Organising a holiday can be challenging at the best of times, but how on earth do you tackle travelling with cancer?
We’ve put together our top 5 favourite stories from across the internet about people who didn’t let their cancer stop them going on holiday, and we think they’re pretty inspiring.
1. Laura from FindingCyril.com
One of our favourite bloggers, Laura, is a 27 year old teacher living in London, In 2016 she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. To help her talk about her illness, she and her dad decided to refer to her cancer as “Cyril”, making it seem just a little bit less scary. Laura’s imaginary conversations with Cyril often show how doubts and worries can creep into your daily life with cancer, but the FindingCyril blog is bursting with heartfelt humour, joyous photos and Laura’s upbeat personality.
We were so happy to read Laura’s account of her holiday to Italy with her siblings, the first trip she took after her cancer diagnosis. The full article is well worth a read, and includes some handy specific tips on packing and activity planning. Here’s a snippet of our favourite section:
““Laura are you sure that you trust your body to go on holiday?” asked Cyril.
“Yes!” exclaimed Laura.
“But what if we need the Royal Marsden?” replied Cyril.
Laura went quiet. Cyril’s words sent a shiver down her spine and left her questioning her decision. It also left her questioning her body, only after recently having started to slowly trust it again.
When our plane touched down in Naples, I initially felt elated but that was quickly followed by Cyril starting a conversation with me:
“You know Laura there’s no Royal Marsden here.” Cyril said.
“I’m well aware and I’m going to be fine” I replied.
And honestly I was. I’d be lying if I said it was always easy but from the moment I stepped off the plane, everything seemed to go to how I wanted. I felt able to enjoy everything we did. I’ve become quite good at knowing my limits and when I need to stop so I never got overtired or rundown. I didn’t want to risk that happening because there were too many things do and enjoy (ice-cream mainly).”
Laura refused to let Cyril prevent her from travelling, and together with her siblings she took a trip that fits around her needs and limits. She managed to travel with cancer, without sacrificing all the amazing things about visiting Italy – and she even learned how to make her own gnocchi and pizza along the way.
2. Kath Lewis from A Road Less Travelled
Kath was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer in 2015. Just over a year later, she went on her usual family road trip to the Scottish Highlands. The group drove for over two days to reach a breathtaking log cabin just outside Inverness. Her blog is refreshingly honest about the details of a holiday with cancer. Even through tiredness, side effects and infections, she pushed through and had “one of the best holidays, ever”.
“On our first night whilst Shelle and myself cooked that night’s evening meal, the lads went off on a bike ride to check out the surrounding area. Over the week we would walk, canoe, see osprey, dolphins and red kites. Every night we played games, [and] we also wrote and recorded a song.
On the Tuesday I thought I wouldn’t make the canoeing as my stomach was not good when I woke up, luckily painkillers and a hot water bottle sorted it out, and I am so glad it did.
By Friday though, my batteries were well and truly flat and stomach was staging a painful protest, so I was confined to bed for the morning with painkillers and my trusty hot-water bottle (I have one that stays in the case now). Greg and Shelle went off on a bike ride, by late morning I was able to get up, so we had a late breakfast and then went over to Tollie near Dingwall to see the red kites being fed at the RSPB nature reserve.”
3. Janet Freeman-Daily from Gray Connections
The truly awesome Janet is a “writer, science geek, and lung cancer patient activist.” She’s been through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and is now in remission. Her blog is brimming with in-depth scientific information, awareness-raising, and powerful accounts of her own experience.
Janet is a veteran of travelling with cancer and the complications that cancer patients can face, even after finishing treatment. Her detailed blog post on travel insurance for cancer patients is a great place to start thinking about your insurance options. Our personal highlight was a lighthearted post venting about the perils of flying to cancer clinical trials in the US:
“[…] Travel for a cancer trial is inherently stressful, with embedded concerns about time away from family and home, negotiating an unfamiliar city, and the possibility of side effects occurring when you’re hundreds or thousands of miles away from your oncologist.
But these hazards pale in the face of the unknowable threat that looms over the entire flight and infuses dread in the hearts of all airline patrons, no matter how healthy.
I’m talking about seat partners.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’ve sat next to pleasant SPs during trial travel.
Other flights are more … interesting.
There was the 9-year-old boy traveling alone, a creative and verbal lad, who explored scenarios that might cause a plane to crash.
SP: ‘What if two guys had a sword fight in the aisle and broke a window?’
Me: ‘That’s why we can’t carry pointy objects onto airplanes.’
SP: ‘What if the pilot forgets where the airport is?’
Me: ‘The airplane has a GPS system that tells her where the airport is.’
SP: ‘What if the GPS fails?’
Me: ‘She has a big book with maps of all the airports as backup.’
SP: ‘What if she forgets how to read?’
Me: ‘So what do you want to drink?’
… I received a free glass of wine from the cabin crew on that flight.”
4. Norma Bauerschmidt of Driving Miss Norma
The wonderful Norma Bauerschmidt was 90 years old when doctors found a “large, likely cancerous mass” on her uterus. Rather than go through chemo or radiotherapy, Norma made the decision not to pursue treatment, and to travel instead. In fact, her exact words were “I’m 90 years old, I’m hitting the road.”
Without further ado, she embarked on an awe-inspiring road trip with her family, who documented their travels on their Facebook page. A few months later, the page went viral and now has over 500,000 followers from around the globe. Norma gained quite the media following on the way, and her story has been covered by nearly every major world news-media outlet.
Norma died peacefully and with no regrets on the 30th of September, 2016. Her story continues to inspire people around the world to think differently about cancer and travel. You can read more in a new book about her year-long journey, “Driving Miss Norma” , which is published in at least eight languages. We really recommend taking a look at all the photos on Norma’s Facebook – it never fails to put a smile on our faces!
5. Our Facebook Community!
Finally, we were inspired this week by you – our readers and contributors in the Live Better With community!
This week, we asked our community how they managed travelling with cancer, and of course you had tons of ideas. Having collected all the tips and information we could find, from doctor’s letters and medication planning to the right kind of sun protection after chemotherapy, we put together our new guide to Going On Holiday With Cancer.
The stories you shared in response were every bit as inspiring as the bloggers we’ve already mentioned. Here are just a few of our favourite comments:
“I’m just back from a week in Portugal about a month after last chemo session and got back 4 days before my mastectomy. My doctors were fantastic in booking surgery around my holiday – which was booked before diagnosis – and even encouraged me to go saying a break would do me good. I had no problem getting health insurance to cover me – although it was more expensive than normal so factor this in.”
Great advice Kirsten, and we’ll be covering travel insurance for cancer patients in a future blog post, as it can be tricky or expensive to organise.
Motorbike fan Pam’s travel experiences were positive, too:
“I have had many holidays since my diagnosis of bowel cancer 6 years ago. Travelling abroad with all my medical equipment proved rather daunting at first but I am now used to it. I also have many motorbike holidays abroad and in this country and now an expert in packing all medical [supplies]. The cancer has returned twice in different places over the last few years but hope to continue for many years ahead.”
We hope so too, Pam, and thanks for your encouraging story – keep on riding!
Last but not least, Jenni told us that since her diagnosis she’s achieved her dream of becoming a travel blogger! We’d love to read some of your articles Jenni, and we’re so happy that you’ve found a way to travel with cancer that works for you.
We know that everyone’s cancer experience is different, and sometimes simply getting out of bed is a big achievement. But if you feel up to travelling, cancer shouldn’t have to stop you. Let us know if you have any of your own stories about holidays with cancer – we love hearing from you, and your tips are really helpful for others in our community!