Travelling with Tissue Expanders after Mastectomy

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, my first thought was how it would affect my travelling. Okay, no, it wasn’t actually my first thought, but it would definitely have been up there in the top ten.

Travel is my passion. It is also my work. Not being able to travel would have a huge impact on my future. It really wasn’t an option for me to stop travelling.

When I knew I was going to have a bilateral mastectomy, I chose to delay it for various reasons, one of them was because I had a trip to Bali booked. Thanks to poor timing with my annual travel insurance policy, I would not be able to get a refund on the flights if I cancelled. I would only lose a few hundred dollars, so not the end of the world, but more than that, I still wanted to go.

So go I did. I arrived home two days before my mastectomy relaxed and ready for it.

After my surgery my recovery went exceptionally well. My initial goal was to travel to the Gold Coast in April for an event I am organising. But by my six week post op appointment it was clear I would be able to travel sooner than that, so I booked a two-week cruise to New Zealand leaving ten weeks after my surgery.

I didn’t think much of it, just booked and planned like I usually did. The main change was that I needed to include breast cancer as an existing condition on my travel insurance policy.

I do travel insurance a little differently to most people. Because I travel so frequently, instead of taking out a policy for each trip, it actually works out cheaper to take out an annual policy. I had renewed my policy for my trip to Bali, so only had to add in the pre-existing condition.

I thought it would be a long process involving paperwork signed by my doctors, but instead it was a quick phone call with a short (about five questions) questionnaire and I was immediately approved for the extra cover. It cost me around $180AUD to include breast cancer coverage on my policy for the remaining 10 months, which I didn’t think was too bad.

Now I did not HAVE to include this extra coverage. It would not have changed my coverage for things like cancelled flights or lost luggage or if I broke my leg. I just would not have been covered for anything related to breast cancer.

For interest’s sake, I am in Australia and use and recommend Cover-More for my travel insurance.

Reading a good book with a view while we were cruising the seas

Another thing I had to consider was that this was the first time I would be travelling internationally with prescription medication. I therefore spent some time looking up the New Zealand requirements to ensure Tamoxifen was not illegal there and what documentation I would need with me.

In this case it was just the medication in the original packaging and either the prescription or a doctors letter (I went with the prescription). Always check this information though, because it can change from country to country and over time. I was not asked for any details or proof as we travelled through New Zealand, but it’s better to have all the right documentation and not be asked rather than be asked and not have the documentation.

After my trip was booked and I was telling people about it I got a question I hadn’t even considered. How would I go with expanders going through security? I had no idea! The expanders have a small magnetic section in them so that the valve can be found when the fills are done. Would that set off the security scanners?

From what I could see online it seems to be like everything else when it comes to airport security – sometimes something might be picked up, and sometimes it might not! I thought that if I was chosen for the full body scan it might show up and I might have to explain things. I can just see the mortification on the face of the security person when I tell then I have had breast cancer and have tissue expanders!

I would have a few different opportunities on this trip to see if the expanders cause any issues with security.

As we left Adelaide, I had forgotten all about the expanders, and remembered them later. Clearly they had not caused an issue. This was for domestic security, so no chance of being chosen for the full body scan. I did, as always, get chosen for the explosives swab though!

There were security scans every time we boarded the ship during the two weeks of our cruise, and they were all fine too.

We visited Hobbiton in New Zealand and loved it. You can read more about our visit on my travel blog

I thought my luck had run out at Auckland Airport on the return journey. As I passed through the scanner it went off, and I was moved over to the full body scanner – you know, the one where you stand in a round cubicle with your feet apart and arms raised above your head! That was also set off, so then I was directed to a woman who did a physical pat down, just of the left hand side of my back, as apparently that’s what was highlighted. It took 2 seconds, she didn’t ask any questions, and I was on my way.

I speculated if it was something to do with the tissue expander that was setting it off, but since no explanations were requested, I just walked off and will never know.

We had to go through security again in Sydney, and yes, I set the scanner off again. This time they looked at me and told me to remove my boots – shoes I have worn on multiple flights with no issues, this was the third flight this trip alone! I walked through the scanner again and it was okay, so I’m guessing it was the shoes and a sensitive scanner.

So there you have it! Having tissue expanders made no difference to my travel at all. I’m coming up to the three month mark now, and I barely even notice them except for a little bit of soreness when I wake in the mornings.

I have one more trip before I have my exchange surgery in seven weeks, but it’s only domestic so I don’t anticipate any more issues.

Interested in reading more about my travels or getting some travel tips? Head on over to my website – the link is under the Josie Wanders heading below.

Comments

  1. Julie Hoar says:

    Great you were able to go on a cruise. We also get annual travel insurance. Just a few questions about your insurance:
    1. You booked your Bali trip and took out the new annual policy
    2. You were diagnosed, had surgery etc
    3. You booked your cruise
    4. You were able to add pre-existing cover for breast cancer to your existing annual policy for the remaining 10 months
    Thanks, take care
    Julie

    1. Josie Kelsh says:

      That’s about it!

      I actually had the trip to Bali booked during my previous year of insurance which ended 31st Oct. Trip was booked for Nov. I was diagnosed on Oct 2nd, but had not yet paid my renewal for the next year of insurance. If we cancelled the Bali trip we would not have been able to claim since at the time I was diagnosed I did not have insurance for the timeframe of the trip. A quirk I hadn’t even thought of in the past, but it does make sense. I will be considering that in the future if I am booking trips after my insurance runs out.

      I renewed for twelve months because the Bali trip alone was going to cost about 50% of the annual policy, so I figured I’d do the whole year and take a chance that we would be travelling (at this point I didn’t know my treatment plan). I hadn’t had any treatment and couldn’t see how I could have complications arising from breast cancer so chose to not add the additional breast cancer coverage for Bali. I did let them know though, just to cover my ass.

      Once I got the all clear to travel after the mastectomy, I called up, did a quick medical assessment and added on to the existing policy. It was really quick and easy.

      Hopefully that clarifies – let me know if you have any more questions 🙂

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