Summer is winding down, but there is still time to work in a vacation. How, you ask, are you going to take a vacation while in cancer treatment? It may take extra planning, but you need a vacation now more than when you were healthy. A break away from doctors’ appointments and daily drudgery will restore you physically and mentally.
One of my first questions when my oncologist explained my treatment plan was how it would impact an annual beach trip when my family meets with friends scattered across the country every year.
My doctor recognized the importance of this reunion to me and helped make it happen. Here are some factors to keep in mind when planning travel while in treatment.
Check with your doctor first. I wanted to travel about a week and a half after my mastectomy. My surgeon said that I could go if we stopped every two hours and walked for about five minutes to reduce my chances of blood clots.
If you have had surgery and/or radiation and you are planning to fly, ask your doctor whether you need a compression sleeve. Changes in air pressure can affect patients with lymphedema who fly. Some cancer treatments will make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Your doctor knows your medical history, the risks of the trip you are considering, and how to minimize them, so talk to your doctor and ask plenty of questions.
Choose a vacation site that will allow you to rest. If your normal vacation is ten cities in eight days, this may be the year to go to a mountain cabin. If you are a city person, stay in the center city, so you can go back to the hotel for a nap in the middle of the day. Use common sense about the activities you do. So soon after surgery, I didn’t go into the ocean on my beach vacation, but I still had a wonderful time rocking on the porch watching the waves and catching up with my friends.
Choose a place close to good medical facilities. Trips to the wilderness or developing countries may need to wait. Make sure you know where you would go in a medical emergency. Check with your insurance company before you leave, so you know what procedures to follow if you need to see a doctor away from home. I developed an infection in my incision–the type of problem that could have occurred just as easily if I had stayed at home. I was glad that there was an urgent care facility near where we were staying that accepted my insurance.
Be cautious about germs. During chemo and after surgery, you are at greater risk of infection, so avoiding crowded, dirty places is a good idea. Be especially careful about hand washing.
Also be careful about the food you eat. While in chemo, eat in restaurants with high sanitation standards and avoid street foods. Raw fruits and vegetables may also cause problems when your immune system is low.
If your finances are tight, be creative. The cost of treatment may have eaten up the money you had saved for a vacation, so look for ways to lower costs. Stay with your sister or childhood friend instead of in a hotel. Maybe going away for two days instead of two weeks will give you the break you need without breaking the budget. If there is no extra money at all, be a tourist in your own city. Most museums have a free or reduced-fee day. State parks are a wonderful bargain. The important thing is to take a break from your regular routine.
With so much to consider, travel may sound like more trouble than it is worth. However, making time to do something fun with your children will create memories they will cherish. Leisurely time chatting with your friends or family will help you process your cancer experience. Warm sun and cool drinks will restore your spirit so you can finish up your treatment refreshed.
If it is too late for that summer vacation, the beaches are less crowded and less expensive in September It’s never too late to renew your energy with family and friends in a relaxing setting.
Phyllis Johnson is an inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) survivor diagnosed in 1998. She has written about cancer for HealthCentral since 2007. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the oldest 501(3)© organization focused on research for IBC. She is a list monitor for an online support group at www.ibcsupport.org. Phyllis attends conferences such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD® Institute. She tweets at @mrsphjohnson.