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When You Need to Travel for Care

Posted 7/31/2014

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  Living in Boston, one of the world's medical meccas, this comes up much less frequently than it does for other people. We live in a place with hospitals that care for people from all over the world. For most of us in the greater Boston area, the logistical difficulties have to do with traffic and parking, not with traveling long distances.

  When I first came to work at BI (now BID), it was one of only three hospitals in the US that offered the choice of wide excision/lumpectomy and radiation rather than mastectomy. For several years, I was always working with some women who had come to Boston from distant states, and needed lots of extra support through treatment. Think about it: they were coping not only with the normal problems of cancer treatment, but with being alone and isolated in a busy and expensive city. One thing that helped was creating systems to introduce them to each other. Since radiation occupied only half an hour or so of the day, it was important to have a buddy for the rest of the time. Together, women were more likely to sightsee or go out for breakfast or just relax and hang out together.

  The need to travel for cancer care does, of course, still come up for some Boston-based women as well as for many others. In my practice, this happens when someone signs up for a clinical trial that is being offered only elsewhere. Right now, I am working with one woman who has metastatic melanoma and travels each month to Philadelphia for a trial, and with another who has metastatic lung cancer and is going every three weeks to New York. This is expensive and inconvenient and both are wondering how long they can sustain the routine. There is also the question, at some point, about how you want to spend your time. If you know that your disease is advanced and that your life is limited, where do you want to be?

  This is an article from ASCO's CancerNet about the logistical parts of traveling for care. It does not address the existential and psychological ones; those are the hardest.

When You Need to Travel for Cancer Care
Cat Snyder, ASCO staff

When I was young, I needed to travel from Philadelphia to Boston to see a specialist. I have to admit, I am fortunate because my father is a medical doctor and took care of everything. He (with the help of my mother) pulled together all my records, made the arrangements for where we stayed,
and talked to the doctors in both Philadelphia and Boston. He even drove the car during our road trip north!
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a doctor in the family, though. If you need to travel beyond your local hospital, whether it’s to get a second opinion [1] or receive cancer treatment, here are a few things you might want to consider.
Plan ahead
Before you leave home, there are several things you will want to get squared away. Who will travel with you? Where will you stay? Who will take care of your plants, pets, or kids at home? Working out these details beforehand often brings you peace of mind.
The cost associated with traveling can be an added burden, but planning can help cut down on unexpected costs. Many organizations offer financial help to ease the burden of transportation, lodging, or general expenses. This list [2] of organizations is a good place to start.
It’s also helpful to find out how long you will be away or whether you will need any special accommodations. Ask to speak with a social worker because they often have details about specific places you can stay nearby for a discounted price. If you are continuing to work, knowing your travel dates in advance will help with getting needed time off.
Before you go, talk with your home-based health care team about your trip. Sometimes you can even schedule a follow up appointment for when you come back. So there is one less thing to worry about! Also, ask them about any travel restrictions and make sure all of your prescriptions are refilled so that you don’t run out while you are traveling. Find other tips on the Traveling With Cancer [3] blog post.

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