Nearly 100 million Americans travel during the holiday season. If you’re usually among them but are having second thoughts because you’re being treated for cancer, don’t cancel your plans yet. Visiting out-of-town family or venturing to a warmer climate may not be out of the question. In fact, a trip by car, train, bus or plane may be possible and just what you need. Wilmot Cancer Institute nurse practitioner Julie Berkhof shares tips to help you travel safely while you’re receiving cancer treatment.
First and foremost, talk with your oncology team about your trip to make sure it is safe for you to travel based on your personal situation. They’ll want to make sure travel will not further jeopardize your health.
Once you have a green light to go, it’s time to prepare for your journey. Make sure all of your medications are refilled and pack more than you think you’ll actually need. Also, if you have syringes and needles for injections, be sure to ask your doctor to write a note explaining why it’s medically necessary to carry these supplies.
Keep phone numbers for your doctor and pharmacy readily available. It’s a good idea to carry a list of all medications you are taking, in addition to any drug allergies you have. Also be sure to carry your identification cards for implanted ports or pumps.
If you’re flying, carry your medications with you at all times. Security regulations allow prescription and over-the-counter medications to exceed the 3.4 ounce limit that’s required for other liquids, gels and aerosols in carry-ons. Just be sure to keep your medications in their original containers to avoid drug mix-ups.
Take good care of yourself on your journey. Airplanes, buses, trains and even cars can be filled with germs and viruses. Practice good hygiene and hand-washing at all times. And consider bringing crackers, energy bars and water to stay energized and well-hydrated.
While traveling, don’t be afraid to ask for help so you can conserve your strength. Tell those with you what you need, or if you’re flying, airport staff may be able to help you get to your gate using a wheelchair or other transportation. Checking in to your flight early is a good idea to help things go smoothly.
No matter how you’re traveling, remember to move a little bit. Sitting for a long flight or car ride with no standing breaks can put people with cancer at risk for developing a blood clot. To reduce the risk during long trips, do light leg exercises to stimulate blood circulation. For example, trace the ABCs with your feet every hour.
Don’t ignore symptoms during travel or once you’ve arrived at your destination. If you experience them, seek immediate care. Ask the doctors or staff to contact your primary cancer team. That communication is key to helping you to feel better quickly and to make sure issues are addressed if needed when you return home.
Finally, pace yourself. Take your time getting to your vacation spot and leave time in your schedule so you don't feel guilty skipping a day of exploring to rest.
Although traveling can be physically and mentally exhausting, sometimes getting away from it all is just what you need. And with a bit of planning, you can relax and enjoy your trip.
Julie Berkhof, R.N., M.S., F.N.P.-C., is a nurse practitioner at Wilmot Cancer Institute. She serves as the regional clinic leader as well as a senior advanced practice practitioner, working with patients and oncology teams at all Wilmot Cancer Institute locations.