Sarah Cannon - June 11, 2018

Gwen SpectorSummer can be a challenging time for someone going through cancer treatment. Gwen Spector, Complex GI Nurse Navigator at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Medical City Healthcare, shares tips on how to prevent problems that may take the fun out of your summer plans.

These are general recommendations and do not take the place of your doctor’s instructions.

1.  Plan ahead

  • Talk with your healthcare team and know your restrictions and precautions before making plans.
  • Do your homework before going places to make sure they can accommodate any special needs.
  • Make a list of things you need to do and buy. Recruit friends and family to assist you. Make sure to check product labels for approved ingredients.
  • Consider creating new traditions if you are unable to participate in typical summer activities.

2.  Stay hydrated and keep cool

Dehydration is a common side effect for people going through cancer treatment. It can be caused from fever or losing water through sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, ostomy output or draining wounds. People who are elderly or have other medical conditions like diabetes or kidney disease are at increased risk.

  • Drink fluids throughout the day. Aim for eight, 8-ounce glasses, more if you are sweating or losing extra body fluids as mentioned above. Carry a refillable water bottle with you at all times.
  • Water, coconut water and herbal teas are great hydration choices. Add a little citrus or fruit juice to water if you do not like to drink plain water. Other choices include milk, popsicles and broth. Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided because they can cause dehydration. Electrolyte drinks can be helpful but some contain more sugar than electrolytes. Beverages with high sugar content can cause diarrhea and high blood sugar levels in some people.
  • Drink cold or iced fluids to cool off. Carry a portable ice chest with you to keep cold fluids on hand.
  • Buy a cooling towel or vest to help you cool down quickly in hot temperatures.
  • Stay in air conditioned places when possible and rest in shady areas when outside.

3.  Protect skin from burning

Some medications, cancer treatments and loss of/thinning hair can make you more prone to burn. 

  • Wear sunscreen with at least SPF 30. Reapply every two hours and after you get wet.
  • Cover up sensitive areas of your body such as healing incisions, radiation boundaries or a chemo port with loose fitting tightly woven clothes. Wear a hat that is tightly woven with a wide brim and don’t forget to wear sunglasses.
  • Stay out of direct sunlight during the hours of 10am – 3pm.

4. Take precautions to prevent infection

Summer is a time for outdoor celebrations and activities, but things like low blood counts, open wounds and implanted medical devices can increase your risk of infection. 

  • Foods that are left outside for too long or not cooked thoroughly invite unwanted guests like bacteria. Avoid buffets, uncooked foods or foods you did not witness being prepared. Bring your own food if necessary to ensure eating safely. See Foodsafety.gov for a list of safe foods.
  • Drink bottled water and avoid drinks with ice when you are unsure of the safety of the tap water.
  • Don’t go in public swimming places such as community pools, lakes and rivers.
  • Protect your skin from unwanted cuts by always wearing footwear when walking and putting on gloves when gardening.
  • Avoid insect bites. 

5.  Travel prepared

  • Consider purchasing medical travel insurance if your insurance doesn't cover medical expenses while traveling.
  • Get familiar with the medical facilities at your travel destination(s). Ask your doctor for recommendations and create an emergency medical plan.
  • Bring your medical history with you, including a list of your medications, treatment history and doctors’ contact numbers.
  • Pack more medications and medical supplies than you think you will need in case of unexpected delays. Don’t pack these in checked bags or leave them in a hot vehicle.
  • Get assistance from the TSA before flying.
  • Prevent blood clots by getting up and walking every one-two hours and doing leg exercises when sitting for long periods.

6.  Be mindful

While you may be on vacation, your cancer may have other plans. Pay attention to your body and seek medical attention immediately for signs and symptoms of dehydration or infection.

If you have questions or want more information on how to prevent problems and navigate challenges this summer, call askSARAH at (844) 482-4812 and speak to a nurse available 24/7.

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