Many patients worry about cancer getting in the way of daily life, which may include their summer vacation or travel plans. Initially, yes, a cancer diagnosis can put certain things on hold – but in most cases, it’s only temporary. Once your cancer treatment plan is in place, resuming everyday activities often becomes more manageable – even when it involves going on a trip. Traveling with cancer may involve some extra planning, but there are ways to help it be less stressful and more enjoyable. Here are some tips to get you started so you can enjoy the travel season.
Preparing for Travel When You Have Cancer
- Talk with your oncologist. Before you go, make an appointment with your cancer care team so they can determine if it is safe for you to travel. It is very important that you talk with them about all your travel plans so they can provide you with information pertinent to self-care during your trip as well as side effects that you may need to consider before traveling. It is also a good idea to request a copies of any medical records that can be taken on your trip.
Take a list of questions with you that address topics such as your potential needs, possible restrictions you may face, and how to handle days you feel ill. Asking your doctor to write a letter with details of your cancer and treatment plan is also a good idea.
- Make special arrangements if needed. If your doctor clears you for travel, you may want to notify the appropriate facilities (airline, hotel, etc) of any special requirements you have. For example, if flying you may want to request a seat with additional leg room or a seat close to the lavatory.
Remember, you may be more tired than usual because of cancer treatment so try to make life as convenient as possible while traveling. If staying at a hotel, you can request a room on the first floor or at least a room close to an elevator. A handicap accessible room may also be a good option if you’d prefer to sit to shower. They often have shower seats in these rooms.
- Get your medications together. Carrying your medications with you is also important (if you are flying, be sure to keep your medications in your carry-on). In addition to having your meds on hand, bring along a list of your current prescriptions and your doctor’s contact information. This makes it easier for a pharmacy or hospital to verify what you need should you happen to lose any medication while away from home.
- Pack snacks. If traveling by car, take a cooler full of healthy snacks so you have something better on hand when you get hungry. Energy bars as well as bags of nuts or trail mix will also work if taking a cooler isn’t an option. Taking along snacks you can tolerate gives you something to eat if nothing else sounds good.
- Have a backup plan. It doesn’t hurt to plan for the unexpected. Before you leave, compile a list of cancer treatment centers near your destination, so you’ll know where to go if you need help. You may want to call your insurance provider to see if you’re covered in the area you’re visiting.
To keep from becoming overwhelmed, ask for help.
Even though travel experiences differ among cancer patients, there are some common steps that can be beneficial whether traveling by plane, train, or automobile:
- Ask for assistance. Traveling can be stressful and exhausting. To keep from becoming overwhelmed, ask for help. This may include reserving a wheelchair, taking a shuttle between airport terminals or even using the airport “carts” that will take you to your gate so that you can reserve your energy.
- Eat right and stay active. Eating well can certainly be challenging for anyone when you’re on the go. During your travels, try to avoid fast food and fried foods. Instead, opt for grilled meats at restaurants and focus on eating enough vegetables, salads, and fruit. Be sure to ask whether certain foods contain uncooked or undercooked ingredients. If so, choose something else. Stay hydrated by drinking water and avoiding alcohol. When possible, try to get in some light exercise. Stretch your legs, take a walk, or have a swim. Stretching and walking is especially important as long flights and car rides can increase your risk of developing blood clots known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
- Practice sun safety. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy can increase the sensitivity of your skin, making you more vulnerable to sun damage. Be sure to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that’s at least 30 SPF or higher and reapply every 2 hours. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and light, protective clothing can also guard your skin from the sun. Keep in mind that the sun can reach you while in the water, on snow, and in the car.
- Wash your hands regularly. Certain cancer treatments can temporarily weaken the immune system. To prevent infection, take time to wash your hands. Ask any travel companions to wash their hands regularly as well. Carry some sanitizing gel with you for times you don’t have access to soap and water. Wearing a mask, especially while on a plane, can also provide an extra level of protection.
- Listen to your body. It is very important that you do not ignore any symptoms while away. Get enough rest and if you experience illness, such as fever, pain, sudden nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, or something entirely new, seek immediate medical care.
- Enjoy yourself! If this is a recreational trip, and you’ve prepared accordingly, be sure to enjoy the scenery and the company you’re with. It may be hard to keep your mind off your cancer but trying to do so can help you cope better.
Even if you’ve taken the best precautions prior to your trip, it’s a good idea to schedule another appointment with your cancer doctor once you’re back home. Your doctor will be able to verify whether or not you contracted any illnesses while you were away.