Flying On Chemo and Other Fun Ideas
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Profile photo of Jeffrey Poehlmann

My wife, who cares about me deeply, is inclined to encourage me to rest. This is especially true for the week following my chemo infusion, though any time she sees me on my feet for an extended period, carrying “too much” around or otherwise pushing my body forward with some task, I’m likely to get the suggestion to “take it easy” or, more bluntly, “go lie down.” It isn’t that I don’t understand why — especially if I’m wearing shorts. My legs have taken to swelling up like I have elephantiasis some days, though thankfully it is just water retention and the swelling often goes down quickly when my feet are up. When I made plans to fly last November, commemorating the two-year anniversary of my diagnosis by speaking at a fundraising walk in South Carolina just a few days following my infusion, there was some understandable opposition within our home.

But this was important to me, and I figured that since the flight would be on the worst day of my cycle, I’d be sitting down for most of the day, anyway…

Traveling Can Be Exhausting

It wasn’t the first time that I had flown since my treatments began. Initially, I was in no shape to travel at all. Heck, I could barely get off the couch some days during the first eighteen, progressively tougher weeks. It was with great difficulty that I even dragged myself outside. But after I managed to outlast the initial drug cocktail that chased down most of my metastases and shrank the primary tumor in my lung to a more reasonable size, I quickly began to feel up for a bit more adventure. On only one chemotherapy drug, life seemed so much easier. So, picking our dates carefully to be at my best, we scheduled a family holiday trip for 12 months after my first infusion. The travel was surprisingly easy for me, or maybe not so surprisingly, since, as I said, the dates were picked carefully. My oncologist even gave me an extra week between infusions to ensure that nothing would slow me down. But even then, I had two people with me. And it was only one year into my treatment. As I often tell people about my experience with side effects, aside from them being largely unpredictable, everything is cumulative.

So another 11 months on, when this fundraising walk loomed nigh, it may not have seemed quite as good an idea to slog it out cross-country, especially since I couldn’t book a flight non-stop. And my oncologist wanted me to stay the course for my infusions. But he had let me in on a little secret that might help: being active actually increases your energy and helps you feel better more quickly. I’d been putting that to the test, trying to exercise more in the days right after my infusion. I don’t really work out, and my knees are kind of shot from running too much as a kid, but I had begun throwing myself into yard work or taking a hike or just plain being busy running errands on those days. Pulling luggage through several airport terminals while rushing to make connecting flights on my way to a two-mile walk all seemed pretty reasonable to me.

Tough, but Worthwhile Work

Turns out, it was — but there were a few things I thought long and hard about that paid off. I packed extremely light. This trip was in and out, so I only had to pack for a weekend, but even so, I wanted to avoid checking any bags. And I wanted to avoid having to carry too much, so I limited myself to one carry-on that would hold everything I would need, including my entertainment and work electronics. That meant deciding to take a tablet instead of my laptop computer, with a backup paper notebook and an actual pen. I wore compression socks on the plane. I also wore extremely comfortable shoes. And I did my best to sleep in flight.

Also, I concentrated on having fun.

In the end, more than anything, that is the thing that paid off the most. I had a lot of fun, in spite of traveling on my worst day, in spite of dealing with swollen feet, in spite of being darn tired at the end of each day. And it was worth it. Sure, I helped to raise some money for lung cancer research, but moreover, I proved to myself that it was reasonable to expect of myself that I could do this, that I could function and keep going, even on the week that was always an excuse to keep me down.

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