January 7, 2021

Should You Go on Vacation When Being Treated for Cancer?

Before you start planning, ask yourself these questions

woman relaxing on beach

You’re in the middle of treatment for cancer — one of the most serious, scary and intense experiences ever. Does the idea of going on a vacation trip seem somewhat frivolous?

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If you’re a cancer patient, taking a vacation might be exactly what you need. So much of your daily life and mental energy can revolve around treatment and visits to the doctor. A vacation trip can provide a respite from all of that.

Planning a vacation can also give you something to look forward to and can transport your mind to pleasant thoughts. Daydreaming about warm beach breezes, beautiful gardens, paintings or sculpture, can stimulate your senses and help get your mind off of worrying about treatment.

Before you get started, though, you may want to ask yourself – and your doctor or nurse – a few questions. Cancer care specialist Josette Snyder, RN, MSN, AOCN, offers advice.

1. Is the time right for me to take a vacation?

“The answer to this question depends on where you are on your cancer journey,” Snyder says. If you are just starting treatment, for example, or are undergoing chemotherapy, your doctor may say it’s important to maintain your treatment schedule. Check with your doctor or nurse and ask if this is a good time to get away.

If the time for a vacation is right, ask your doctor or nurse if they have advice about health precautions that you may need to take while traveling.

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For example, if you’re just finished chemotherapy, you might be more susceptible to infections. And with coronavirus on the rise, you might want to postpone travel plans during this time. Or if you’ve had surgery recently, your doctor might advise you to avoid or postpone air travel, as it can increase the risk of developing blood clots.

2. Should I pack anything special?

Snyder says the answer to this will differ depending on your diagnosis and treatment. She offers some general advice

  • Pack enough medications for the length of your stay plus a little extra. You’ll be glad you did this should you accidentally drop a pill down the bathroom sink.
  • Write a brief summary of your treatment, and include a list of your medications and any allergies so you have something you can quickly and easily refer to should you need medical attention.
  • If you’re flying, carry your medicines with you – don’t put them in checked luggage in case your baggage gets misdirected. Check the Transportation Security Administration restrictions on carrying liquid medications or comfort items onboard so you can ensure getting those on the plane. “If you need to transport an injectable medicine, you may need a letter from your doctor that verifies its use,” Snyder says.
  • Some medications are sensitive to high temperatures and humidity, so store your medicines correctly while you’re traveling and after you arrive.
  • If you have lymphedema issues and are traveling by plane, ask your doctor whether you should wear a compression sleeve to manage your symptoms.
  • Chemotherapy can make your body more sensitive to the sun. Be sure to pack sunscreen, hats and lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and pants if you’re going someplace sunny and tropical.
  • If your therapy involves implanted radiation seeds, ask your doctor for a special card that can help you get through airport security.

3. Should I take a long vacation or a short trip?

Some people may wish for just a brief break – and there are advantages to a short trip. A quick getaway won’t tax you physically. Also you may want to avoid the expense, stress and detailed preparation of a big trip.

Consider taking a “staycation” in your home town. Check out the local sights for which you’ve never really made time. You’ll be in familiar surroundings, but can make the day special by visiting an intriguing restaurant or being pampered with an overnight stay at a luxurious hotel. A short vacation also could take the form of a long weekend to a place not far from home.

If you’re at the end of treatment, you may want to celebrate with a special long trip. Go with a supportive person – someone who can laugh with you and understand your situation.

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4. Can I handle a vacation physically?

Snyder recommends thinking carefully – and talking with your doctor or nurse – about whether you are up for the vacation and, if so, what kind of trip would be compatible with where you are physically.

For example, a beach trip that features lots of relaxation time might be easier and more beneficial than a trip to a big city where you’ll be doing lots of walking.

It’s OK to get away and do something fun even while you’re in the very serious process of cancer treatment. “People who are undergoing cancer treatment need vacations just as do people who are not,” says Snyder. The memories you create during a trip with a supportive partner can help to sustain you during the stressful parts of treatment and beyond.

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