Some of a family’s happiest memories can come from summer vacations. While traveling with children is never easy, if you are a parent of a child who has cancer, going away can be downright daunting. But a family vacation can be just what the doctor ordered for a pediatric cancer patient — a chance to be a kid and have fun.
“Parents worry that their children aren’t having a normal childhood when they have cancer,” says Margery Davis, a manager on the pediatric social work team at Memorial Sloan Kettering. “A vacation can provide normal family time.”
Ms. Davis shared these planning and travel tips for parents to ensure a happy and safe family vacation — for everybody.
Check in with Your Child’s Doctor
As you plan for a trip, make sure your child is OK to travel. Here are some questions to ask:
- Can my child tolerate a long road trip or air travel?
- Can we visit another country?
- What do I do if my child isn’t feeling well?
The answers depend on where you are in treatment, Ms. Davis says. Your child’s care team can help you figure out what’s safe to do and how to make the most of your travels together.
If your child takes medication, ask for an extra supply before the trip in case you run out. Also, scout out where you’ll go in case something unexpected happens. Your pediatric oncologist can help you identify an appropriate medical center close to your destination. This will also help if you’re planning to keep your child’s regular treatment schedule during vacation. For instance, if he or she is due for an IV infusion, the oncologist can help you make arrangements at a nearby facility.
Do Things the Whole Family Can Enjoy
It can be difficult to balance the attention you give to your child in treatment and his or her well siblings. “Plan activities that meet the needs of everyone,” Ms. Davis says, and consider modifications if necessary. For example, on a trip to an amusement park, you could call in advance to request a wheelchair or special access. Or you could visit during an off-peak time to beat the crowds. Make sure every child gets to pick a special experience.
Take Care of Yourself
To care for your child to the best of your ability, it’s important that your own needs are met. Don’t plan to do too much. Add time for real relaxation — and don’t feel guilty about it. Take advantage of hotel babysitting and kids’ activities so that you have some time to yourself. If possible, ask a grandparent or another adult to come along and share some caregiving duties.
Allow for Your Emotions
It’s natural to be worried about your child’s health and safety, even when you’re on vacation and supposed to be having a great time. “Acknowledge that the feelings are there,” Ms. Davis says. Process them by writing in a journal or talking them out. “If you’re feeling worried, check in with yourself, your spouse, or a friend,” she adds. MSK also offers counseling services to help families coping with pediatric cancer.