Traveling with Leukemia

Patient Expert
iStock

I have chronic myelogenous leukemia, a chronic cancer, which I will live with for the rest of my life. When I was diagnosed, in February 2011, I did not know if I was going to live or die. Fortunately for me, fast-acting oncologists and new treatments have allowed me to continue on this journey we call life.

While I was hospitalized, I had to cancel a trip to Cabo San Lucas; I was too sick to travel. At that time, I asked my oncologist whether or not I would be able to reschedule that trip, and if so, when? He replied, "For now, you need to stay close to home."

My heart sank, and I wondered if my traveling days were over.

Fear of Traveling

When my cancer became stable and I was given the green light to travel once again, I found it interesting that the thought of traveling actually made me anxious. Not the excited anxious that I used to feel when planning a trip, but a worried, “am I going to be all right” type of anxious.

I realized that my leukemia, and the fear of the unknown, had caused me to become reluctant to venture out of the safety net in which I found myself decisively and securely swaddled (close to hospitals and oncologists, my lifeline).

Once I accepted that truth, I knew that I must face this fear head-on, and not allow leukemia to steal my wanderlust spirit. I promptly began to schedule a short trip, not too far from home.

My first jaunt was frightening. I spent most of it with a small voice in my head repeating, "What if?" Gratefully, I survived with no major incident, and that voice has become quieter and quieter as the years have passed.

What I have discovered is that traveling with leukemia is an art; you will need to be creative!

Preparation

There is much preparation that goes into traveling when you have leukemia. One of the most important things to factor into your trip is time. Time to recuperate from getting to your destination and time to enjoy the sights and activities of your choice, with time in between to rest up for your next venture.

“I knew that I must face this fear head-on, and not allow leukemia to steal my wanderlust spirit. I promptly began to schedule a short trip, not too far from home.”

Know that you may not be able to keep up with others and that you are not the same person, with the same energy level that you were before your leukemia. Accept your limitations and enjoy your trip, to the best of YOUR ability.

Accept that you will have down days and schedule them into your trip, the same way that you schedule your activities.

Special Accommodations

When traveling with leukemia, fatigue is one of the greatest obstacles. To help alleviate this fatigue, take advantage of services that are offered at airports, museums, hotels, and other attractions.

Standing in security and boarding lines can be extremely tiresome. Be kind to yourself and take a wheelchair; conserve your energy for more enjoyable activities, especially when traveling to a foreign country, where the passport lines can be lengthy.

When planning on a trip to a museum or other landmark, ask about handicap entrances. These may save you much time, and allow you to actually enjoy the exhibits. Use the lifts and elevators; do not be too proud to do so.

Make sure your accommodations include a tub to soak your tired body at the end of a long day.

Make sure to stay hydrated and keep healthy snacks on hand.

Always have medications close at hand.

Conserve your energy.

Flexibility

Be flexible; if it is too hot in the afternoon, sightsee in the evening. If you cannot walk to the top of a hill, take a taxi. If you feel better in the morning, take early flights. If it is hard to get moving when you wake up, take later flights. If you need to refrain from a day's activities, do so.

Eventually, you will understand and recognize your limitations; pay heed to their warnings and adjust accordingly. When traveling with others make sure that they understand your limitations prior to your trip.

Do not allow yourself to feel guilty for things out of your control.

Things to Pack

  1. All medications; this includes your everyday medications, such as chemotherapy and other prescription drugs, plus any medications that you may need to help alleviate side effects. These may include anti-nausea, anti-diarrhea, allergy, cold and cold sore relief, inhalers, antibiotics, sunscreen, pain relief, and sleep aid medications. Keep these with you at all times.
  1. Clothing; you will need clothing for all types of weather. Living with cancer means you can go from hot to cold in a matter of minutes. Bring clothing that you can layer, and most importantly, clothing that is comfortable. Do not buy "new" shoes for your trip! Make sure your footwear is practical and comfortable.

  2. Items of comfort: your OWN pillow, a travel blanket, a heating pad, an umbrella for sun or rain, cool cloths, water bottles, travel mugs, a good book, earplugs, an eye mask, hydrating body lotion, noise- cancelling headphones, warm socks, and a hobby—for me, YARN! Nothing soothes the pain of being stuck in a room, unable to sightsee than a creative project.

Fighting Germs

When traveling with leukemia, taking extra precautions is always wise. The added fatigue and compromised immune system may lead to an unwelcome illness on the road, and you want to avoid this at all cost.

When flying or in large crowds, a mask may help to avoid germ exposure. Antibiotic wipes are a great way to sanitize your own personal "space," such as armrests and tray tables. They also can be used to create a barrier between your hand and handrails. Keep a small bottle of sanitizer close at hand, at all times.

Wash your hands regularly; do a thorough job. Lots of lather and warm water.

There are many immune boosters on the market: Airborne, Zip Fizz, and elderberry syrups, to name a few. Check with your oncologist for adverse drug interactions before taking any supplements.

Stay well rested.

Traveling with leukemia can be challenging, but planning wisely, knowing and accepting your limitations, and approaching each trip as an adventure, as opposed to an agenda, will help to make your experiences more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Do not allow cancer to steal your sense of wonder.