Caravan Sonnet: 10 Tips for Cruising with a Chronic Illness

9/8/16

10 Tips for Cruising with a Chronic Illness

As I prepare for the exciting opportunity for my job of writing about my Disney World experience and Disney Cruise with my sister next week I am truly speechless with gratitude over this beautiful opportunity. This has been an incredibly difficult summer tackling round 3 of treatment and looking ahead to a not-so-fun fall with round 4 of treatment. The blessing of going on this cruise has been a light that has encouraged me to keep fighting on very difficult days. 

In fact just yesterday something occurred and all I could think was, "less than 10 days till the cruise... less than 10 days till the cruise...". In the midst of some difficult and not so fun news, my doctor said "the timing might be extremely difficult but this is still a wonderful opportunity that will be good for the soul. Take a breath and grab the joy in life." The timing really is not that great but honestly this is more than a job, this is truly a healing opportunity for me. The opportunity to get away, spend time with dear friends and be with my sister is a gift that is to precious to put into words. I literally tear up as I think about all of the fun that is to come!

At the same time though, I have traveled enough while I have been fighting for my health to know that you don't "leave" your sick body and automatically get a "new one" so it is important to understand and prepare ahead of time for any trip when you are chronically ill. Traveling takes a risk and a courage- especially when you don't feel well. If you haven't struggled with a chronic or long term illness the idea of traveling perhaps sounds strange or foreign. You might even question why people do this if they "feel so sick". I can't answer for everyone but for me I push myself to do it (knowing that there will be side-effects when I come back) because I want to live despite being sick. I want to grab onto life and experience it. I want to grab onto experiences and live bigger than my world of illness allows. 

 So if you are taking that risk... if you are stepping out and grabbing onto life in a new way and are going for a cruise while you are ill I applaud you. I applaud you for any small or big steps you are taking as you heal. And today I wanted to share 10 Tips for Cruising with a Chronic Illness and hope that these will help you in your next adventure!
1. Prepare As Much As Possible Ahead of Time
While many people may pack the week before the cruise, it is wise to spend time preparing and packing as much as possible in the months. While there are certain items that you may not be able to pack till the last minute (different meds with insurance regulations), relieving the stress of waiting till the last minute will help your body. Preparing ahead allows you to really think about each item that you want to bring and also allows you to have the time to make sure that you have all of your medications, supplements, etc. 

 In addition preparing ahead for your cruise can provide a fun opportunity for you to look ahead, discuss with your travel companions the upcoming fun, and look outside the difficult and painful days that you are having.

2. Face Your Fears and Choose to Be Courageous
I won't even begin to start listing all of the fears that I have when I go to leave my family who are my caretakers, my doctors, the hospitals that I am familiar with, etc. Living with a chronic or serious illness can be extremely difficult and when we go to change up that routine it can cause a lot of fear. The mind can play incredible tricks on us and in the months and weeks and days leading up to your cruise you might be thinking, "what if this happens, what if that happens, etc." I think C.S. Lewis' words in this situation are best: 

"Courage, Dear Heart". 

No one on your cruise might know what a act of courage it is to step out, leave your surroundings that are helping you fight for your health, and take this cruise, but know that you can do it. Take the cruise. Take the time to celebrate life. Take the time to remember what you are fighting so hard for in your fight for your health. You can do this. 
3. Be Realistic About What You Can and Can't Do
When you are booking your shore excursions be realistic about what you can and can't do. My mom and medical team (whom I ran everything by before the cruise) were kind and compassionate sounding boards gently saying sometimes, "do you think that you can realistically do this?". While I could have chosen to be offended by their words, I instead knew that they were coming from someone who knows that my heart wants to go on that 10 mile hike and zipline through the mountains for 7 hours, but my body is just not physically able to. Take the time to be realistic about what you can and can't do and you will end up enjoying your preparations for your cruise and the cruise itself fully!
4. Plan Your Shore Excursions Wisely
Following along with #3, make sure to plan your shore excursions wisely. Think about the timing of the shore excursions and what times are best for you in the day. Think about the amount of energy each shore excursion will take and how that will look in your overall cruising adventure. And don't forget some important details like talking with the cruise line that you are going with about how transportation will work to the shore excursions, etc. Taking the time to plan your shore excursions wisely will ensure that you have fun, not just for one day, but for the entire cruise.
5. Plan, Prepare, and Pack All of Your Medications, Supplements, Etc.
One of the things that can take a lot of time in preparing for a cruise is planning, preparing and packing all of your medications, supplements, etc. Honestly it can take a bit of maneuvering (and a lot of patience) to make sure that you have all of your meds before your trip. As much as it is possible try to let your doctors know in advance that you will be going on the cruise and that you will need meds (and extra meds depending on your situation) for the duration of your cruise. I can't encourage you enough to work on this ahead of time as some medications can only be purchased with insurance at certain intervals so you will want to work this out with your doctor and insurance company. Also, check with the cruise line as many cruise lines require that your medications are in the original containers not just in random pill containers.

Don't forget to pack all of your supplements and any other alternative meds you might use for your situation. I don't like wrapping my supplements and vitamins in aluminium foil, but for traveling I have found it so helpful to pack my pills in aluminium foil already separated out for the times that I take them. (For example: breakfast, lunch, dinner, morning snack, evening, midnight, etc.) Having my pills already prepared allows me to easily have my supplements available and also allows me not to bring along my hundreds of supplement bottles. In addition this saves me time in the mornings as I just pick up what I need for the day and head on out!

**Don't forget to check with your cruise line ahead of time (guest relations department) if you are needing to bring on board any special products. Different cruise lines have different restrictions and you will want to know this before you arrive. I recommend dealing with this two months out from your cruise, that way if the cruise line needs special documentation from your doctors office you have time to gather all of the documentation you need. I have found that this takes a lot of time to prepare in this way, but this will prevent you from having any issues when you embark onto the boat.**
6. Plan Your Travel To and From the Cruise Wisely
The last thing that you want to do is exacerbate your symptoms or start off or end your cruise on the wrong foot. Think through your travel plans carefully so that you can fully enjoy your cruise!
7. Make Use of Cruise Assistance if You Need It
If you are not familiar with cruise assistance, it is similar to airport assistance in that the cruise line will offer to help people who are disabled or chronically ill to help them get around the cruise and embark or disembark from the cruise. 

Sometimes the reality is that embarking on the cruise the first day and disembarking the last day can create a lot of stress and strain on those who are chronically ill. You can spend a lot of energy walking, standing and waiting, and pain trying to get your bags, yourself, etc. on and off the boat. Making use of the cruise assistance can be a blessing and something to consider if you need it. If you think that you will need to use this contact the cruise line ahead of time, explain your situation, and ask them how to best go about this.
8. Speak Up to Those Around You
On my first cruise I wanted to "get away from sick world" and asked my traveling companion not to share that I was ill. Let me be honest- I hate being the center of attention so in some ways this worked fabulously to allow me to "get away", but it also created a ton of awkward situations and eventually led me to apologizing for not being up front more with my health to the friends I made on the cruise as they were apologizing to me for not knowing!

I am not suggesting that you can't have a vacation "away" from your fight for your health, but I am suggesting that you can quietly set the tone when people ask why you need assistance and then move on. Lots of times those of us with chronic illness struggle to explain our invisible illnesses and this is an opportunity to learn how to share, advocate for yourself, explain that you have a long term illness and might need help, and then move on to enjoy your cruise. 

**Try not to let any silent or critical judgement or words about your health spoil your trip. I heard a couple of very hurtful and rude comments on my last cruise when people saw that I had a handicap permit with me but wasn't using a wheelchair. There were also several comments about I couldn't be "that sick" if I was on the cruise. People can truly be mean and not understand what a fight it is for you to have made the decision to come on the cruise. Don't let any inconsiderate and rude comments or silent judgemental looks ruin your vacation.**
9. Expect Difficult Times and Have a Backup Plan
It can be hard when you are cruising to accept that sometimes your body might struggle and have difficult times or days. I am sure so many of us have heard- "just think positively and you will have a wonderful cruise-you won't feel pain or sickness at all". That would be awesome, but the reality is that many times we will experience pain or sickness because we are still in our bodies. That is okay! 

Don't let times of sickness and pain ruin your cruise. On my first cruise I remember having a breakdown the first day on the shore excursion because I realized that I needed to sit and not explore all of the Atlantis property. It was frustrating, sad, and hard to realize that I still had limitations even though I was on "vacation". Having the opportunity to cry and release some of those expectations allowed me to enjoy the rest of the cruise with a more realistic lens. The next day, when friends were going snorkeling in Coco Cay (something that I loved to do before I got sick) my heart wanted to jump and join them but I quietly declined and watched from my chair. Instead of wallowing in self-pity though I watched with joy as my friends explored the water and thanked God that I was well enough to have even got off the boat to enjoy a very special day with my friends. What was a "typical or normal day" to many people was the highlight of many months to me.

Accept your limitations, cry if you need to, find the joy in the day and the time, and have a backup plan. Take some extra time to rest and relax and join up with your cruising companions later in the day. Most importantly, take a deep breath. Nothing is ruined- keep the joy and faith, even in the difficult times.
10. Contact the Cruise Line Ahead of Time about Food Allergies
Many people dealing with a chronic illness also deal with a myriad of food allergies. Even though food on a cruise is always available, the food that is available might not be something that you can eat. I had this issue unfortunately with Carnival Cruise as they weren't as allergen friendly as Royal Caribbean was and how I hear Disney is. Take the time to call the cruise line ahead of time, discuss your food allergies, and make necessary preparations ahead of time for what you will need. I also recommend carrying an allergy card and giving this to your waiter the first evening so that they are prepared and knowledgeable about your allergies. 

What about you? What tips do you have for cruising with a chronic illness?

4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. I am so glad that it was helpful lady!! I hope that you are having a fabulous week!
      Blessings,
      Rebecca :)

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  2. Replies
    1. Amy, Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting! I wish that I could have emailed you back directly but unfortunately you are a "no reply blogger". I hope to connect with you more in the future!
      Blessings, Rebecca

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