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 have 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.
I have just returned and can still feel the glow of the experience. I’m 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.