With vacation season in full swing, there are steps those living with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) and their caregivers can take to make air travel a smooth, stress-free process. Theru Ross, Susan G. Komen’s Program Manager for Community Education & Outreach, shares summer travel tips in our latest Wellness Wednesday video for the MBC Impact Series.
First, check with your doctor to make sure you can fly. “You may need a letter confirming your diagnosis, but also stating that you are able to travel. Ask your doctor if they know of a doctor where you are going, just in case of an emergency,” Theru explains.
You may benefit from receiving an additional COVID-19 vaccination dose prior to air travel. The CDC and National Comprehensive Cancer Network currently recommend that people with a weakened immune system receive an additional dose. Talk to your doctor to determine whether you should receive an additional dose.
Next, write out a list of all the medications you plan to take on the trip. Pack enough medications for the length of your trip, plus extra doses in case of flight or travel delays. Be sure to pack all medications in your carry-on bag.
“Bring medications in their original bottles so you have the medication name, prescribed dosage, pharmacy information and doctor’s name,” Theru says. “Make sure your medication is legal wherever you are visiting. Be sure to check the laws, as exceptions are not made, even with a cancer diagnosis.”
For those concerned about airport security and the potential for a pat-down at the security checkpoint, call the TSA Cares Helpline at 1-855-787-2227 about 72 hours before your flight to determine what to expect. You can also request that a passenger support specialist assist you at the airport.
“You will not be asked to remove your breast prothesis, but you may be asked to lift or lower clothing in a private screening area to show your breast prothesis,” Theru explains. “It’s OK for a companion or other person you choose to go with you to the screening area. A disposable drape will be available upon request.”
If you are concerned about showing a breast prosthesis at the security checkpoint, you can also remove the prosthesis before going through security. The prosthesis can be placed in a carry-on bag and sent through the X-ray screening machine.
“If you wear a compression sleeve, you don’t need to remove it, but you may be screened with a handheld metal detector and may need to be patted-down,” Theru says. “You are allowed to wear a wig, scarf or head covering as you go through security, but you may be subject to a pat-down. Again, you can request a private screening if you’d like.”
On the Plane
Because air travel can increase the risk of blood clots, those living with MBC can take additional precautions while on the plane:
- Choose an aisle seat if possible.
- Exercise your legs while sitting.
- Try to walk around at least once per hour.
- Avoid drinking alcohol, as it can lead to dehydration.
- Avoid crossing your legs.
- Wear a compression sleeve if applicable.
“If your red blood cells are low, cabin pressure in the airplane may have a negative effect on your breathing,” Theru says. “Some airlines provide oxygen for passengers; some allow you to bring your own and others will not allow it. Check your airline’s policies ahead of time if necessary.”
While airline regulations have changed and face masks are no longer required on airplanes, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommends people with cancer, as well as their families and caregivers, continue to wear face masks and maintain social distancing in public. This includes both indoor and outdoor public spaces.
Following these tips and your doctor’s advice can help those living with MBC have a safe, enjoyable experience with air travel this summer.
The MBC Impact Series provides people living with metastatic breast cancer and their loved ones a safe, collaborative space to gather information related to MBC and discover practical resources to help make decisions for improved physical and emotional health. Click here to learn about this free education, along with upcoming dates and topics.