I'm pretty accustomed to Transportation Security Administration agents, little clear bags with less than 3.2 oz. of fluid, pat downs, bag searches, the mad rush to place all of your items into those plastic bins before putting them through the scanner, etc., but as a caregiver, traveling with a cancer patient was completely new to me.
A million questions raced through my mind as my dad and I prepared to fly to Houston for his colon cancer treatment. Do we need a doctor's note explaining that he cannot go through typical security scanning machines? Will other people be pushy and impatient, as it takes longer for us to go through security checks? The list goes on.
After numerous trips to and from MD Anderson, I'd consider myself a seasoned pro. Here's my advice for any other caregivers preparing to travel to Houston with a loved one for cancer treatment:
Arrive earlier than you typically would.
Everything takes longer than you think it is going to, from checking in for a flight to waiting for TSA assistance for a wheelchair.
People will stare at you.
This one was a new experience for me. My dad never looked sick, so we received eye rolls from people who watched this seemingly healthy man get to be first on the airplane. Trust me, people, my dad and I would much rather be able to stand in line like everyone else.
Instead of glaring back, I learned to smile and wish them well in my heart.
Give your loved one the window seat.
I didn't give my dad the seat just for the view. It helped make him more secure and away from germs, and protected him from people with large bags that could bump into him.
Carry lots of hand sanitizer, baby wipes and face masks.
Airports have lots of germs.
Pack medication in your carry-on luggage.
Make sure you always carry your loved one's medication and medical emergency supplies on board, in case baggage is lost or there's an inflight emergency. This never happened to us, but we always took precautions.
Be patient with your loved one -- and yourself.
Traveling can be stressful. Traveling for cancer care can be an emotional roller coaster. Show support for your loved one and don't be afraid to talk to about your feelings.
Traveling with my father taught me to be more patient and humble. It also gave me plenty of time to bond and become closer to my dad during a particularly difficult time. Our trips to Houston were hardly vacations, but together, we made the best of them.