5 Travel Tips for Cancer Patients

Whether for business or pleasure, there may be times when people with cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma need to travel. While the initial thought may seem overwhelming, a little planning can help make travel smooth and stress-free. Here are five essential travel tips for cancer patients.

View from plane window
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Do Your Research

Start by doing a bit of research about the place(s) you plan to visit. Does traveling there require a special immunization or vaccine? Is getting a vaccine even feasible for you? Are there any illnesses specific to that region that you should be aware of? What types of medical facilities are there? How close are they to where you will be staying? Is there somewhere you could get medication if you need it?

Keep in mind that some vaccines, like those in which a live "weaker" version of the infecting agent is given, might not be advisable for cancer patients, since they are at higher risk of developing the actual infection.

Get Covered

Learn about your health plan and what kind of coverage you have while you're away from home. It would be a great idea to purchase some extra insurance coverage if you don’t have it. Look for an insurance policy that includes an evacuation clause in case you need to be transported home or to safety during an emergency.

Talk to Your Doctor

Run your travel plans by your doctor to get the all-clear before you head off. Ask if they can provide you with the name of a doctor at your travel destination that can care for you if you become ill. Some cancer centers can also provide you with a note that can be presented at a different care facility in an emergency. This letter may include information about your condition, the medication you are taking and what they should do if you arrive with a fever or other common malady.

Get Your Medication in Check

Medication is the one thing that you should overpack. Bring enough medication for your entire trip and then some, if possible. Be sure to check your supply and refill if necessary before you go. Some medications are not available in other countries.

It's tempting to toss everything in a pillbox, but you should keep all medications in their original, labeled containers, especially if you're flying. Your name and the name and dosage of the medication should be clearly stated on the label. Put cotton balls inside pill bottles to prevent damage during transport. Keep your medication and any other supplies with you in a resealable plastic bag inside your carry-on so nothing spills, breaks or is lost.

You might also consider carrying a note from your doctor with a list of your required medications on it to prove that you need them. This is especially important for pain medications, antidepressants, and stimulants that may be illegal in other countries. If you need syringes for your medication, make sure you bring enough for the entire trip, as well as a note from your doctor explaining why you need them. You may not be able to keep syringes in your carry-on baggage if you're traveling by plane, so documentation will be very helpful in this situation. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how to take your medication if you will be traveling to a different time zone.

Special circumstances

There are a few special circumstances when traveling that a cancer patient should pay more attention to:

  • Colostomy bags or another form of "open gut" surgery patients: Since cabin pressure changes can lead to some discomfort and potentially more gas, consider packing extra colostomy bags and making a trip to the bathroom after cruising altitude is obtained to decompress your bag. Make sure you get clearance from your digestive surgeon before traveling.
  • Recent brain surgery and/or brain tumors: If you've recently received an intervention in your brain or it is known that you have a brain tumor, keep in mind that changes in pressure can lead to some expansion of brain tissue leading to symptoms like headache, nausea, or even seizures. Make sure you get clearance from your neurosurgeon before traveling.
  • Oxygen requirements: If you have been placed on supplemental oxygen via mask or nasal canula, you need to check with your airline if accommodations can be made to make sure you can carry your own oxygen tank (often rules perrtaining to this are very restrictive) or switch over to the plane's oxygen supply. If you don't use supplemental oxygen, but you have lung cancer or other forms of lung disease, you might experience some shortness of breath when in high altitude, since air pressure, even in a pressurized cabin, will be lower than on the ground. Make sure you get clearance from your interrnist or pulmonologist before traveling.

Schedule in Some R & R

Traveling can be downright exhausting, whatever your reason: whether sightseeing, visiting with family or attending meetings. Make sure to schedule in some rest every few hours so you don’t get too run down. This regularly scheduled “downtime” will prevent you from missing out on activities in the future. Above all, take this opportunity to allow yourself some time to think about something other than your cancer and enjoy yourself.

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