Note: This is the third in our series of Traveling with a Medical Condition, written by British journalist Laura Miller. Today Laura offers specific tips for traveling with cancer, a heart condition, or dementia.
By Laura Miller
Traveling with cancer
There’s no reason why a cancer diagnosis should limit your traveling. You’ll still want to see the world for the same reasons as everyone else and cancer shouldn’t be the barrier.
It’s not unusual for people with cancer to book up a holiday at the end of their treatment. On the other hand, others will have no qualms about leaving the country after being told the bad news.
However, it’s important to speak to your doctor and get their opinion before arranging a trip. You’ll then know the ins and outs of what you can and can’t do. You may need to make special arrangements based on your specific diagnosis. .
Some of the problems a doctor can help with include:
• Extreme tiredness after treatment
• Risk of infection abroad
• Sun sensitivity
• Sickness and nausea
• Physical strength after surgery
While none of these should affect your ability to travel abroad, they could have an impact on the type of holiday you opt for. Adventure or walking holidays, for instance, might not be suitable.
If you plan to fly, you should also be aware of occasions when this is ill-advised. Again, speaking to your doctor should clear up most matters, but you should certainly seek an expert opinion if any of the following conditions apply:
You’ve recently had surgery
While surgery won’t always have a significant bearing on your travels, it will impact your ability to fly if you’ve recently had bowel, chest or brain surgery. For most procedures you should wait between two and six weeks post-op before flying.
You’ve had a bone marrow transplant in the last 12 months
After a bone marrow transplant you are most at risk from infection. Avoid going abroad for at least six months, and be careful with vaccinations as well; consult an overseas medical specialist about which vaccinations to avoid in your situation.
You have a low level of platelets in your blood
Platelets help blood to clot and cancer treatment can lower the number in your body. Medical advice would be to only fly when the platelet count is above 40,000 per cubic ml of blood.
You find yourself often out of breath
Since air cabins have less oxygen to breathe, flying could make any shortness of breath worse. This could be treated before your travels, or you may be supplied with oxygen for the journey. Be sure to clear oxygen use with your airline, however.
Traveling with a heart condition
Heart conditions vary from patient to patient and, for the most part, as long as the problem is under control and you feel well enough, traveling shouldn’t be restricted. However, if you’re recovering from recent surgery or a heart attack, it’s best to avoid travel until you’re fully recovered.
Again, your GP would be best placed to advise on the safest course of action and whether you’re fit enough to be traveling by plane.
Here are some things to consider when traveling with a heart condition:
• Which destinations you’re flying to
Ideally you want a location that’s convenient, close to amenities and where your body won’t be put under too much strain.
You should avoid travelling to destinations that are:
• Hilly and will put unnecessary strain on your body.
• Are situated at high altitude, where there will be low levels of oxygen. Avoid anything over 6,500 feet (2,000 metres).
• Too hot or cold. You may be surprised to learn that countries with extreme temperatures can put extra strain on your heart.
• The type of travel insurance, medications and documentation you need
Before traveling you should also be sure to have contact numbers for emergency services, in case you get in trouble abroad. You’ll want to have all medication with you, including extras just in case some are misplaced or your trip is delayed for any reason (travel insurance can help defray tour costs if delays occur).
• Whether you need to travel by plane
Think it over before traveling by plane. Are you fit enough to fly for long periods? Again, you’ll need to speak with your GP, because there are potentially serious consequences to flying such as deep vein thrombosis, which can result from sustained seating in tight quarters with little movement
Also, while the current regulations state you won’t be able to take liquids of more than 3.4 ounces (100ml) onboard, you can get special approval for medicines. Make sure you allow ample time io arrange this before the flight.
• Your pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD)
For those with a pacemaker, you’ll also need to take your identification card on the trip. Be aware that a pacemaker or ICD could set off the security alarm at an airport. When being hand searched, you should also be sure a metal detector isn’t placed directly above the device.
Traveling with dementia
If you have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, or are travelling with someone else with the disease, it shouldn’t prevent travelling. However, it does mean you need to spend a little longer on the planning phase to make sure everything is seamless.
People with dementia will likely face difficulties at home, let alone abroad and in an area they’re unfamiliar with. While you’re still in the early stages of dementia, the condition is unlikely to cause a problem. However, as your health deteriorates, it could become too overwhelming.
In order to assess the situation, you’ll need to think about the needs, abilities and safety of yourself or the passenger with dementia. For those with advanced dementia, it’s recommended to:
• Choose destinations that are familiar.
• Travel to destinations that will be comfortable and least stressful.
• Avoid long journeys where possible, as this can be disorientating.
Remember, any change in environment can lead someone with dementia to wander, even if they’re still at the early stages. Therefore, you should take care to ensure they’re with company and not left alone for long periods of time.
Bring all the essentials on any trip: medications, an itinerary, up-to-date medical information and emergency contact names and numbers. Make sure this pack is always in the person’s belongings, so they’ll be able to get help if required when abroad.
Avoid flying if the person with dementia is at an advanced stage of the disease. Planes can be disorientating, overwhelming and confusing – so make sure to consider the following:
1. Avoid multiple flights with tight connection times.
2. Inform the airline that you’ll be accompanying someone with dementia. When boarding, let both the crew and flight attendant know of the person’s condition.
3. Consider a wheelchair for airport use, even if the patient doesn’t have a physical impairment. This will help you to better navigate through the airport at peak times.
4. Give yourself plenty of time.