Hello Gentle Travelers! I know it has been a while since I have posted but I haven’t forgotten about ya! In fact, I have been doin’ some intense “investigative traveling” (LOL) on the east coast, checking out NYC and DC for the first time and cruising around Civil War Haunts in VA just in time for Memorial Day. There will be MUCH MORE about those experiences coming up in June!
In the meantime, to finish off our Health theme for the month of May, I would like to introduce you to Milica Pugh. Milica is one brave woman! Besides being an off-the-charts awesome sis-in-law, this working mother of two adorable kiddos is also two years in to her healing journey with breast cancer. This piece was written shortly after her treatment. Who says you can’t travel after surgery? Milica did and continues to travel with her family regularly. Along the way, she has learned how to take care of herself while on the road and at home. I have been constantly in awe of the strength and resilience Milica displays in the face of all the health obstacles she has faced over the last few years. She never let the diagnosis or the disease get her spirits down for long and continues to be a inspiration to others on the healing journey! Are you on the healing path with major illness and/or surgery and still wish to travel? You can do it! Here are Milica’s 7 Down-to-Earth, practical and easy-to-implement Self-Care Tips for anyone planning a trip right after surgery or major illness.
Take it away Milica!
#1 Drink Lots of Water. Most importantly, I always need to drink lots of water throughout the journey. This is true at any stage of health and life, but most critical as the body heals and adjusts to the new norm. I went through chemotherapy earlier in the year to treat breast cancer (April through August 2013), followed by three surgical procedures between September and November, so my body has had and still has a lot of healing to do. As part of that, I constantly crave water. I always MUST have a bottle of water at the ready, especially when we’re walking, taking a stroll, or hiking. It is also important not to have too many of the water substitutes that can dehydrate or create a sugar influx/imbalance in my system (i.e. coffee or juices). Plain old H₂O is always the best!
#2 Take Bathroom Breaks! Given #1, and just in general, I have to be close to a bathroom or be aware of where I can find one quickly. Drinking an ample amount of fluid will naturally require frequent bathroom breaks. During and after treatments, I have found that my bladder is more sensitive and I need to empty it out even more frequently. Thus, it’s important to be able to go whenever nature calls to avoid further problems (i.e. bladder infections and hmm…hmm… embarrassing moments!).
#3 Be Mindful of the Weather. Keep in mind the climate/weather of the locations you are visiting and the time of year you’re traveling. Some areas are drier in the winter, which can dry skin more intensely during and after certain treatments. Chemotherapy and other medications I’ve taken to ward of chemo side-effects and also to help heal after surgery have made my skin ever more sensitive to climate and weather nuances/changes, as well as to different water in various places I’ve visited (i.e. some spots have harder water, etc.). My skin is also more sensitive to laundry detergents, so if you’re going somewhere for a while and will need to do laundry, don’t forget to take what works with your skin or be sure the local stores carry your favorite brand.
#4 Manage Your Travel Stress! Stress level control is always important. As we are all aware, it’s another one of those things that should be worked on regardless of stage of life or health. However, after a cancer (or any disease) diagnosis, it is critically important to be cognizant of what triggers stress levels to spike. So I practice things like breathing techniques, meditating, or just simply looking up into the sky, finding a bird or watching a tree sway, and letting myself be free from the earthly stress triggers that get my blood pressure going. We traveled with our kids on our recent weekend getaway, and though they are a great source of peace for me, sometimes they have the opposite effect (as any parent or caretaker would know). This is especially true if you are around more than one kid at a time and they fight and agitate each other, seemingly just to get a rise out of each other and you! Kids give unconditional love, but I also have to find ways to healthily cope with the stresses of parenting. Sometimes, just walking out of the room or removing myself from the situation works, but if you don’t have a partner around to leave the kids with, or if taking a short break isn’t a possibility, breathing and looking up for a moment may just do the trick. Most of the time, the kids ARE going to be just fine, even when they are fighting and being dramatic beyond logic. When traveling, it’s important for me to identify stress triggers, and find ways to combat them. The larger my anti-stress tool bag is, the more equipped I am to stop it in its tracks!
#5 Don’t skip out on your meds and/or supplements when you are on the road. Don’t forget to take medications and/or supplements with you and to follow their routine/schedule each day as needed. I take Vitamin D and Kyolic Garlic supplements; those not only help me while I’m at home, but they also help boost my immune system while I’m out of my home environment and exposed to new and different germs while traveling. A tidbit that helps me enjoy them even more is that I visualize them as little soldiers entering my body to help me fight the bugs that are trying to get in and attack me! It sounds cheesy, but if you have a long list of medications/supplements to take as I did at times and will for the rest of my life, they can become a chore. Sometimes we wish we could forget that we need them around; but, they do serve a purpose and it’s important to keep up with them also while traveling or on vacation. Who knows, having those visualizations in our mind may even help them be more effective 😉
#6 Get Use to the “New Normal.” Following my full lymph node dissection surgery , I had to get used to my “new normal” of missing a set of lymph nodes under my right arm. That is a very strange and unfamiliar territory for me since I’ve been generally very healthy my entire life. My new-found “limitation” had to be considered after the surgery during my everyday life, as well as when it was time to travel. I have a compression sleeve and gauntlet which I am sure to take with me since we sometimes travel to higher elevation levels (i.e. mountains). I also take my list of lymphedema prevention exercises, and I made sure to incorporate those into my daily routine. We sometimes travel by car, so after longer periods of sitting in the seat, I needed to stretch my arm and torso, and find ways to do my exercises outside of the comfort of my home. That meant doing the exercises that don’t necessarily require lying down but can be done standing up, and finding a flat wall surface to stretch my underarms was important. My kids even joined me and did their stretches alongside on our last trip! They do that at home, so they wanted to continue to do the same while we were traveling. It turned out to be a really cool routine we could develop and share together!
#7 Be Gentle With Yourself. As one of my friends and fellow breast cancer fighters says: “Be gentle to yourself.” There is no reason to feel like we can’t be our own caretakers at times; this especially applies to women, since we’re so often naturally inclined to want to take care of others even before we take care of ourselves. If something makes us feel good, we should allow ourselves to enjoy it! Additionally, I constantly work on “turning off” the negative tape in my mind that sometimes makes me feel like I’m not enough, whatever that “enough” may be. We all have those, especially as women (I’m not skinny enough, not athletic enough, not care-free enough, too independent, too aggressive, not aggressive enough, not able to get enough done for our kids, for our partners, for our homes, for our lives, etc. etc…). For me, this kind of self-talk is such a dangerous slippery slope, and it is very easy to get trapped in it. Instead of falling into that hole, I make a conscious effort to allow myself to appreciate the nature around me and to see how wonderfully I am able to adapt to being away from home for the first time since the chemo and surgery. Do you see how I turned that into positive tape about me and my body instead of negative one? I don’t think that process comes naturally to most of us; we can be kind and gentle to our friends, but we beat ourselves up too much with our inner dialogue. Just listen in on your thoughts sometimes and step in and change it!
Do you have a travel experience after surgery or major illness that you would like to share? If so, please tell us about it in the Comments section below!