Thanksgiving marks the start of the busiest travel season of the year. While reconnecting with family can be one of the greatest joys of the season, traveling to do so can bring stress and anxiety, especially for cancer patients who may have weakened immune systems. Planning ahead and taking extra steps can ease stress and help you stay healthy.
Stacy Newberry, MSN, APRN, AGCNS-BC, OCN, a nurse practitioner at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) in Tulsa, Oklahoma helps patients plan for safe travel during cancer treatment. She shares these seven practical tips for patients and their travel companions to make holiday travels go more smoothly.
1. Book flights and extra services well in advance.
Also, call the airline in advance to arrange for a wheelchair and in-flight oxygen if needed.
Because airports are busiest during the holidays, booking necessary services in advance and having appropriate documentation handy can make getting to your gate and onto your plane much easier.
“Patients usually have quite a lot of fatigue with traveling, especially if they don’t have a direct flight. I encourage patients to take advantage of either a wheelchair or ask the airport agent when landing for a ride on one of the electric ‘golf’ carts to their next gate or luggage area. This will help save precious energy,” says Newberry.
Patients who travel for cancer treatment can also point out that getting through security can be draining. Peggy Hoover, breast survivor from Cushing, Oklahoma and her husband traveled while they were both undergoing cancer treatment at CTCA® at Western Regional Medical Center in Goodyear, Arizona. She suggests asking for help getting through the airport right from the start. “It was hard taking care of my husband and myself. Going through the airport and security checks was difficult, especially while carrying baggage and oxygen.”
2. Pack an adequate supply of prescription medications.
Whether in your carry-on or checked baggage, be sure you have enough of your prescription medication to make it through your trip. It may be helpful to obtain a doctor’s letter explaining your medications, especially if you take several, are part of a clinical trial, require controlled medications, or need syringes and/or needles.
Save your care team’s contact information on your phone in case something should happen to your medication as well as for other emergencies.
3. Practice good handwashing.
The holiday season also happens to be cold and flu season. With crowds of people in close proximity, handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent infection.
“I cannot stress enough the importance of good handwashing,” says Newberry. “Patient should also avoid touching their faces while traveling, as the mouth, nose and eyes are easy ways for infections to enter the body.”
In addition to handwashing, as a seasoned traveler, Hoover suggests bringing disinfectant wipes to clean the seat and trays, and use hand sanitizer when you don’t have access to a sink.
4. Get an influenza vaccine.
Ask your loved ones to get a flu shot, too.
Cancer patients should receive an inactivated influenza vaccine annually, especially if they plan to travel.
“Ask your provider when the best time for you to have the vaccine is, as correct timing around your treatment will be important for the vaccine to be the most effective,” Newberry advises. “If you haven’t had the pneumococcal vaccine, ask your provider about this as well.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends that people who live with or care for cancer patients also get vaccinated. Though you may only be staying with family or friends for a few days, ask that they get flu shots in advance of your arrival.
5. Try to enjoy the experience as best as you can.
Getting through an airport during holiday season is strenuous, but once you’re in the air, allow yourself to be in the moment and to relax.
“Bring music to listen to, an iPad for movies, a book to read or a hobby to work on. Make the travel experience better by bringing things you enjoy so you can relax,” says Hoover.
6. Consider driving.
Depending on your destination, choosing to drive rather than fly has benefits. Newberry explains:
If weather permits and you live four hours or less from your destination, consider driving. It’s likely that flying will not save you time and driving will help you avoid crowds and give you more control over your schedule. Packing is easier in a car since you don’t have to worry about airline rules. Keep in mind, treatment often causes fatigue, so make sure you take frequent breaks or have someone with you who can drive.
7. Ask family and friends for help.
Travel is stressful for so many reasons, but being away from home is easier with help from family and friends. Ask for a ride to and from the airport, and house sitting or pet care to reduce your worries when you’re traveling.
“I find that people want to help, but they often do not know what is helpful,” says Newberry. “I tell patients that asking for help from friends and family is not only a stress- reducer for them, it’s also a gift for your loved ones. They want to help and feel useful when you give them specific things that you need. This advice holds true whether you are traveling or not!”