those 6 weeks I had a lot of Hallmark movie moments that I didn’t want to miss. I desperately wanted to feel good enough to move my oldest son into his freshman college dorm, see my other son off to his first day of his junior year in high school, and walk my 4-year-old little girl into her first day of “big school.” And, of course, there was work, which going to everyday made me feel surprisingly accomplished and almost normal.

My mind was racing on all of the things I’ve heard over the years. Ironically, I have managed a program for people with cancer, their caregivers, and their providers called Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients (PICP) for nearly a decade. So, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my boss reminded me that I knew exactly what to do to stay healthy during this time—wash my hands!

It sounds so simple, but sometimes almost too simple which is maybe why I doubted it. So, equipped with the knowledge I learned from PICP and the reminder from my boss, I asked each one of my medical team members that day what they thought was the No. 1 thing I should do to avoid getting sick during my treatment. You guessed it, and the words “wash your hands” came out of every single one of their mouths in some form. Of course they followed it with other advice, but hand washing was the clear weapon of choice against the spread of germs.

All along, the power was in my hands. It’s in your hands too. Even if you’re one of the healthiest people you know, always remember that the person beside you may not be so lucky. Handwashing is not just about protecting yourself, but about protecting people around you. So in honor of National Handwashing Awareness Week, here are CDC’s recommendations for the right way to wash your hands:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

And if you’re like me, you probably have 5 bottles of hand sanitizer floating between your purse, car, and desk. Just remember, use hand sanitizer (alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% of alcohol) only when soap and water are not available and rub it in until your hands are completely dry.

By the way, I’m happy to report that my Hallmark movie got a happy ending! Now, go wash your hands!

This article was originally published on December 7, 2018, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is republished with permission.