After completing my daily bonding with the radiation machine, I wrote some notes on my experience. I no longer have to be poked, prodded, and zapped on a daily basis, but I am still dealing with the aftermath.
Radiation therapy is much easier than chemotherapy, but I have found that there are still some important rules you should follow so that you don’t end up going crazy.
1. Do This: consider your clothing.
Each radiation session, you will be asked to remove any clothing from the top half of your body and put on a ties-in-the-back hospital gown. If you are wearing a shirt and pants or skirt, you will be fine. But if you are wearing a dress that does not easily come off your shoulders and scrunch down to your waist, you will have to take the dress off completely. This will cause your rear end to hang out. I know you will be in a medical setting, but it’s never really cool to share your undies with the general public.
2. Do This: bring reading material/electronic device
The radiation therapists do their best to stick to a schedule, but there are always exceptions. Some days I came a little early and I left within ten minutes. Some days I waited over an hour to get zapped. The good news is that I’m up to date on celebrity gossip (magazines) and I have three stars on almost every level on Angry Birds.
3. Do This: use the products they tell you to use. And use them often.
My doctor suggested that I try to use the greasy ointment Aquaphor. When I got all itchy, she gave me some cortisone cream to mix in. I could really tell when I didn’t follow her advice–I got itchy, ouchy, and grumpy. I expected some crazy prescription medicine, but it turns out that over-the-counter stuff works just as well. Be sure to ask exactly where you should put the Aquaphor (or whatever). I wasn’t sure where to apply at first, but when I asked, she outlined a much larger area than I was greasing. When the redness began to show, I was surprised to note that it was exactly where she suggested. There was a pretty clear rectangle of red.
4. Do This: Resist the urge to peel off damaged skin.
I noticed that the area under my arm was really red with a little brownish-black mixed in. I thought maybe some dye from my shirt had mixed with the Aquaphor, so I tried to rub it off. BIG MISTAKE! It was actually damaged skin (like when you peel after a sunburn) and all I succeeded in doing was exposing some super tender skin. Dr. C ended up giving me something to use as a soothing soak, and then suggested I use some Neosporin on that area.
5. Do This: Believe that you will experience fatigue.
The first few weeks of radiation, I thought people were crazy for feeling tired during radiation. Then I hit day #19 (out of 36), and sleepy sensations began in earnest. On the way to my appointment, I was usually still amped up from work, but on the way home, I would begin to slowly sink down in my seat, kind of like I was melting. It’s frustrating to feel so tired from something you can’t even see! I was able to be mad at the chemotherapy because I could see it drip from the bag into my veins.
6. Do This: continue to stretch
With your doctor’s permission, continue to stretch the arm and shoulder on the side of your body that’s getting the radiation. I had to put my left arm above my head every day, and the radiation therapists commented on my flexibility. It got harder as time went on, but I think the gentle daily stretching helped. Your skin gets really ouchy and tight but you don’t want to lose your range of motion. I am definitely weaker on my left side right now, but I think it’s cumulative (surgery, radiation).
7. Do this: Accept that the radiation is working hard for you.
While radiation is certainly not as hard as surgery and chemotherapy, it isn’t easy either. A very wise woman told me that it would be better to think of treatments like chemotherapy and radiation as positive. She counseled that the negative energy it takes to hate those things would impede my well-being. She’s so right, right? Unfortunately, I’m not grown up enough to be this wise. I can say wholeheartedly that I have immense dislike for chemo and radiation. One day I will be happy that I get to live a full life because of these treatments, but right now I think they suck.
The good news is that I am finished with radiation. With a little luck, I will never have to endure this treatment again.