Throughout your experience with cancer you may have reason to travel, perhaps for treatment itself, or perhaps for work or pleasure too. The good news is that many cancer patients are able to travel comfortably and safely as long as they take proper precautions and use common sense. Here are the top three issues to consider (with your doctor's input) when contemplating taking yourself on the road:
- Where possible take care in choosing your destination. Avoid places where you will not have access to good medical care. In some countries, it will be hard — if not impossible — to receive proper care should you need it, and the chances of infection may be greater. Of course, if work is requiring the travel you may not be in a position to choose so make sure you've thought through anything that might make it more challenging, and certainly assess the necessity of the trip versus your health needs. This may be an area where setting boundaries is necessary.
- Try to avoid traveling alone. Your travel experience will be much more pleasant if you choose a savvy, supportive, experienced travel companion, preferably one who knows you and your destination well and will be able to help you should you require assistance. When it comes to work travel, this may not be fully in your control but you do have some control over which airlines and hotels you are familiar with, and potentially choosing flights at times when you have the most energy, to avoid overexerting yourself.
- Know and respect your body's limits. Cancer and cancer treatment may make you tired, weak, nauseated and more. Meaning you may be less able to pack activities into every moment of a day. Don't overschedule yourself, or make your schedule as flexible as possible to account for any challenges that may arise.
Traveling with cancer will require some basic steps to ensure your comfort and safety. Preparing yourself is one of the best ways to set yourself up for a successful, safe trip. The following is some guidance on what to do before, during and after your trip.
For many people who travel for work, the trips may not have much advance notice but thinking through the below may help you feel certain that you are organized and prepared for any trip in or out of the country.
- Within six weeks before your departure date, set up an appointment with your doctor. You may need to have tests to determine how well your body and immune system are functioning and/or arrange for vaccines and preventive medications.
- If you are planning to visit a developing country, you may want to consider long-term antibiotic therapy to protect you from illnesses such as diarrhea, which you may be more susceptible to and could be especially serious for you at this time.
- Ask your doctor for referrals to English-speaking facilities in each city.
- Get copies of all of your most recent blood tests and lab results to bring along in case they are necessary — this will prevent hours of hassle trying to get them sent from the United States. A general letter from your doctor describing your diagnosis and treatment plan is also helpful.
- Keep your doctor's information on you at all times. Consider wearing a medical bracelet.
- Make sure you have enough supplies of your primary medications and side-effect medications. Carry all medication with you, on your person, when traveling, and bring extra in case of delays. Keep them in their original containers to avoid problems at customs or borders. If your medication contains certain narcotics such as codeine, you should also have a letter of explanation from your doctor.
- Take along a recent prescription signed by your doctor in case you need a refill.
- Make a list of all of your medications, including correct dosages and when to take them, as well as any drug allergies, and keep it in your wallet. Make an extra copy for your traveling companion.
- If you are visiting a developing country or a remote area, you may want to bring sterile syringes and needles, along with a note from your doctor explaining why and authorizing their use.
- Get emergency numbers for each city you will be visiting, as well as the numbers of the American consulate and/or embassy in your destination countries.
- Learn important words (and ask your travel companion to do so) in the language of the country you will be visiting, including "cancer," "doctor" and "emergency." This will expedite assistance in an emergency.
- Investigate your health insurance — it may not cover your costs outside of the United States. If it doesn't, you should purchase travel health insurance.
- If traveling by plane, you may have an elevated risk of blood clots (always a risk when flying) due to your cancer. Make sure to get up and walk around at least once every hour while on the plane to increase your circulation and consider compression socks for long flights. Ask your doctor if you should take an aspirin or other medication to thin your blood before the flight. If you are severely anemic due to your cancer, get permission from your doctor before flying or visiting high-altitude locations.
- Keep hydrated, especially when on a plane, in a dry hotel room or out and about in an arid climate. Do not drink alcohol during airline flights.
- If you do feel sick, get medical assistance immediately. There is always someone on the plane who will be able to help you or make arrangements to get help. Your hotel should be able to facilitate getting you proper care as well.
- Avoid straining your immune system by taking steps to minimize your chances of infection and injury. Drink only bottled water and eat only well-cooked, hot food at reputable establishments.
- Eating well-balanced meals can be tricky when traveling, especially if the food in your destination is distasteful to you. Consider bringing along meal-replacement drinks and snacks (like peanut-butter, crackers, chocolate and energy bars) for backup.
- As soon as you return from your trip, visit your doctor. Set up this appointment before you go away so you will have peace of mind while you travel.
- If you are experiencing any strange symptoms, either upon your return or even months later (some illnesses can incubate for several months or longer), consider seeing a travel medicine specialist. Your doctor should be able to refer you to one.
Finally, there are organizations that exist to help cancer patients get to and from treatment centers when traveling. One of the best is the Corporate Angel Network, based in White Plains, New York. It helps those with cancer, or those donating bone marrow for cancer patients, travel to and from treatments, consultations and checkups. If you can walk onto a private jet without assistance and will not require life support or emergency medical care on board, you are eligible for the services of this organization. You will save time and money by avoiding the elevated prices and bureaucratic policies of commercial airlines, as well as the crowds at airports and on uncomfortable commercial planes. You will be able to travel with a companion. To get in touch, call (914) 328-1313 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are many Web sites designed to assist travelers with health concerns, most can be found through a google search, but one good place to start is: www.travelhealthline.com.