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Travel and cancer
Planning a vacation or a trip to visit friends and family can give you something to look forward to and provide some much-needed fun. It’s possible to go on holiday during or after treatment, but you might need to plan ahead more than usual. These tips will help you be as prepared as you can be when you’re away.
Find out if you are able to travel. Talk to your healthcare team about when, or if, you can travel. Let them know where you are going and where you could get care if you need it. Ask for back-up copies of your prescriptions and when you should take your medicines if you cross time zones.
If you’ve had lymph nodes removed, air travel can put you at increased risk for lymphedema. Your healthcare team can give you more information about preventing lymphedema.
Make sure you have the right vaccinations. Some cancer treatments interfere with the vaccinations you need to travel to some parts of the world. This may affect where you go on holiday. Talk to your healthcare team before having any vaccines, and follow the recommended guidelines for any travel vaccinations you do have. You may also need to be vaccinated again for diseases you were previously vaccinated against.
If you have a weak immune system due to recent cancer treatment, talk to your healthcare team. You may need to take a supply of antibiotics with you. Make sure you have enough to last longer than the whole time you’re away, just in case you’re delayed by a few days.
Write down key information about your cancer to take with you. Before you leave, create a document that outlines important medical information and keep it in a safe place while you travel. It’s a good idea to carry 2 copies with you in different places. Make sure your travel companions also know where the information is. You may even want to think about getting it translated if you’re going to a country where English isn’t the first language. Key information includes:
- contact information for your healthcare team
- the type and stage of cancer
- the types of treatment you’ve had including chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgeries, and the date of your last treatment
- the names of any medicines you’re taking (for cancer and anything else)
- notes about any other illnesses or health problems
Buy travel insurance if you are leaving Canada. This is very important to do before you leave, even for a one-day trip to the United States. Be honest with the insurance company about your health history when you’re setting up the policy, and confirm that you are still covered. If you don’t tell the insurance company about an illness or health concern, it may mean that you aren’t covered even if you’ve paid for a policy. Ask lots of questions. Read your policy carefully and make sure you understand it.
Pack well. Think about everything that you will need on your trip and make a list. Take all the medicines you need with you, as well as your health card and any insurance information. Put medicines and any paperwork in your carry-on luggage rather than in your checked bags. Keep your medicines in their original containers in case you have to show them at customs. It’s a good idea to have extra medicine, just in case you get delayed getting home.
Your skin may be more sensitive because of some types of cancer treatments, so it’s even more important to be sun safe. If you’re going on vacation somewhere sunny, pack a hat and clothes that allow you to cover up, and take plenty of sunscreen to protect your skin.
If you have a stoma to remove stool (poop) or urine (pee) from your body, you will need to think through your first few trips more carefully than you used to. It won’t stop you from travelling, but you will have to bring supplies.
Start slow. Although you might want to leave town the moment your treatment is finished, give yourself a few weeks or more to recover your strength and energy. Start small – maybe with a night or a weekend away, somewhere fairly close to home. And slow down if you need to. You might want to break up a long drive into shorter segments, see 1 museum instead of 3 or build some rest time into your plans. This can be frustrating, especially if you’re used to vacation days packed full of sightseeing and activities. In time, your energy levels may increase and you may be able to do more.
I’m extremely grateful to the Canadian Cancer Society for funding my research with an Innovation Grant.
How can you stop cancer before it starts?
Discover how 16 factors affect your cancer risk and how you can take action with our interactive tool – It’s My Life! Presented in partnership with Desjardins.