RADIATION THERAPY- My experience
After undergoing IV chemotherapy for 6 months, which was one of the most challenging experiences physically, I have ever endured, radiation felt like a walk in the park.
The fear is present, we’ve all googled radiation and we know the ‘negative effects’ it can have on us right? So making the decision to have it can be tough for some. Getting myself in a positive headspace throughout my entire cancer journey was super important to me so this was no different. I knew from experience at this point that asking a lot of questions was the only way I was going to feel more comfortable with it. So that’s what I did.
ONTO GOOGLE I WENT
As much as I have learned not to overdo it on Google (I learned the hard way like I imagine many of you have), there is a time and place for it. I felt this time was necessary for me. So I did my research on it to better equip me with questions to ask. I felt prepared going into the appointment with my Radiation Oncologist Karen Taylor.
As I sat there in another specialist’s office, I listened and silently ticked off my checklist as she almost answered all of my questions before I even had an opportunity to ask. In my opinion a great specialist will do this. She talked to me about the most recent research on specific things associated with my type of cancer so it was clear to me that she was a hungry to keep learning (I loved this about her). She explained the process of what was involved, and how regularly we would be catching up during the process. I felt at ease, in great hands and I understood much more about it than I ever did from Google. I never once felt rushed, she allowed an hour for the first consultation and this also brought me immense comfort. It’s one thing I HATE about the system here in Australia is how rushed these appointments can be. You make huge life changing decisions in these appointments and often they last only 15 minutes.
MY PLANNING MEETING
Once I had decided to go ahead the next step was a planning meeting. When I arrived they put me into the CT scan machine in the Radiation department and scanned me to find the position of the cancer. They get you in the exact position you are going to be in when they administer the radiation (it’s super important you are ALWAYS In the same position). Once they figure out the spot, they mark you. Some centres will actually put tattoo dots on you so they can line you up for all of your appointments. I didn’t know this and I know a lot of people don’t. In my opinion it’s always worth asking about this. At Genesis care they DO NOT do this, they put plastic stickers on you to mark it and then use the state of the art technology does the rest. I was very grateful for this amazing machinery.
This appointment went for around an hour, in this time there was a lot of scanning, fiddling around, drawing on me, putting the stickers on me etc, and I was free to go.
From here your radiation oncologist works with her team to map out the exact locations that the radiation will be administered. It’s quite in depth and super important. They want to make sure it’s very targeted just at the area that needs it. They need to avoid certain areas that come with higher risks if exposed to radiation. This may take a few days or up to a week before you start treatment.
PREPARATION- CREAMS TO PREVENT RADIATION BURN
In order to prevent Radiation Dermatitis you will need to apply some products to your skin. Around 30mins to an hour before is the ideal time to do this. After chatting to multiple specialists and doing my own research here is my 3-step process that I did each and every time and I didn’t suffer from much burn at all!! Both times I had radiation! For me it worked a treat.
1- Strata XRT- this is a medical grade film/ointment, a specific barrier to prevent radiation dermatitis. I applied this in the car before I went in for my appt daily, starting on the first day of treatment.
2- ECGC Green Tea Spray- Topical green tea extract has been clinically researched as a novel home-remedy for the relief of radiation dermatitis. Effectively it’s a Green tea spray. I used it after the Strata was absorbed (usually within 10 minutes after applying) and I let this air-dry.
3- Clemence organics SOS Balm - I lathered this on generously AFTER each session and also found it fantastic for my scars! It’s an all-natural organic product that has won a lot of awards and I swear by it. I loved it so much I decided to stock it. You can purchase it here. It has multiple uses so I continue to use this on my family; it’s one of our go to creams for a lot of things.
MY FIRST DOSE
I was shitting my pants, whilst I knew what to expect from the lengthy conversation, it’s still highly uncomfortable walking into that first appt. They called my name, I had to take off my clothes, put on a robe and off I went (having already applied my creams)
Upon walking into the room my heart was beating out of my chest, I walked past the staff area with all of their computer equipment and machines etc, around a walkway and was faced with the machine for the first time.
It’s huge but very impressive, I’m not a major tech person, but I found it hard not being impressed by this machine.
I was asked to lie down on the bed on my back, remove my breast from the robe and hold onto the handles above my head. The lovely staff used the machine to line me up and get me into the perfect position and we were ready to go.
They asked if I wanted any music on, and they put on some tunes and left the room (they cannot remain in the room as they cant be exposed to the radiation), so it was just me and my fears lying there not knowing what was about to happen.
I focused on my breathing to regulate myself, they spoke over a speaker and told me to stay as still as I could as we were about to start. F**k
WHAT IT FELT LIKE
For me, I didn’t feel a thing! I was lying there watching the machine rotate around me targeting the cancer site from every possible position with incredible precision. I could see part of the machine changing form as it rotated and I focused on that and mentally singing along with the music in my mind as the minutes rolled by.
Less than 2 songs later the machine stopped and the staff re-entered the room. THAT WAS IT? I was blown away, it only took about 6 minutes, maybe less and I was done. After I overcame my fear, it was almost relaxing! I instantly felt much better about the next 17 sessions that I was booked in for. What a relief!!
A DAILY DOSE
The thing with radiation is it gets administered daily (except weekends). So for the next 3.5 weeks I was driving up to Melbourne to get these 6-minute sessions. I drove myself 4 hours every day and was fine; you don’t need someone to drive you unless you want to. Frequently I was checked in with by the nurses and weekly by my radiation oncologist. The time flew by.
MY SKIN AND SIDE EFFECTS
I was lucky (and grateful for my products) that my skin didn’t get too affected at all. By the end of my 18 sessions I had some very mild sunburn in the area. My entire breast had tanned a little and my nipple was a touch darker, but the area that got treated the most was a little tender but really manageable. I kept using my creams (for 6 months afterwards as the radiation as well). At the time I chose to wear singlets and no bra as the bra rubbed on the burn, so I did whatever was going to make me the most comfortable. It was really no problem for me.
I did get quite tired towards the end (which is very common) but again; it was very manageable particularly after experiencing the fatigue that chemo had previously made me feel.
Occasionally I felt some phantom pain in the area, like a short sharp feeling that disappeared in a few seconds. Apparently this can be quite normal but it never gave me too much grief. It continued for a couple of months after the radiation as well but soon faded away as the side effects generally do.
For me the burn disappeared within a month or so, my Right breast, which underwent the radiation, is a little firmer now (which is one perk-pardon the pun). It as also remained a touch darker than the other one, again quite marginally though it just looks like it has a very subtle tan.
As a whole, my experience with Radiation was positive and so much easier than chemo and surgery. The clinic I went to was fabulous; it almost resembled a day spa, the staff where so pleasant and get to know you so well over the duration of your radiation as you see them daily. I felt in excellent hands and was being looked over frequently and having multiple opportunities to ask questions whenever needed from nurses or my Radiation Oncologist.
IF YOU’RE ABOUT TO START-KNOW THIS
From my experience it really was straightforward, not daunting (except for the unknown feeling in the first session) and I didn’t have any complications at all.
I understand everyone’s experience if different and it depends greatly on the cancer location and amount of sessions needed. But if you look after your skin and yourself during the process, you’ll hopefully cruise through it like me. I have had radiation twice now and this was my experience both times.
Good luck to you and don’t forget your creams!
TO WATCH A FULL EPISODE ON RADIATION FROM MY DOCU SERIES 'LIFE ON STANDBY' AND REALLY SEE WHAT IT'S LIKE, CLICK HERE AND WATCH EPISODE 8.
Pics by: She Takes Pictures He Takes Films