Traveling with Cancer for the Holidays

For those who have mesothelioma, or any other form of cancer, spending the holidays with your family may feel more important than ever before. However, traveling to be with loved ones when you have or are recovering from cancer is more difficult than traveling when you’re healthy. Symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue that mesothelioma can bring can make traveling unpleasant, and more serious concerns can make it nearly impossible.

That said, while traveling with mesothelioma is more complicated (and less spontaneous) than traveling without it, a trip for the holidays may not be out of the question for everyone. We’ve put together some considerations for those who have cancer and are thinking about traveling during the holiday season.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

Depending on how you normally travel, having cancer can completely change the experience. As a mesothelioma patient, “free-spirited” might not be the best way to hit the road, and being unprepared can be both impractical and potentially unsafe.

Therefore, it’s important to prepare as much as possible. Doing so will help you avoid any unpleasant surprises, and it will provide peace of mind. With the proper preparations, you will be able to relax in knowing that you’re equipped to handle anything that comes up.

The first step you should take is to speak with your doctor about whether your travel plans are feasible. Your physician will know your case inside and out and understand the implications and risks of traveling at this time in your treatment or recovery. For example, if you have a chest tube, changes in air pressure while flying may pose a problem. Changes in air pressure may also be risky if you’ve recently had surgery or lose your breath easily.

Once your doctor clears you to leave, it’s time to get ready! Part of your preparation should involve packing everything you can to make your trip easier. Most obviously, bring any medications you will need for the duration of your time away from home plus a few extra days’ worth for potential delays. If you’re flying, bring your medications in your carry-on bag just in case your checked bag is lost or delayed.

Perhaps less obvious, but potentially quite valuable when traveling, is a letter from your doctor. This letter should have as much information as possible about your diagnosis and the treatment plan, including all of your medications. It will be incredibly useful if you need to see a doctor while you’re on your trip, and it can come in handy at the airport if TSA personnel have questions during the screening process.

In addition to this letter from your doctor outlining and summarizing your condition, bring a list of contact information. This list should include your family members and emergency contacts, as well as all of your doctors and healthcare providers. Additionally, bring a contact list of doctors and hospitals in the area you’re visiting so that you’re prepared in case of an emergency.

Other Travel Considerations for Cancer Patients and Survivors

Having cancer can be an incredible financial strain, even with insurance. The good news is there are quite a few programs designed to make travel more affordable (or even free) for cancer patients. The bad news, however, is that these tend to be exclusively for patients traveling to receive treatment or medical care, not holiday travel.

If you’re flying, get in touch with the airline about your mesothelioma as soon as possible. In some cases, you may need to receive a go-ahead from the airline’s medical officer, so it’s best to begin planning early. While you’re discussing this with the airline staff, bring up any other special considerations or assistance you might like to have. For example, you can ask them for assistance boarding or to be allowed to board early.

Vaccines shouldn’t be an issue if all of your holiday travel plans are domestic. Keep in mind, though, that certain countries require vaccines before you visit. Angola, for example, requires all entering travelers over 9 months old to have received a vaccine against Yellow Fever, even if you’re not coming from a high-risk country. As a cancer patient, you may not be able to receive the vaccines required to travel to countries with these requirements. Check with your doctor to be certain.

Keep in mind that traveling may interfere with your treatment schedule. For example, will you need to miss any regular appointments? If you normally take a certain medication at set times daily and travel across three time zones, you may need to adjust to local time to compensate for the time difference. Talk to your doctor about these situations to ensure you know how best to integrate your trip with your treatment regimen.

Most of All, Give Yourself Time

It’s important to be patient and gentle with yourself when you’re traveling with cancer. In the past, you may have been someone who likes to plan days packed full of activities from dawn to dusk (and even later into the night). Now, however, you’ll need to give yourself time to relax and recuperate from your holiday activities.

Cancer may mean less spontaneity while traveling, but it also means that each day during your travel requires more flexibility. Go with the flow, listen to your body, and don’t feel pressured to stay constantly busy on the whole trip. If you need to take a nap or just sit down for awhile, that is perfectly fine.

There’s no doubt that traveling with cancer is complicated. For many patients, though, these difficulties aren’t insurmountable. With helpful friends and family, a holiday trip can be a wonderful break from your daily routine. So, as long as your doctor agrees that you can, start preparing now so you can go enjoy the holidays!

Checklists for Traveling with Cancer

The following lists are summaries of some of the things discussed in the article above. What other things would you add to the list? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

Packing List:

  • All medications for the duration of your trip plus several extra days.
  • A letter from your doctor about your condition, treatment, and medications.
  • A list of contact information for people at home (family, emergency contacts, doctors).
  • A list of contact information for your destination (relevant doctors and hospitals in the area).

Questions to Ask Your Doctor:

  • Is it safe for me to travel to __ for __ days?
  • Is it safe for me to fly?
  • Do you have any recommendations for doctors or hospitals in the area I’m visiting, in case that becomes necessary?
  • Could you write a letter describing my mesothelioma diagnosis, treatment regimen, and medications?
  • How can I incorporate this trip into my treatment plan?
  • How should I adjust my medication schedule?
  • Is it safe for me to receive the required vaccine(s) to travel to a particular foreign country? (If applicable)