Planning a family holiday when a child has cancer

A holiday can be a great opportunity for you and your family to spend quality time together, have fun and get a much-needed break from hospital. Young Lives vs Cancer Social Worker Cat Macleod shares her tips for safe, happy travel when your child has cancer.

Children playing in the sea with body boards

Where to begin?

Every holiday starts with an idea! A change of scenery, visiting that place you’ve always wanted to go to, or reuniting with friends and family you haven’t seen in ages. But what if you can’t find somewhere that meets your accessibility needs, or somewhere that’s affordable on a budget reduced significantly by cancer costs? When you’ve got cancer to think about, going on holiday can seem very complicated. 

However, experience tells me that with creative planning and motivation to make something happen, it’s nearly always possible to create an opportunity for adventure.

  • Decide what you need from a holiday
    What are you looking for in a holiday? If it’s a break from hospital life or a chance to have fun as a family, you might find you don’t need to travel far. Remind yourself of your original intention when you’re planning – if it all seems too stressful, perhaps there’s a different way to achieve what you’re looking for? 
  • Don’t worry about duration
    Quality experiences don’t need to take a long time. Taking even a short break can help to distinguish one period of time from the next, for instance between treatment cycles or following a scan.
  • Accept help from others
    As anyone who’s done it knows, caring for someone with cancer can take an enormous emotional toll. Don’t be afraid to recognise this and accept support from others, whether it’s a friend who wants to help or an organisation that could provide financial support or a place to stay. There are incredible holiday opportunities being offered to families affected by cancer – ask your clinical team or Young Lives vs Cancer Social Worker, or search online to find out your options.  

Managing riskA family's shoes lined up on the beach

Once you’ve worked out where you’re going and when, it’s time to take care of the medical stuff. Taking a clinically vulnerable child or young person on holiday may seem overwhelming, but it can be done and it can have enormous benefits for everyone involved.  

It’s all about managing risk. How far are you happy to go, what is it that you want to achieve by being away from your safe and familiar space of home and, very importantly, what do those who care for the most health-challenged in your group think is wise? Have the conversations and seek others’ opinions but ultimately, make decisions you feel comfortable with. 

  • Allow time either side of your trip for the unexpected, i.e. changes to travel details
  • If you have clinical support to take your holiday, still consider where your nearest medical facility would be and how you could access it if needed
  • Ensure everyone going on holiday has enough of everything they may require, i.e. medications, mobility aids. Replacements may be hard to find. The item I find families often forget is a thermometer!
  • If you’re going abroad, research travel insurance and ensure you have the right documentation in place. Pre-existing medical conditions can make applying for insurance more complex, so make sure to start looking at this well in advance, include accurate clinical details in your application, and always read the small print! Your clinical team or Young Lives vs Cancer Social Worker may be able to help. 

When it all goes to plan

When you’re planning a holiday with a child or young person with cancer, it’s easy to imagine all the things that could go wrong. This can be true of any new experience, but with careful planning and risk management, remember that it could actually all go right! It’s entirely possible that a holiday from whatever your current life situation is throwing at you could give you a newfound energy to keep going. Experiencing something new, and having exciting shared moments to reflect upon with those you care for, live alongside and love could be the best therapy ever!