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On the road again

Author: Mia James

A cancer diagnosis does not have to mean an end to travel. Far from it, in fact: With the right planning, preparation and physician approval, your dream destinations can still be within reach. Elizabeth Wolfe, Manager of Travel/Business Services at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, helps patients plan for safe travel - making sure their adventures do not stop and that they are prepared to avoid health-related complications and handle emergencies.

Here Wolfe shares essential tips for patients and families to ensure smooth sailing when launching your next adventure.

Ask for help

Do not hesitate to ask for help navigating large transportation hubs, such as airports.

“We always recommend that patients get a wheelchair, even when they do not normally use one,” says Wolfe. You may feel strong enough to walk, but keep in mind that airports and other hubs can be extremely busy, and other travelers may be rushing around, making even short distances taxing.

Wheelchair transportation, explains Wolfe, makes for a less tiring experience and reduces the risk of falls. “If the airport is busy,” she says, “people are often bumping into each other.”

With a wheelchair you are also ensured a faster commute and a more efficient security process. You also have less contact with the general public, which, says Wolfe, “is especially important for surgery patients or those with compromised immune systems.”

Wolfe acknowledges that some people are reluctant to request wheelchair assistance. “Some patients feel that if they request a wheelchair, they’re stating that they’re not doing well or are too weak to walk,” she says. “We want them to know that it’s truly to their advantage and safety to utilize this service.”

Preparation is key

Many travel-related problems can be avoided by taking the time to prepare for eventualities, Wolfe says. Here are a few key steps she recommends:

  • Whether you are embarking on a short car trip or a more extensive journey, have a conversation with your health care team. “Ask your doctor if there is anything medically that you should do to prepare,” she says, as your doctor may have recommendations to help boost your immune system or prepare you in other ways.
  • When it comes to packing, Wolfe recommends placing anything critical, such as medication and medical devices, in your carry-on bag, never in your checked luggage. This way you will not miss a day of medications or put yourself at risk if your luggage is lost. She also suggests packing the following in your carry-on: hand sanitizer, mask (if necessary), documentation regarding any medical devices (such as pain pumps, feeding tubes and ports), airsickness bag, nausea medicine and anything you may need for your comfort and protection.
  • Be sure to have documentation of important phone numbers (your health care providers’ home and office), medical conditions (including medical identification bracelets) and special needs. Just as international travelers make copies of their passport and keep them in a safe place separate from the original, Wolfe recommends that patients copy important medical documentation and keep it separate from originals. It is also a good idea to keep copies at home and to make sure that someone you trust knows where they are.
  • If you are traveling by car, Wolfe suggests making frequent stops and preparing ahead, adding, “Have any medical supplies and pertinent information available, such as a medication list and phone numbers of physicians and family contacts, in the event of an emergency.”
  • Be upfront with hotel and restaurant staff at your destination if you have special needs. “Most locations will be very gracious in trying their best to accommodate special requests if they have received them in a timely manner,” she says.

Reach out for resources

Wolfe encourages patients to reach out to existing resources managed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). TSA Cares (tsa.gov), in particular, can assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions in the security process. It may also be helpful to contact the TSA Cares helpline (855-787-2227) to notify them of any medical needs that will affect your travel plans. “TSA recommends that passengers call 72 hours ahead of travel for information about what to expect during security screening,” she says.

Wolfe notes that TSA Cares will serve as an additional, dedicated resource specifically for passengers with disabilities, medical conditions or other circumstances who want to prepare for the screening process prior to flying. The TSA Cares helpline operates Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and on weekends and holidays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Travelers who are deaf or hearing impaired can use a relay service to contact TSA Cares or can e-mail TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov.

Medication questions: Know before you go

If you are in the habit of taking over-the-counter medications to help with travel-related symptoms (such as air sickness or sinus congestion), Wolfe recommends asking your care team about any potential interactions between these medications and your cancer treatment. “Find out about possible interactions or side effects ahead of time,” Wolfe says. For example, with some medications you will need to avoid exposure to sun or cold. “Your doctor’s offce is the best resource for interaction and side-effect questions,” she explains.

As for prescription medication, Wolfe says, “We always remind patients to make sure that they have all medications in their original prescription container to avoid any possible security hang-ups.”

Insurance coverage

If you are traveling abroad, Wolfe recommends taking time ahead of your trip to reach out to your insurance provider. “The best way to find out if your insurance covers you overseas is to contact them and let them know where you are traveling,” she says. They can provide necessary contact information and recommendations you may need, and many insurance companies have a nurse concierge, who can help you directly.

Some travelers sign up for additional travel insurance, Wolfe explains. But she also says people are often surprised to find out that travel insurance doesn’t cover as much as they expect. “If you want to take out additional coverage,” she says, “please read the fine print and speak to your current provider to see how your policy covers you when you’re traveling.”

Emergency care

Spending a bit of time to learn what medical services are available at your destination can be a helpful step. Wolfe notes, “You can research medical facilities in the area where you’re vacationing to have an idea what is available, if needed.” And, she says, remember that what is most important is to be prepared with your medical information and documentation should you need to seek care.

Bon voyage!

When you take the time to prepare and are open with your doctor about your plans, travel after a cancer diagnosis can be safe and satisfying. “Travel can be a benefit if it allows you to get your mind off your current situation and enjoy different surroundings,” Wolfe says. Consult your physician to find out if traveling is a safe option for you and how you can avoid unnecessary risks. “Talk with your doctor first,” she says. “He or she should be your first resource in planning a healthy and safe vacation.”

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