Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Reflections on Risking a Safari in Kenya when Fighting CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia)

Was it a good idea to go on a photo safari all over Kenya?

The safest and maybe the smartest course is to stay put.

Or maybe risk a trip to the beach for the weekend.

Many fellow CLLers have asked about the trip wondering if it they too could take such a safari. Is it safe or is it foolhardy?

Consider the pre-trip facts:

It would take two full days with lay overs in Qatar, I would fly across 10 time zones to land in Nairobi, AKA Ni-robbery, a high crime city in Kenya, a country the State department says is dangerous to visit with a terrible shortage of good medical care and way too few doctors and supplies and then I would travel from there for seven hours or more on dangerous two lane highways or barely maintained one lane gravel road through shallow river beds and deep rocky pits in rumbling Land Cruisers with red dust flying and bones shaking in what is jokingly called an African massage crossing the equator to get to a tent camp in the middle of nowhere and then I would do the same road trips again and again.

When you have a compromised immune system and a blood cancer, is a trip such as this a clear sign of….
  • Craziness? Maybe.
  • Risk taking behavior?  Of course.
  • Saying no to cancer saying no to me? You bet.
  • A carefully calculated gamble that turned out amazingly well? Absolutely.

This was a fantastic trip and I loved everyday of it.

I felt safe and healthy and fully alive.

So here’s my advice to others.

If your doctors say OK, do it.

And don’t believe all that you read.

I still bought travel insurance that waived the pre-existing conditions included coverage for an emergency MEDI-VAC flight if I needed to get to a good hospital back home or in London.

With a proper safari company (we used the wonderful team from As You Like It Safaris whom I highly recommend) we were well cared for from the moment we stepped into the arrival lounge at the airport.

We were met at the airport and whisked away to the elegant colonial era Muthaiga Country Club for lunch. Nairobi traffic is infamous and street hawkers hang on to the car at every stop which are frequent and lengthy, but we never felt threatened.

Most western hotels in Nairobi have airport like security with barriers for the cars entering and x-rays machines and metal detectors.

I stayed away from salads and fresh juices but most fellow safarians ate everything and did fine. All my water was boiled or bottled (listen for the click), even for brushing my teeth. Food was great- mostly Indian for me, but it was easier to be vegan in Kenya than in Louisiana or most of Texas. 

I got all my shots. Unlike Tanzania, Kenya does not require a the live Yellow Fever vaccination that would have made the trip a non-starter.

I was up to date on typhoid (the shots, not the live oral form), tetanus, hepatitis A and B.

I brought antibiotics (Cipro and Zithromax and used none), GI meds (Pepto and Imodium-AD and used none of it), pain meds, ointments and creams, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, and a full extra week of my ibrutinib and all my other meds.

I had a note from my doctor listing all my meds.

Due to the time change, I switched to take my morning meds in the evening and vice versa to keep the intervals between doses on the travel days with the 10 hour time change. Ibrutinib only binds the BTK sites for about 24 hours and I didn't want to stretch that out.

I took Malarone with no side effects to protect against malaria, wore long pants and long sleeve shirts treated with permethrin, and used high dose DEET twice daily during game drives. I got a total of two mosquito bites in the whole two weeks. I woke a hat and a buff for the sun and the dust.

The tent camps in the bush were marvelous and often quite luxurious. Except for the mischievous monkeys that want to steal anything and everything, it was very safe. Power might be intermittent and run off a generator, but we are out in the savannah.

And the night sounds were loud, melodic and startling. I could have done without the scent from the hippo pool.

But where else would I get a Maasai warrior walking me to my tent to guard against the wondering hippos or a Samburu villager with a sling shot keeping away the monkeys and mongooses away from our food when we dined by the river watching the Nile crocodiles bask in the sun or the elephants cross the shallows?

Folks left I-Pads and expensive cameras lying out and returned to find them untouched hours later.

The Serena chain of hotels in the National Parks and Reserves were all first class- clean, beautifully designed with gorgeous views, good food and great service.

All the Kenyans we met were friendly and helpful. Guides/drivers can make or break the trip and ours were encyclopedic in their knowledge of the local flora and fauna and wise in the ways of keeping us safe and comfortable. And kind and generous.

The wildlife doesn’t disappoint. Seeing a lion stalk and kill a wildebeest or watching them mate (it is female initiated, very, very quick and oft repeated every 15 minutes or so for about 3 days ), or a leopard or cheetah mom with her cubs or an elephant family care for their young, on a gerenuk get up on its hind legs to sample some high up tasty leaves or more colorful birds than I can remember or giraffes spread their legs widely to reach down for a drink or vultures and Marabou stork fight over a carcass or flamingos turn the sky pink when they all take flight together or countless herds of zebras and gazelles and oryx and cape buffalo and impalas living together has made me never want to go to a zoo again.

All animals need lots of room and many need their families to live a normal life.

But the highlight of the trip had to be the wildebeest and zebra crossing of the Mara River as part of the great migration.

More on that in a later post.

And pictures to follow.

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Blogger Judy Cleri said...

Makes me want to go.......Can't wait to see pictures.

August 10, 2016 at 7:41 AM  
Blogger E. Kostich said...

Yes! Photos, please. Sounds like a fabulous adventure!

August 10, 2016 at 9:42 AM  
Blogger Eileen B. said...

Brilliant and so encouraging.

August 11, 2016 at 2:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog and hope you continue to have a good trip - how is your Swahili doing?

August 12, 2016 at 10:13 AM  
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August 13, 2016 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Brian, you're amazing. I thank you for sharing your story and such valuable and useful information, about traveling with CLL and, of course, doing a safari.

August 15, 2016 at 9:10 AM  

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