Last updated: December 2018
I didn’t realise I could get anxious, or that travel anxiety would become a part of my life. But it did. And I only realised it a couple of years ago when someone on twitter told me about the ‘Cancer On Board’ account. A badge for travel, just like the Baby On Board badge, but with the word cancer. On this day, my life changed for the better.
I moved to London in January 2009, nearly 2 years after my diagnosis, and started to use public transport regularly for the first time since my diagnosis. Before this, I never thought twice about getting on the bus or train, but as my fatigue began to worsen, my worry around getting on the tube began to increase.
The challenges of invisible illness
My anxiety didn’t mean I couldn’t get on the tube, or that I worried about being on the tube itself, what worried me was getting a seat. Being able to sit down when I’m out and about is really important. I can stand for about 45 minutes, but it exhausts me and completely wipes me out. Whilst my tube journeys are often shorter than this, this time of sitting is a time for me to rest and re-charge my battery a bit, so I can get to where I am going. Being young, with my hair and physically fully able, I was never offered a seat, and I never asked. I never felt comfortable saying to someone, with no proof, ‘excuse me, please can I have your seat as I have cancer’.
So I whined on twitter all the time about needing a badge, but never did anything about it. And then someone mentioned the Cancer On Board account and I immediately sent a message asking for a badge.
The day it arrived and I put it on, I realised how much I used to worry when heading down into the tube about getting a seat. How much I used to mentally coach myself through my journeys. "It’s ok. Each stop is about 2 minutes. Someone might get off at the next stop. You can stand for 2 more minutes. It’s ok. You can do this."
The relief of getting a seat
All of this mental chat stopped the second I pinned that little badge to my top, because suddenly, London became truly wonderful and people offered me their seat.
Transport for London has since launched their own ‘Please Offer Me A Seat Badge’ for those with invisible disability/illness. But it’s not as effective as the Cancer On Board badge. But together, they are amazing. 9 times out of 10, I get a seat immediately, and if not, within a stop or two.
Having these badges has made living in London and trying to get on with my life so much easier. I no longer have travel anxiety, which had taken up so much headspace when out and about.
I’m also very proud of the Cancer On Board badge, and how it helps cancer patients who want one. (It’s now a registered charity and I’m a trustee). It’s things like this that help make sense of my diagnosis. And if I can help to remove someone else’s travel anxiety when they need a seat because of cancer and their treatment, well, job done.
How do you feel about your support system?