By John Leifer
Sometimes the journey through cancer involves traveling far from home. Depending upon the resources available in your community, travel may be required for patients seeking a second opinion, as well as for certain types of treatment. Thus, the trip may be a brief excursion or an extended stay.
Regardless of the reason, travel can impose a burden on cancer patients and their families already struggling with a significant life challenge. If you are considering such travel, there are a number of things to keep in mind before leaving home:
- Beware of the Myth of the Out-of-Town Expert: Many of us are predisposed to believe that the best care can only be found by leaving town. For patients living in small communities, as well as those diagnosed with rare or advanced conditions, there may be great wisdom underlying this belief. For the majority of patients, however, excellent resources can be found close to home. Therefore, one needs to weigh carefully the potential gains of leaving the comfort of one’s community versus the costs.
- Be Prepared is more than a motto for the Boy Scouts: You wouldn’t go on a trip without packing, nor should you seek care in a distant community without being completely buttoned-down. Begin by ensuring that your new medical team has all of your records. It is your responsibility to collect this information, forward it in advance to the doctors whom you plan to see, and confirm – before leaving home – that they have everything needed relative to your medical history.
- Ensure that Your Insurance Will Cover Your Care: Insurance plans have become increasingly restrictive relative to the providers included in their networks. It is essential that you understand the degree to which the fees from your new-found providers will be covered, including any changes to your out-of-pocket costs. Be sure that, before disembarking, you have all of your health insurance information with you and available for the new care team.
- Conserve Resources: Travel costs can add up fast, but there are ways to defray such expense. You may qualify for free air travel. A good place to start is with PatientTravel.org and Corporate Angel Network. Lodging, too, may be free or offered at a substantial discount. Check with the American Cancer Society, as well as the National Association of Hospitality Houses.
- Remember That There is No Place Like Home: Dorothy’s tumultuous experience in the Wizard of Oz pales in comparison to many patients’ journeys through unfamiliar and often expansive health systems. It will be very important to have a family caregiver at your side to co-navigate the experience, and to provide other essential functions, including: advocating on your behalf, acting as a scribe during appointments, and ensuring that you are as comfortable as possible.
- Check Once, Twice, and Finally Thrice: Being a bit obsessive can be a gift when it comes to preparing for a trip. Sit down with your family caregiver and make a list of everything that you may need while out-of-town, including personal as well as medical items (such as your medications). As you pack, check off the items….that way there will be no unwelcome surprises when you arrive at your destination.
Travel may be in your best interest – but careful thought needs to come first. A little preparation can make a world of difference when traveling for cancer care.
Also available by John Leifer:
After You Hear It’s Cancer: A Guide to Navigating the Difficult Journey Ahead now available in the Cancer Care Store.