Vacationing With a New Cancer Companion


Before leaving on vacation, I had to make sure I had enough of my cancer medication to last me through the trip.

cartoon drawing of blogger and CLL survivor, Linda Cohen

When going on a vacation, there’s one thing I can’t leave home without. It’s not my clothes, bathing suitsor shoes. It’s my cancer companion.

A few days before I was to leave on a trip, I received a call that it was time to renew my prescription for Calquence (acalabrutinib), an oral chemo drug. I was due to receive my refill the following week when we would be out of town. This medicine needs to be taken every 12 hours. I was leaving in three days and I carelessly didn’t check to see if I had enough of this essential medication for the next nine days. While the pharmacist patiently waited, I ran to check to see exactly how many pills I had left. When I returned to the phone and told her I had just enough to last me, we both agreed I couldn’t take that chance. What if something happened and I couldn’t return on time? She thought she could overnight it to me so I would be sure to have it before I left. I have taken this medicine for six months now, but it’s still not on my radar to count the pills out to be sure I have more than enough to last me before traveling.

After I hung up with the pharmacist, relieved that she could get the medicine to me in time, I began to internalize that cancer needed to be the first thing I packed.

Cancer needed to be the number-one consideration on my packing list. It’s not only about this vital medication but also the side effects that come along with it. I am going to a warm, sunny place and it says right in the literature, “Avoid exposure to sunlight.” I decided I had to be more careful and make sure I stayed in the shade, but that wasn’t enough. I began to get red spots on my arms and even a few red blood blisters.

I figured, OK, at least I can go in the hot tub in the evening, one of my greatest joys. Wrong. I got red spots on my legs from the high temperature of the water. Now, this was a little daunting. I kept reminding myself that this drug was saving my life. I would have to adjust. It is what it is.

So, of course, I turned to the internet. I needed the best sunscreen with high-UV protection, a hat that would cover as much of my face as possible, long-sleeve swim tops and even long swim pants! No more hot tub for me. I could only be in the shade. The hardest part was staying covered during my daily walk, but I changed my outerwear to light long-sleeve tops and pants to allow me to still be able to do the outdoor activities I love. I now even have sun gloves to cover my hands!

One might think, why even go? Is it worth it? You better believe it is! I live in a cold climate, so due to cancer, my compromised immune systemand COVID-19, I can’t socialize or eat indoors with my friends. When I’m on vacation, I can enjoy outdoor restaurants, and with the appropriate paraphernalia, I can still enjoy nature, walk the beach, fish, and go kayaking. I can still sit under an umbrella and read while listening to the sound of the waves. Yes, things are different now, but I remind myself how grateful I am for this medicine and how grateful I am that I am alive and can still have a great time even with cancer as my travel companion.

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