From OncoLog, February 2011, Vol. 56, No. 2
House Call: Traveling for Medical Treatment
Traveling to another city for medical treatment brings a host of complications in an already stressful time.
The following tips on how to reduce the stress of the experience come from the experts: cancer survivors in the Anderson Network, MD Anderson’s patient support program.
Receiving medical treatment far from home is challenging. Some of the biggest problems for network members were finding affordable places to live, dealing with transportation and scheduling issues, and figuring out how to feel comfortable in an unfamiliar city.
Ask for help
“My advice is to take advantage of the offers for help that friends and family make,” a network member wrote. “Often their offers are nonspecific. Go ahead and tell them if you need a ride or need them to watch your children or pets. Stop worrying that you are asking for too large a favor. I found people were delighted and relieved to be asked to do something specific.”
One cancer survivor asked her employer for help when the air and hotel costs started piling up. “They ended up buying all of my flights,” she said. Another reported that when told no frequent-flyer seats were available, she explained to an airline agent that she was traveling for a medical appointment. After consulting with a supervisor, the agent found her a seat. “The lesson here is that the system often has room for exceptions, and people generally do want to help when possible,” she wrote. “Feel free to explain why you need what you’re asking for.”
Search for discounts
Network members were resourceful in finding ways to cut costs.
Several people mentioned that some airlines offer medical discounts if patients ask for them, and various nonprofit organizations offer travel grants. One member suggested that patients look for an Angel Flight program in their area; this service uses private planes with volunteer pilots to provide transportation to patients.
There were many suggestions on how to find housing. One member asked for—and received—special medical rates at motels near the hospital. Others found discount hotel rates through the Internet or used hotel frequent-stay points to book a room. Church-sponsored housing provided several with comfortable and inexpensive apartments. Network members advised finding housing near the hospital or staying in a hotel with courtesy vans for transportation to and from the hospital. Another cost-cutting tip was getting a hotel room with a kitchenette.
One member said he “networked with coworkers, friends, and church members until I found someone who knew a family in Houston, with whom I stayed. Besides reducing the costs, there was the added benefit of the supportive relationship and homey atmosphere.”
Advance planning could mean requesting a wheelchair at the airport, getting assistance boarding a plane, or bringing medication on the airplane in case of illness. One network member said her doctor provided a packet with antibiotics and nausea medication for her to have when traveling. Another reported that having the prescriptions from her oncologist helped her to get through airport security with the containers of liquids she carried onboard.
Some members always kept their computed tomography scans and paperwork with them when traveling to protect the documents from loss or damage. Another anticipated long waits by always having a couple of good books and her MP3 player on hand.
Many survivors reported difficulty juggling multiple medical appointments and airline schedules. One member advised patients to never schedule a flight within 4 hours of an appointment.
Act like a tourist
Network members recommended seeing the sights of the destination city, such as museums and zoos, and taking scenic drives and walks through the park. One cancer survivor said she and her husband pretend they are on a vacation when traveling for medical care. Another wrote, “I traveled back and forth in a camper. It was fun.”
Keep a positive attitudeOne network volunteer summed it up this way: “There is really no challenge too big when you want to get effective treatment and control the disease. The biggest barrier when traveling out of town is yourself and your attitude, and you just have to make it work. It’s worth it.”
The Anderson Network is MD Anderson’s support group of more than 1,700 current and former cancer patients. Their patient and caregiver support line is 800-345-6324.