Here are 5 things I didn’t about radiation treatments until I started them, some photos, and a link to a video of one of my radiation treatments—yep I recorded one just for you!
1) Radiation therapy is used to kill cancer cells. Sometimes women just have surgery and radiation. Sometimes surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are all three used. Some women just have surgery. Every case is different and it is dependent on the type of cancer and the stage of cancer.
2) The primary side effects of radiation used in breast cancer treatment are fatigue and a burn similar to a bad sunburn. I have experienced some fatigue and some burning. The burning can cause the skin to peel. I have not experienced peeling at this point. When I asked my doctor why radiation causes fatigue, he explained that it is similar to when you spend a day in the sun and then you come inside and want to take a nap. When you’ve spent a day in the sun, you are getting UV radiation from the sun. It causes fatigue in the body whether you are getting it from the sun or from a machine.
The doctor recommended certain lotions to treat the burn but I found the power of community to be an even better resource because other doctors recommend other lotions. One friend going through treatment said her doctor recommended Amlactin and it was the best of all the lotions I tried!
3) In breast cancer, the radiation treatment treats the whole breast, not just the spot where the cancer was. My “burn” is from the middle of my chest, across the breast, to under my arm. I have 30 full breast radiation treatments and 3 “boosters” that will be focused right on the spot where my cancer was removed in surgery. That makes a total of 33 treatments.
4) Radiation happens daily. I go Monday-Friday everyday at 2:20 pm. Each treatment is only about 7 minutes in length, so while it’s daily, it doesn’t take too long.
5) Radiation isn’t painful at all. I don’t feel anything during treatment. The skin tenderness happens over time. Initially they cover your chest with different sharpie markings protected by clear stickers which guide the techs to line up the machine correctly. Sometimes they give you some small “dot” tattoos to replace the stickers. There’s a little “sting” when getting the tattoo, but other than that, there’s nothing painful about the actual radiation treatment.
Here’s a basic “photo tour” of radiation:
I’ve had so many people ask about radiation, that I decided to videotape one of my treatments. If you want to know what a radiation treatment is like, you can watch the video! (If you receive my posts by email and can’t access the video, you can find it here.)
For more of an update on my cancer journey, you can check out my latest Caring Bridge post.
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