Have Cancer Will Travel
As we move into November, we are approaching the busiest travel seasons of the year: Thanksgiving and the Christmas/New Years holidays. Yes, summer vacations are a busy travel time, too, but they are more spread out over several months, and usually don't require coping with the threat of blizzards or ice. It is really important for us to get away, to spend time with people we love, to have a change of scene. But thinking about traveling with cancer can seem difficult or even impossible (it usually isn't).
For example, I met yesterday with a woman who has recently completed arduous chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. She would like to fly to Texas to spend Thanksgiving with her family, but is worried whether it is medically safe. She expressed concerns about her energy level, exposure to viruses etc. from other passengers, being far away from her doctors if a problem developed. These are all completely reasonable concerns, but can usually be managed.
This is a short article about this that I wrote last year for the AACR Magazine.
Have Cancer, Will Travel
You may have finished your cancer treatment but still feel more fatigued or vulnerable than usual, or you may be currently on active treatment. Either way, dreaming about and planning a trip—and then experiencing new places and people—can be an effective prescription.
There are certainly times when a trip is not possible because of cancer. But more often, it is. And though cancer or its treatment may make travel more challenging, your experience with the disease can also increase the value of your time away. Whether you leave town for a far-away destination or a quiet weekend nearby, it is the change of scenery and the reminder that a world exists outside of cancer that are important.
For some patients, thinking about a vacation as a reward at the end of treatment or a transition to recovery may be a positive motivator through difficult months. During treatment, a trip may provide the rare opportunity to be surrounded by strangers who are oblivious to your diagnosis.
Always discuss any travel plans with your doctors. There might be reasons why a particular destination or schedule is unwise, and you may need your doctor’s connections and help to plan for needed care during the trip.
If you are planning to travel during or after treatment, here are a few tips:
1. Be realistic about your energy level. If the rest of your family wants to hike, be sure there is a comfortable spot for you to rest and relax if that is more appealing.
2. Make travel arrangements that are as convenient as possible. Nonstop flights are easier than connections, and avoiding 6 a.m. departures is wise.
3. If you must travel overnight and will arrive at your hotel very early (and tired!) in the morning, consider paying for your room for the night before. You won’t want to wait hours for it to be ready.
4. If you wear a wig, it may become dislodged by sleeping on a plane, train or bus. You may do better with a close-fitting cap for naps or overnight.
5. Ask your doctor if there are any medications you should take along or foods to avoid.
6. Buy trip insurance (be sure to read the fine print).
If you are currently in treatment, you will also want to:
7. Talk with your doctor about the best time to plan a trip. It may be possible to miss or delay a chemo treatment to fit travel plans better. Radiation treatment schedules are usually not flexible.
8. Take a full list of all your medications (and their doses and prescription refill numbers), your treatment plan, and 24/7 contact information for your medical team.
9. Identify a hospital or a doctor at your destination so you know where to go in an emergency.
10. Check with your insurance company to get clear about your coverage away from home. It may be helpful to speak with a case manager. Sometimes it is possible to plan to have a treatment in a different place, but these arrangements must be negotiated in advance.
Cancer reminds us not to delay our dreams. It is almost always possible to plan and manage the trip you want, and you will likely enjoy and treasure it even more than you might have in the past.
Get moving and enjoy your travels!