Not the trip I planned – Navigating the cancer journey

Cathy Telfer

Share Adjust Comment Print

Here you are – planning the trip of your dreams but you are diagnosed with cancer. Instead of your great vacation you are forced to recalculate. You have to navigate uncharted routes with little time to prepare.

Your road becomes one of frequent stops at doctors’ offices and clinics. Your flight crew becomes your health-care team. Instead of enjoying a good mystery novel you are reading information on your type of cancer. Instead of considering what to do on a vacation you are deciding on which course of treatment is the best option for you and your reservations are pre-booked by nurses, office staff and other cancer-support personnel.

Your travel companions become frustration and fear – frustration with the limitations of the present and fear of the look of the future. Your travel documents become lab requisitions and appointment cards. Flight delays are frequent as you wait for test results or to see the doctor. Lost luggage is commonplace as reports go missing and appointments change.

When you travel there are always glitches. No trip ever goes exactly as planned but you solve the problems, do what you can and choose how to deal with situations. Anger doesn’t speed up the line; depression doesn’t improve the view; denial doesn’t improve the accommodations. It is similar when faced with a life-altering diagnosis of cancer. This is not what you planned but you still have choices in how to respond.

Think of why you wanted to go on vacation. If it was for peace and quiet, that is not very likely on this journey. If it was for time to reflect, then make it so by looking at the positive, meditating, visualizing beautiful scenes, reliving memories from other trips. If it was to hear good music, surround yourself with sounds that comfort and calm you. If it was to spend time with friends and family, invite them to share and support you on this un-planned journey. They can be your second set of ears at appointments, can do things for you at home, can spend time listening and reflecting with you. Be prepared to meet many new people and acknowledge that they are on this journey to help you, so you need to share how you are feeling both physically and emotionally.

If your vacation was to see new places, you will definitely have that as you navigate hospitals, clinics, tests and treatments. If you wanted to try new menus, that can still happen as you find nutritious foods that you like to eat. Many people undergoing treatment for cancer find their taste buds altered and either dislike things that used to be favourites or crave things that were never on their list before. My friend always loved her coffee but couldn’t even stand the smell of it while undergoing breast cancer treatment (yet loves it again now that she is finished chemo). It will be important to monitor your food and liquid intake to give you enough energy to travel this path.

Just like a vacation, fighting cancer is a journey not an event. Look ahead to a time when this detour is a memory and the destination of remission is reached, when you are able to move forward to plan a pleasure trip instead of one foisted upon you.

With current statistics indicating that one in two Canadians will get cancer in their lifetime, it stands to reason that you or a travel companion will be re-routed at some time. You may not have control of events but you can control your reaction to them. You can look at this as a huge inconvenience – a life-altering detour – but one that you can get past. You can complete this journey and move on to a lifetime of more desirable destinations.

To learn more about how you can navigate the cancer journey, please talk to an information specialist at 1-888-939-3333, visit the website at, or call the Canadian Cancer Society Community Office.

Cathy Telfer is an Information Outreach Volunteer with the Canadian Cancer Society