When You Need to Travel for Cancer Care

July 29, 2014
· Cat Snyder, ASCO staff

When I was young, I needed to travel from Philadelphia to Boston to see a specialist. I have to admit, I am fortunate because my father is a medical doctor and took care of everything. He (with the help of my mother) pulled together all my records, made the arrangements for where we stayed, and talked to the doctors in both Philadelphia and Boston. He even drove the car during our road trip north!

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a doctor in the family, though. If you need to travel beyond your local hospital, whether it’s to get a second opinion or receive cancer treatment, here are a few things you might want to consider.

Plan ahead

Before you leave home, there are several things you will want to get squared away. Who will travel with you? Where will you stay? Who will take care of your plants, pets, or kids at home? Working out these details beforehand often brings you peace of mind.

The cost associated with traveling can be an added burden, but planning can help cut down on unexpected costs. Many organizations offer financial help to ease the burden of transportation, lodging, or general expenses. This list of organizations is a good place to start.

It’s also helpful to find out how long you will be away or whether you will need any special accommodations. Ask to speak with a social worker because they often have details about specific places you can stay nearby for a discounted price. If you are continuing to work, knowing your travel dates in advance will help with getting needed time off.

Before you go, talk with your home-based health care team about your trip. Sometimes you can even schedule a follow up appointment for when you come back. So there is one less thing to worry about! Also, ask them about any travel restrictions and make sure all of your prescriptions are refilled so that you don’t run out while you are traveling. Find other tips on the Traveling With Cancer blog post.

Prep for your appointment

Paperwork! It seems like a bad word, but organizing your medical paperwork is key when you are going to a new doctor. It’s important the new office has a complete record of your medical history, including scans or lab tests that you might have had beforehand. Sometimes the doctor will request to have this information sent before you even arrive. Even so, carry a copy of your records with you just to be safe.

You might also want to consider using a mobile application that can help you keep track of your medical history and questions, like Cancer.Net’s mobile app. For those who are more comfortable with paper documentation, forms can help keep it all organized, like this one to record your health care team member’s information or to track your medical history and medications.

Make a home away from home

Personalizing your new space helps. Christina Lane, RN, an oncology nurse at UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, says, “I see a lot of patients who travel quite a distance for care. When you are coming from far away, it can mean a lot to have familiar things around you. Having a photo, your favorite blanket, or comfortable clothes can help make the hospital experience better.” Bringing a little bit of home with you can make all the difference in the world! 

Video calling, email, or texting also makes the miles seem less distant. If you like to write, you can blog so that your friends and family back home can keep up.

Traveling for cancer care and being away from your family and your routine is often difficult. If possible, ask a family member or friend to come along with you – they can offer invaluable encouragement when you are away from your usual support system and are trying to focus on your treatment. I couldn’t imagine going to Boston by myself when I had to travel for medical care, and I’m so grateful for my parents’ help.