Air Travel During Cancer Treatment
by Donald J. Melancon
When you are undergoing cancer treatment, traveling probably presents a special challenge because your energy levels and immune system are likely diminished by chemotherapy or radiation. And if time or distance is a factor in your travel plans, then the added exposure to multitudes of strangers in an airport can be a very real hazard to your health. The following ideas may help you limit exposure to infections and save your limited strength during times of travel.
Before planning your trip, check with your doctor to find the best time to travel, as there may be a period between treatments when your immune system and energy will be at their highest levels. Try to avoid traveling during those times when your white blood cells are expected to be at their lowest. Because your physical condition or blood counts may suddenly change to levels that could potentially be hazardous to your health, be prepared to cancel the trip at the last minute.
Absolute necessities to pack in your carry-on bag are all of your medications, the phone and fax numbers of your pharmacy and physician, and any other important information you will need if your luggage is delayed or lost. Take at least two or three extra days dosage of each prescription and commonly used nonprescription medications. If some of your medicines need to be refrigerated, use a frozen cold pack to keep them cool while in flight, and then remember to put them in a refrigerator upon arrival. Take syringes, needles, and alcohol swabs if they are needed, along with a note from your physician or nurse that states why the syringes are necessary.
Before planning your trip, check with your doctor to find the best time to travel.
If you have a catheter or other surgical wound, it is wise to learn how to change the dressing before your trip. The supplies needed to change the dressing usually come in a prepared kit, so be sure to take several of the kits with you in your overnight bag.
Use surgical masks to limit your exposure to germs. Ask your physician, nurse, pharmacy, or medical equipment supply store which type of mask you should use. Wear the masks whenever you’re in crowded public places. Change them often, or whenever they begin to feel moist, as moisture allows easier passage of germs through the mask.
Travel at off-peak hours. The best times are midday during midweek or afternoons and evenings on Saturdays. Families with children often travel on weekends, including late Fridays and early Mondays. People on business trips often travel on the early morning and late night weekday flights. Off-peak flights tend to be emptier, so you can stretch out more. Ask the travel agent or airline booking agent which flights are the least crowded. This is especially important now that the number of flights available is reduced and they are often full or overbooked.
Direct flights are better than flights with several connections, which increase your time in crowded airports. Direct flights will limit your exposure to other people and will help you conserve your energy. If you live in an area where you know you will have connections, consider using an airline with a club, and join their club. The clubs can be a relaxing place between flights, and club members are usually frequent travelers and mostly adults.
Make your reservations early to get the best choice of seats. Try to get as close to a bulkhead wall as possible, as that eliminates at least one direction of exposure from others around you. Sitting in an aisle seat might be more comfortable so you can get up and down as often as necessary.
Try to be the last to board the airplane when seats are pre-assigned. That way, you delay exposure to others until the last possible minute. While waiting for the last-minute boarding, stand at a distance from the boarding gate door. If seats are not assigned, try to board early for the best selection or send your caregiver ahead of you to save you a seat. After boarding, if someone sitting next to you has a raging cold, speak to the flight attendant and ask to change seats. Most people are accommodating if you ask politely.
Finally, it is highly recommended that you fly with a companion. This person will help you avoid sources of potential infections and will help you conserve your energy. Your travel companion can help you with your carry-on luggage, and will be there to help if you become ill or extremely fatigued during the trip. It can also be more fun to travel with others.
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Donald Melancon is the editor of CONVERSATIONS! The International Newsletter for Those Fighting Ovarian Cancer, published by CONVERSATIONS! The International Ovarian Cancer Connection, ovarian-news.org.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2011.