Travelling with a Challenging Illness

Posted By Admin / February 26, 2016 / Current Articles / Comments are disabled

written by Mellissa Venner

Even if you are living with a challenging illness like cancer or heart disease, there is no reason why you should give up on the dream of a lifetime, even when it involves travel. Provided you feel well enough to hop aboard a plane or sail the high seas on a cruise, you can plan your trip in such a manner that you don’t miss out on important medication and treatments, while savoring the sights and sounds of far-off cities. Ultimately, it’s all about time management and efficient planning. Our top tips on travelling with a challenging illness may be of use to you:

* Make sure you are well enough to travel: If you have recently undergone a round of chemotherapy or radiation, you will no doubt feel fatigued and possibly, not in the best spirits. The same applies if you have just had surgery. Even if you do feel in tip-top condition, consult your doctor/surgeon first, to ensure you aren’t pushing it. There are some cases where you may be told not to fly—for instance, if you have had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant in the previous six to 12 months, if you have low platelet levels or if you feel breathless after light physical activity. In the case of specific surgeries (chest, bowel or brain surgery) you should definitely postpone travelling for at least 10 days, since air may be trapped in the body and may cause problems during a flight. Consult with your surgeon and do your own additional research.

* Contact your airline or cruise line about any special needs you may have while travelling: Travel companies and airlines have dedicated staff who can help those travelling with an illness or disability. Contact them and let them know about any special needs you may have, or equipment you might need (such as a wheelchair, oxygen, airport transfers, etc.). They will also be able to help you out with special diets. If you will be needing oxygen, your current oxygen suppliers will give you useful advice about where to source oxygen abroad. You will need special permission from the hotel or other holiday accommodation you will be staying at, to receive a delivery of oxygen and to have the equipment installed.

* Vaccinations: Vaccinations are required to visit some countries. Obtain advice about this at least two months prior to travel. You cannot receive vaccinations while you are having chemotherapy (or six months thereafter), because during this time frame, your immune system is usually weaker than usual and the vaccine could be harmful. Some countries require you to take antimalarial medications. Ask your doctor to check these medicines to ensure none are incompatible with the medication you are taking.

* Insurance: Obtaining travel insurance is always important, especially if you have a chronic of life limiting illness. Not all companies cover people with cancer; you will need to find a company that does offer policies covering your condition. If you will be doing a particular sport, try and get it covered by the policy as well; top companies cover a range of sports and recreational activities. Some policies even cover full medical screening to travelers with serious conditions. Be prepared for an insurer to make specific requirements, asking you, for instance, to obtain a doctor’s certificate stipulating that you are well enough to travel. Most companies will also ask you questions about your illness— the severity of your condition, amount of time you have lived with the illness, etc. In some countries (such as the USA), medical treatment is extremely expensive and you might be denied insurance. Insurance is far more reasonably priced in Europe. Bear in mind that there are specialist insurance companies dealing with clients with serious and life-limiting illnesses. Shop around and make sure you obtain the best possible coverage for your money.

* Obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if you are eligible: If you hail from Europe, you are travelling to another European country and you are eligible to obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), you can easily apply for this card, which will give you access to free or reduced price health care within the European Economic Area.

* Prepare any medication you may need: Some medication may be hard to find while you are travelling, so ensure you pack enough medication (plus a few spare doses) for the entirety of your stay. For safety’s sake, buy any medication you need from a licensed pharmacy. If the relevant medications have a different name in the country you are visiting, ask the pharmacist to ensure the active components are the same. Ask your doctor for a letter listing all the medications you need, in case you lose these. The letter should also indicate the nature of your condition and the treatment you have been receiving thus far. If you are taking any drug which may be controlled or restricted, you may need special government permission (a license) to travel abroad with this medication. Check if this permit will be enough, or if there are additional restrictions on the medication you are taking in your country of choice.

Citations:, Traveling with Cancer, accessed February, 2015.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Traveling with Cancer, accessed February, 2015., Travel and Lodging, accessed February, 2015., European Health Insurance Card, accessed February, 2015.

World Health Organization, Travel by Air. Health Considerations, accessed February, 2015.

Palliative, Taking controlled drugs to other countries, accessed February, 2015., Safe Travel and Your Personal Health Information, accessed February, 2015.


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