It’s August. If you haven’t taken a summer vacation yet, it’s time. Too sick? Too broke? Too busy? The more cancer is weighing you down, the more you need a break. A vacation can renew your spirit and help restore your energy. But, you ask, how am I going to make this happen with all my doctor’s appointments, treatments, and budget woes?
**Start by talking to your doctor. ** Find out the limits on what you can do right now. If you are on chemo, a vacation in a crowded city might not be the best idea while your immune system is low. Strenuous physical activity may not work right after surgery. I really wanted to have my annual beach trip while I was in treatment. The dates for the beach cottage we had reserved a year ahead of time turned out to be a week-and-a-half after my mastectomy. My doctor was fine with my taking the trip as long as we stopped every two hours so that I could take a walk and reduce my risk of post-surgical blood clots. I returned buoyed by time with family and friends at the ocean just in time for my chemotherapy. Checking with your doctor about what is appropriate is a crucial first step.
Your doctor can also give you some guidelines about what to do if a medical problem occurs while you are gone. Knowing what to look for as your radiation heals will set your mind at ease.
Choose activities that you enjoy in doses you can manage. Be selfish. If you usually do all the work on the family vacation while everyone else is off at the golf course, this year insist on changing the pace to the type of vacation you would prefer. However, be realistic about what you can do. You may love horseback riding or art museums, but while you are in treatment or recovering from treatment, you might need to plan for extra rest time. Build naps or some lazy days into your travel itinerary.
Doing something small is better than doing nothing at all. I was crushed when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to travel to see my family over Christmas vacation because of my radiation schedule. So my parents came to see me. During the day, we either hung out or did tourist things in our city until it was time for me to show up for my afternoon radiation treatment.
If medical treatments preclude a long trip, consider a week-end at a lovely inn an hour or two away. There are probably tourist spots in your town you have never been to because you have been too busy or because locals like you consider Mildred’s Museum of Magnolias a tourist trap. It might be fun to see what other people travel hundreds of miles to experience. The point is to create a break in your routine and get your mind off cancer for a while.
Lack of money needn’t stop you. Most cancer patients have to do some budget juggling. Reduced hours at work lead to a reduced pay check. Even good insurance plans often don’t cover increased copays and prescription costs. The money has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is frequently the vacation budget. If your vacations have been lengthy splurges in exotic locations, you can probably just pare back a bit to make a vacation fit your budget. However, if funding a week away has always been a stretch, you may need to get really creative. Maybe some of these ideas will work for you.
- Send the kids away. Visiting their grandparents, cousins, or friends will allow them a break from being around your illness and give you a break from childcare. You and your spouse will benefit from some quality time away from the kids. How long they go for will depend on their ages and how far away they are going. Time with their favorite aunt who spoils them like crazy and takes them swimming every day will be good for your children and you. You can also ask your oncologist about camps for children who have family members with cancer. Doing exciting camp activities with other children who are coping with cancer in the family could be wonderfully affirming for your children,
- Go visit friends or relatives. You will want to offer to take your hosts out to dinner or buy a bag of groceries, but if you don’t have to pay for lodging, that vacation just became much more affordable. This kind of vacation can be wonderful memory-making time. Cancer reminds us that we may not have forever to patch up differences, and this trip could be a good time to reconnect with a relative. However, sometimes cancer patients are disappointed that their illness doesn’t mend every rift. The sibling who has always been jealous because you were Daddy’s favorite may now be jealous of all the attention you get because you have cancer. So visit people you get along with and keep the visit short enough that you don’t get on each other’s nerves.
- Create a vacation at home. One of the reasons we love vacations is that we leave all those chores and projects at home. If you are too sick to travel at all and have no budget even for a movie and dinner in your home town, you can still declare a vacation day. Set aside a day when no one does chores, when you let the calls to the insurance company wait until tomorrow, and when you send cancer as far away as possible. Decide what your family enjoys best and spend the day doing that. Play board games or have a funny movie marathon. Lie on the sofa or deck chair and just watch your children play.
- Check with organizations that help fund special trips for cancer patients and their families. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has a long list of organizations that might help you with a special trip. Some theme parks will provide free or reduced-rate tickets with a doctor’s note. Your own oncologist or nurse-navigator probably has a list of local resources that can help you. Demand for these services is usually strong, so plan ahead and get all your paperwork in well ahead of any deadlines.
Vacations can be luxurious, but they are not a luxury. We need a break from the routine. You can find ways around your physical and financial limitations to take a vacation. We would love to hear about ways you managed to vacation around your cancer.
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.