Travel has been an important part of my life. I have lived and traveled in Europe, Asia, and Latin America starting in my 20s until now. Travel makes the world come alive. I love meeting people, making friends, and learning about the different cultures.
When I was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer, I learned that I needed surgery followed by a year of treatment.
Every three weeks, I had a lab test and a doctor’s appointment. For the first seven months, I had to endure intensive chemo and for the next five, maintenance chemo – not to mention regular CT scans and other tests.
The diagnosis happened in early December 2017, the year I turned 65. To celebrate, I had already invited my three adult children and their partners to join my husband and me at our rainforest reserve in Nicaragua.
The first thing I did was to check with my doctors to see if I could possibly make the trip before the whole ordeal was to start. They said it would not hurt to go as long as I shortened the trip.
We did go, and it was such a wonderful experience, full of magical family moments in the jungle in spite of the tinges of fear about what was up ahead for me.
Then, in February, early on in my chemotherapy, I was invited to go to Berlin to present at an international conference that November. I immediately wrote to the conference organizers telling them that I wanted to go, but I could not possibly know what my health status would be in November.
To my surprise, the organizer replied that she too had cancer and was very understanding. She suggested that we find a person I could present with, so I would not need to worry in case I had to cancel. That was no problem.
All through the grueling chemo treatments, the trip to Berlin was something to look forward to and inspired me to push ahead. I scheduled the two-week trip, book-ended by my chemo treatments.
When I returned I was full of the glow of the experience. I was so glad that I chose to go. If you are a travel lover who is sick in some way or has an impediment, I encourage you to find ways to travel. Even with limitations, it is a healing experience. Here I will share a few things I learned.
As you get ready to go, find out about your destination. What are the health conditions where you are going? How long is the flight and what support do you need to manage it?
Don’t hesitate to request a wheelchair for going around in the airport. Luckily, I did not need one, but realized that especially in some airports, there are crowds, rushes to connecting flights, and long walks between gates.
Find out what kind of accessibility conditions are available in the country or location you are going to. I was surprised to find that in the Berlin apartment we rented, the elevator went only to the 7th floor and our apartment was one floor up.
Also, Berlin does not have the kind of accessibility that we’re used to in the US. Find out what kind of medical facilities are nearby. In the Nicaraguan jungle, the hospital was a two-hour boat ride away. In Germany, I did not need to worry.
The first thing you must do, and I probably do not need to tell you, is to check with your doctor if you are healthy enough to travel.
Get travel insurance before you leave. Then, once you arrive at your destination, check on whether your hotels and tours offer refunds and allow for late cancellations. It eased my mind not to be worrying about having to make a change.
Plan your itinerary carefully and include time to rest. We decided to spend most of our time in Berlin and avoid a lot of running around – this time.
Do not be afraid to let your hosts know your needs. No need to push yourself beyond your limits no matter where you are going.
Pack light: I cannot stress this enough. We went on trains and climbed those stairs with small suitcases that I could handle myself if needed. With big bags? I don’t know how we would’ve handled it.
Use online options as much as possible. Now you can buy many tickets online and avoid waiting in long lines. It also saves confusion as you are navigating a language you might not speak!
Bring an electronic or hardcover dictionary, just in case you need it. I thought there would be dictionaries at every tourist location, but not any more. I found a simple App for my phone that worked wonders.
One of the hard parts of dealing with cancer and other debilitating conditions is the fear that you do not know what lies ahead in your life.
Planning a trip ahead gives you something to look forward to and that gets you through hard moments. It also inspires gratitude making you feel appreciative that you actually can go and grateful while you are there. And once you return, you actually feel proud of yourself: I did it!!!
What debilitating condition is stopping you from traveling? Or perhaps it’s something else? Where do you plan to travel to next and what are some tips you can offer? Please share in the comments below.
After almost two years of treatments for breast cancer I am now on maintenance meds. Unfortunately I developed anxiety which makes me hesitate to drive n the fast Hwy. I live in Australia but are from Germany and still have some countries on my bucket list, however, I am not game to travel. Uncertainty is a very debilitating feeling. I am working on getting MYSELF back.
It is a great time of life to travel with no work concerns to worry about. My husband and I decided to relocate from New Zealand to Botswana when I retired 4 years ago and have been very satisfied with the health services here getting a cardiologist appointment and echocardiogram without delay recently. Travelling in Botswana is very accessible with a good tarred road network throughout the country. We’ve set up in business with locals to help people enjoy an affordable holiday in a 2×4 car.
Thank you so much.
I too am well travelled. All was well until four years ag when on a coach trip I coughed, then could hardly walk and was found to have three spinal fractures. Diagnosed with osteoporosis, results not encouraging. Then temporal arteritis, scary. Then, my legs began to swell. Nasty lymphodema in both legs, a result of cancer and radiotherapy.
Worst result was I lost my confidence which is just coming back. I have taken a couple of trips here in the UK and have just booked a river cruise in Portugal. Baby steps.
Again thank you for boosting my confidence. All will be well and I will prevail.
I wish you well.
Great tips. I am going Christian pattern for cancer as well. I’m taking my first flight over Thanksgiving to see my son and his family. My biggest concern is brain fog. So I booked it non-step site. Appreciate the tip on wheelchair for future trips. Thank you.
Thanks for an inspiring article, Becki. Good health and happy travels to you!
I’d suggest taking a list of medicines that are taken daily or as-needed, and include both the brand name AND the scientific name for the medicine. Brand names for the same product can be different in various countries or world regions. In case of emergency, doctors will recognize the pharmaceutical name.
If you encounter a life-threatening emergency and are traveling in countries that don’t recognize same gender relationships or unmarried couples, have a document that indicates your partner has the legal right to make a medical decision if you are incapable of doing so. It’s a grim precaution but may be necessary.