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Full-Time RVing: A Conduit for Better Medical Care

Don’t be afraid of becoming a full-time RVer just because you are worried that you may need medical care for a serious illness or injury while on the road. In fact, let’s assume you have proper insurance and the only thing keeping you from traveling is the fear of having a serious medical problem 2,000 miles from your doctors, I challenge you to embrace it.

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My wife, Nancy, and I have been full-time RVers for over 22 years, since age 43. We both had our share of serious medical issues while on the road and have used our lifestyle to receive better medical care than if we had stayed in our sticks-and-bricks lifestyle. Being a full-time RVer can actually make it easier and less expensive to receive the best care available in our country, not just the care available near your home. During our second year on the road, we established our domicile and our primary care doctors in Texas. This made getting our annual labs and medical checkups pretty easy. But as time went on, we had a number of medical issues, including knee and back surgery, placement of cardiac stents on three separate occasions and four different cancer diagnoses. We never gave up our lifestyle, nor did we race back to our prior sticks-and-bricks location in New Hampshire to receive medical care.

Nancy’s knee injury was diagnosed by a local Texas orthopedic surgeon. He recommended a particular procedure, but said there was no hurry and she could wear a knee brace until our work schedule allowed her to stay off her feet in order to recover. Nancy researched the Internet to find the best orthopedic surgery clinics in areas where we traveled. She discovered the Steadman Clinic, in Frisco, Colorado. The Steadman Clinic treated the Colorado Rockies, the USA snow-boarding team and numerous famous athletes. She called them and scheduled an appointment during the time we would be working in the area. Rather than visit a small-town orthopedic surgeon, she had the benefit of a surgeon who was affiliated with a world-renowned clinic. The Steadman Clinic surgeon confirmed Nancy’s diagnoses, told us the procedure recommended by that small-town surgeon, which had been developed by the Steadman clinic, was not appropriate for her. Nancy’s surgery was performed at the hospital in Vail, Colorado. Prior to our arrival, I obtained permission from hospital security to boondock in the hospital parking lot the night before the procedure.

Nancy was released the same day of surgery; we left the hospital and drove the motorhome to a nearby RV park. Nancy went to a local outpatient physical therapy clinic and, at the prescribed intervals, we drove a couple of hours back to the Steadman Clinic, in Frisco for Nancy’s post-op appointments. After her recovery, we resumed our travel and work assignments.

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Medical Vacation

After injuring her back during a seven-day Wind Rivers Mountains wilderness trip she visited a renowned Back and Spine clinic in Springfield. Missouri, which was close to our fall work assignment. She scheduled an appointment and they recommended surgery but, during the pre-op labs, the doctor saw blood cell abnormalities and suggested she follow up with a hematologist.

Our next work assignment was in Deming, New Mexico, so Nancy found a hematologist/oncologist in Las Cruces and setup an appointment to coincide with our schedule. During the next six weeks, Nancy had a number of tests and was told she had multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer.

The oncologist recommended that we go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for a second opinion. We found an RV Park in the Rochester area with a free shuttle service to the Mayo and setup a weeklong “medical vacation.” Nancy’s records were transferred to the Mayo, all the appointments and tests were scheduled to occur over a five-day period.

Visiting the Mayo Clinic was our first experience in a large medical center. The RV park actually catered to medical travelers. Each morning we got on the free shuttle to the Mayo, then each evening we returned to the park via the shuttle. On our last day, the Mayo oncologist confirmed Nancy’s multiple myeloma diagnosis, but said it was an inactive form and Nancy would not need treatment until it became active, just quarterly lab tests and a couple of annual tests.

Time to Stop?

You may be thinking it was time to stop traveling and head home, but it wasn’t, it was time to get busy. Nancy had to find an oncologist that was willing to work with our lifestyle, the one in Las Cruces insisted we see him every three months. Nancy fired him and found another oncologist who would allow her to have her quarterly labs wherever we were and fax the results to him. Nancy promised that if the labs showed any significant changes, we would immediately make an appointment to see him.

You may think it would have been easier if we had a stick-and-brick existence. But we would have missed out on our life of traveling on the road for the nine years that Nancy remained inactive. During those nine years, we traveled to Mexico, Canada, the Florida Keys and Boise, Idaho.

Of course, I still had routine annual checkups, one of them included a stress test, which led to my first coronary stent placement during a work assignment in Branson, Missouri. I fired my Branson cardiologist because he wanted to see me every three months, established myself with a Springfield, Missouri, cardiologist, completed cardiac rehab, and before we left, convinced him to order a follow-up stress test with the understanding that if I failed, I would see him every three months, but if I passed, he would agree to annual visits. I passed and we were back on the road.

Full Hookup Medical RV Sites

In the spring of 2015, Nancy’s blood test showed significant changes, so she scheduled an appointment with the oncologist in Texas. Her cancer was active and it was time for treatment. He recommended three cancer centers that for the treatment of multiple myeloma: the Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson Cancer Center and University of Arkansas Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Arkansas. Nancy discovered that UAMS treated more multiple myeloma patients than any other center. We also discovered 10 full hookup medical RV sites at Maumelle Park, a nearby US Corp of Engineers campground that charged only $12 per night to medical patients.

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Nancy’s seven months of treatment occurred as an outpatient. The treatment was not easy, but she did end each day at a very beautiful campground on the banks of the Arkansas River. If we remained in our previous sticks-and-bricks lifestyle in New Hampshire, we would have had to rent an apartment, or extended-stay suite in Little Rock or get her treatment in Boston. Boston would not have been the best care possible, plus it was two-hours from home.

In January 2016, Nancy was told she was in remission, and we were back on the road again, but we did need to return to UAMS frequently. Luckily, Arkansas has some great fly-fishing rivers. So a trip to UAMS was also an opportunity to fly fish.

Fortunate To Own An RV

Two years later, Nancy developed treatment- related leukemia. Her primary oncologist in Texas and her multiple myeloma specialist at UAMS, recommended MD Anderson for her treatment. So, in the spring of 2018, we rented an RV site at South Main RV Park, three miles from MD Anderson.

During Nancy’s treatment, we met patients from all over the country who had come to MD Anderson for treatment. Some of them were fortunate enough to own an RV and others borrowed one, but many were forced to rent an apartment or motel room for long periods of time. It became apparent that we were fortunate to have our home with us. A month later, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

In March 2020, Nancy lost her battle to her third and final cancer diagnosis. It had been 13 years since she was first told she had cancer. If we had given up our lifestyle, she would not have had all the wonderful experiences, and I would not have my wonderful memories.

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To find medical RV sites, start with the hospital’s website. They often have links to lodging options, call the hospital to speak with the security department or the patient advocate department and talk to other patients you meet during treatment. I continue to live and travel in my new role as a full-time solo RVer and I remain in remission.

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Larry Chuippi | SKP #5005

Larry retired in 2017 at age 62 and has been full-time RVing since 1998. Larry says, “I was inspired to write this article because I know there are RVers who fear traveling full-time and they worry that they would not be able to receive quality medical treatment. I think its important for people to know that if you own an RV, it may be a conduit to receive better medical care by traveling to a specialty center.

6 Responses

  1. I would love to know more on having appropriate health insurance while traveling!! My husband is disabled and I have medical issues as well but we hope to travel in a few years. Health insurance has been a challenge and we would greatly appreciate any feedback for help!!

  2. This is such a great perspective. I wish we could find good national-coverage health insurance. We found one insurance option that will cover us nationally, but they don’t cover much, don’t cover any pre-existing conditions (because they’re not “true” insurance), have no yearly deductibles and no max out of pocket. We basically pay $1000 per month for “but what if we are in a horrible car accident” and hope we get at least some stuff covered. We are also finding paying out of pocket and stating we are uninsured gives us a discount. Which is infuriating.

  3. We are so sorry for the loss of Nancy. but we are glad that she was able to live life o the fullest while still managing her health care needs. Your information is very helpful and inspiring to others who worry about leaving home. May God bless you on your solo journey.

  4. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. We are blessed to be somewhat new (2 years) full timers with good nation-wide insurance, and your perspective is both calming and encouraging.

  5. Thank you for this inspiring and uplifting story! It is refreshing to hear about overcoming adversity to continue doing what you love. I too would like to know more about navigating the insurance and and medical systems to get the best care. It sounds like Nancy was a pro at that. You obviously are very good at negotiating as well. It is refreshing to read about others who choose to “live their lives” rather than just “be alive”
    13 years of experiences and memories can be a lifetime for some.

  6. Thank you for sharing your experience. My husband and I are in our 70s and have been traveling full time for nearly 10 years. We have developed significant health issues in the past three years. I would love to know more about how you found primary care providers in various places. Is there a way we can communicate further?

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