Travel with metastatic breast cancer
For some people, knowing they have metastatic breast cancer sparks a desire to fulfil lifelong dreams of travel. For others travel is a longer-term goal that people look forward to working towards. If you are thinking about travelling, you will have a few extra things to consider.
If you are planning to travel within Australia, your doctors may be able to suggest options for medical support that make it easier for you to continue with your regular treatment, or simply provide some peace of mind.
My husband says ‘let’s do that trip around Australia we’ve always talked about’ but I’m scared in case something happens. I need to be close to hospitals and family and all that support. But the thing is I’m well now and maybe we should be taking advantage of that. – Agnes
I’m having Herceptin every three weeks and sometimes I feel pretty bad. We decided to organise a beach holiday. I arranged to get my Herceptin at a local clinic. It took a bit of organising but it was great to get away. You know, sometimes we need a holiday from this breast cancer business. – Doreen
If you are booking airfares that have to be pre-paid, try to book a fair that is flexible in case you have to make last minute changes or delay your trip. You may also want to check the cancellation policy of the accommodation that you are booking to make sure you can have as much leeway as possible should your travel plans need to change around your health.
International travel and travel insurance
International travel is more complicated because you’re not covered by Medicare once you leave the country and it is unlikely that your private health insurance will help with any medical costs.
Australia has reciprocal health care agreements (RHCAs) with New Zealand, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Belgium, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Slovenia, and Malta. When you’re travelling in these countries any medical care you need will be covered by the local public health system, to varying degrees. For more information about reciprocal health care agreements, please see the Department of Human Services website.
After all the hassle of getting the drugs organised, doctors’ letters and trying to organise the insurance that I couldn’t get anyway, I finally went overseas. I didn’t have one day of illness. Why did it take me six months to do that trip? It’s the uncertainty, isn’t it? And we are all living with that. – Peta
Most international travellers take out travel insurance to cover things like lost luggage, accidents and medical cover. There are some travel insurances policies that will cover you for these incidentals but unfortunately you are unlikely to be able to obtain cover for medical costs related to your cancer. This is because it is viewed as a ‘pre-existing condition’.
Sometimes people decide to travel without insurance to countries that don’t have a reciprocal agreement. This is a personal decision and, for many people, it is a matter of weighing up the risk of needing medical attention against the possible cost.
Some travel insurance companies may be more flexible about covering people with breast cancer. You may need to consult a travel agent or specialist travel insurance consultant to find out what is available.
International travel tips
If you are planning an overseas trip, talk with your medical oncologist before you make any payments. It may be better to hold off on making payments on a trip until as late as you can.
When travelling overseas, make sure you take a letter from your oncologist detailing any medications you are carrying and the reasons you have them and keep your medications in their original packaging. It is also important to ensure you have enough of your prescription medication to cover you for the entire time you are away.
Ask your oncologist to also provide you with a brief summary of your breast cancer history, and treatments you have had in the past. Store this information somewhere safe when you travel and leave a copy with family or friends back home. Check in with your oncologist or GP just before you travel and make sure you act on any symptoms that are suddenly new that might come up before you head away.
Travelling overseas can be complicated but with some forward planning you can reduce your risks of having an experience that leads to trouble when you are away.
My family have allowed me the dignity of risk. I have just returned from travelling overseas with the encouragement of my oncologist, but without insurance. – Barbara
I had really wanted to travel to the USA but when I realised I wouldn’t be covered for hospital costs I just wasn’t prepared to take that risk. – Margaret
I know that when I decided to go ahead with our trip, the fact that I was able to access medical care in the United Kingdom was one of the things that helped me decide to go. As it turned out I did need treatment while I was away. I did not have to pay a cent for this treatment or medication and I was treated with the utmost care and consideration. The small hiccup of my stay in an Edinburgh hospital pales into insignificance when compared with the memories of our time in Europe and the UK, which will stay with us for the rest of our lives. – Julie
Travel Compare Insurance (1300 659 411)
This company provides comparative quotes and detailed information on a range of insurance providers for overseas travel, including insurance providers that may offer some degree of cover for people with cancer.
OTIS Foundation (03 5444 1184)
The OTIS Foundation offers free retreats in selected locations, available free of charge for people with breast cancer. Located in Victoria, NSW, NT Qld and SA, they offer a place to take time out to relax, contemplate and regroup. Each retreat is located in a beautiful environment, allowing guests to draw on nature for strength and comfort.
The Corporate Angel Network of Australia includes corporations and individuals in hospitals, cancer and leukaemia support groups, aviation companies and businesses who work together to assist patients affected by cancer, and their families.