Traveling while undergoing cancer treatment

Baird traveling with cancer

The summer travel season is upon us, and many are planning vacation time to beaches, or the mountains, or destinations beyond with family and friends. If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, it’s no different; you need time to recharge from the day-to-day stresses of life, and especially your medical condition. When undergoing cancer treatment, there are a few extra precautions and considerations for the traveler, but that shouldn’t stop you from traveling or enjoying a vacation away from home. Careful planning can ensure you have a great – yet safe – experience.

First, get the OK from your medical team before making any travel plans. You’ll want to talk about the location, how you plan to get there, and how close you’ll be to a medical facility in the event of an emergency. Depending on your condition, proximity of a treatment center may factor in on your vacation destination. It’s important to include family members or other travel companions in these conversations so they can be informed and feel comfortable about traveling with you.

Secondly, consider how you’re going to get there. Some people with cancer may not be able to travel by plane because of the changes in oxygen levels and air pressure that occur during the flight. Changes in air pressure can sometimes cause swelling in your extremities, which could be problematic for a person with cancer. Also, sitting for long periods of time can put anyone at risk for a blood clot, but it’s even more of a concern for someone with cancer. Also, if you’re receiving chemotherapy, your immune system is compromised, making traveling through airports and sitting in crowded planes a risky endeavor.

If you are well enough to travel by plane, there are a few things to keep in mind. Some forms of radiation used for radiological exams and treatment may trigger airport radiation detectors. Some chemicals used may linger in the body for up to 3 months. If you plan to fly after such an exam or treatment, ask your doctor for a letter that identifies the procedure, the type and amount of radioactive material used, the date of the procedure, and the likely duration of detectable radioactivity. Be sure to carry this letter with you when you travel.

When booking your flight – plan ahead so that you can have seats with extra legroom if you need it, or ensure that your travel companion can be seated next to you. Also, notify the airline in advance if you think you may need oxygen.

Research your destination and locate a cancer center, and emergency center far ahead of time, just in case something goes wrong. If those aren’t available, (if you’re on a cruise, for example), notify the staff where you’re staying of your condition to help facilitate their cooperation in the event of an emergency.

Check your insurance policy to see if treatment away from your normal care center is included. You may want to consider a short-term travelers policy for additional piece of mind.

Make sure you have written documentation for on your condition, treatment regimen, and medications, and keep it with you. This is also important if you have an IV port or other internal device so you have documents to show security screeners. You also might consider getting a medical alert bracelet. If you require syringes for medication or portable oxygen tanks, you may need a note or form signed by your doctor for these items to be allowed on a plane.

When planning, keep in mind that certain destinations require vaccinations prior to entry. Speak with your physician about whether or not this is something your body will tolerate with other medications you are on, or with a weakened immune system.

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, take it easy and enjoy the moment. Don’t overdo sightseeing or shopping excursions and listen to your body when it’s telling you it needs rest. Relax – and enjoy!

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