By Heather Millar
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I was diagnosed with breast cancer about three weeks before my family and I were scheduled to move from Brooklyn, New York to San Francisco, California. At the time, I thought this was a pretty unusual, and stressful, state of affairs: cancer, tests, moving boxes, travel reservations, suitcases. Whee!
But, in the last few weeks, I’ve begun to realize that lots of people coping with cancer pick up and change venues.
Of course, I’ve long known that people who are ill travel if they need the services of a particular specialist or a particular research medical center. If you need a bone marrow transplant and your local community hospital doesn’t have the facilities, you’re going to go wherever you need to go. That’s the whole point of charities like the global network of Ronald McDonald House Charities, which provides housing for the families of pediatric patients who must travel for treatment.
But I hadn’t realized that many patients move temporarily simply to be closer to a support network of friends and family. Apparently, a British reality star, Peter Andre, is moving his brother from Australia so that he can help while his brother’s treated for metastatic kidney cancer. I know of several people considering such moves. One is a young woman who just moved to San Francisco and isn’t sure she can face cancer in a new city. Another is a grandmother from New England who’s thinking of coming to San Francisco for radiation since three of her daughters live here.
This makes sense to me. I was lucky in our move: We were coming back to the city where I grew up. I already had friends and family here, and they came out of the woodwork to help us. What if that hadn’t been the case? What if we didn’t know anyone in San Francisco? Could I have made it through treatment with only the help of the hospital cancer resources center, or a non-profit like a Gilda’s Club, which provides support and services in many major U.S. cities?
I’m not so sure. The slogan of Gilda’s Club—“No one should have to face cancer alone”—is absolutely true. Traveling for doctors makes sense, but the more I think about it, traveling to be close to loved ones makes sense too. I wouldn’t have wanted to be alone during the nausea, fatigue, and all the other delights of cancer treatment.
Apparently, if you’d like to transfer your case to a city where you have a better support network, it’s a good idea to get your medical team to sign on. All hospitals have a social services department or a cancer resources center that should be able to help you do that, and to figure out which hospitals and specialists in your destination city will best serve your needs.
I’d be interested to know how many of you have moved temporarily, or permanently, for this reason. Do you have advice for others?