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Travelling with Lymphedema

Nancy Kidd (BCLA member)
Breast Cancer & Lymphedema Survivor/Thriver
Victoria. BC

In July of this year, I travelled to Australia on my own. It had been over 3 years of not seeing family and it was time to go see our growing grandchildren, ages 6, 8, 10 and 12.

They were made aware that their Nan has an “arm needing extra care”. Even the six-year-old knows I was diagnosed with breast cancer. She ‘matter of factly’ told me that they had a fundraiser at school and that “she knows all about it”!

I developed lymphedema (2018) many years after my diagnosis (1996) and really don’t know what caused it. Perhaps it was from a manicure, swimming in the Great Lakes, gardening – anyone’s guess.

Here are my take away tips for air travel long distance:
  • Travel in cooler weather. July is winter in Australia and temperature did not go higher than 18 C. Perfect!
  • Carry the lightest luggage possible. Have wheels on your check in and pack a very light carry on. Purchase a hand bag that can slip over your suitcase handles. This gives your shoulders a reprieve from carrying extra weight.
  • If you travel with a pneumatic lymph-assist pump, you will need a doctor’s note to say the machine is for personal use only. Make sure to bring the manual along should security not be familiar with the device. Be mindful of the extra weight, the required paperwork, and weigh out how often you will have a chance to use it.
  • When I contacted Air Canada to say I had a medical device (pneumatic arm pump), they gave me pre boarding privileges that I greatly appreciated.
  • If possible, go for an economy bulk head seat. This way you will be able to prop your feet up on the wall. Wiggle your fingers and toes frequently. Bring a small rubber ball to pump in your palm or roll under your feet.
  • Ask for extra blankets to prop your limb and keep it as comfortable as possible. Keep the air vent open overhead and avoid the bright reading lights.
  • Drink lots of water and do not hesitate to take as many washroom breaks as needed. Getting up and moving around is important. Never mind what your flight neighbours think! Moving around helps move the lymph.
  • Wear a compression sleeve and bring an extra along. Gauntlets help keep the swelling down in your hand and fingers. Once you arrive at your destination, keep it on for a couple extra hours, when possible.
  • Wear a light sleeveless shirt along with a comfy sweater or shawl. This way you can drape it either over your limb and easily access your compression sleeve for adjusting or putting a fresh one on.
  • Find out if there is a Lymphedema support group where you are visiting and if the group has recommendations for a manual lymph massage therapist. I found a wonderful massage therapist in Canberra.
  • Don’t forget to pack a swimsuit in case there is a pool where you are staying. Water pressure helps keep lymphedema in check and is a wonderful reprieve from the heaviness of the limb.

In conclusion, travelling with lymphedema is possible with some preparation. Try to avoid heat, extra lifting and remember to tap into extra support services.

Happy travels!

Email Address:
Telephone:1-604-924-6282 Lower Mainland
1-866-991-2252 Toll Free
(Canada & USA)

Mailing Address Only:

BC Lymphedema Association
723 Donegal Place
North Vancouver, BC  V7N 2X6
(this is not a lymphedema clinic)

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