Updated: Jan 30
For many of us we have had to endure radiation. Whether you have a lumpectomy or double mastectomy it seems our doctors want us to still go through this as a preventative maintenance. With lumpectomy I know women have had a choice of going everyday for weeks/months typically about 28-30 days or going through brachytherapy. Brachytherapy aka Internal Radiation Therapy is in the form of an implant. It is a radioactive substance which can be inserted close to the tumor or directly inside of it. This type of therapy can deliver higher doses of radiation to more specific areas of the body. My understanding (as I did not do this type of radiation) is that you are there twice a day for about 20 minutes or longer - 5 days straight and then you are done. Seems like a great idea so why aren't all of us doing that? Answer: It really depends on your cancer and what is recommended to you by your doctor.
External radiation therapy is what most people go through and what I did. The radiation beams are administered externally by a HUGE machine that circles your body. I was most scared of getting tattooed but I lucked out and they didn't have to tattoo me! They were able to mark my body with sharpie and stickers and surprisingly they only had to change out a couple of them throughout the whole time. Even with showering they stayed on. The reasoning behind the tattoo or sharpie is because they have to line you and the machine up to know where exactly the beams need to target. This is what takes time. I know the first time I thought I was getting radiation but instead they took pictures and had me lay down to know where they needed to target the beams.
It's more time consuming driving yourself to the appointment and getting ready as you are probably in the room for 10 minutes. This can last 21-30 days and you get the weekends off. It was pain to be honest because after it was done (I made sure I got in first thing in the morning so I could get ready and go to work) I would lather myself up with lotions. My routine was put on the medicated lotion the radiologist prescribed to me (I did this right after treatment and then at nighttime so 2x a day for this lotion). Wait a few seconds, put on 100% aloe gel, wait a bit for it to dry and then put on Renew lotion (not greasy at all and helps with eczema and psoriasis too! (many use Aquaphor) and I also used calendula lotion which was recommended by friends and my doctor. By doing this routine 4x a day I hardly burned. I have seen where some women get very red and
burn, peel and it is sore to the touch or blistered. I, thank goodness did not have it bad. I did get red towards the end and chalked it up to a bad sunburn as I did peel a little bit after I was all done.
A tip: buy men's undershirts/tank tops as I would put this on after I lotion and then put my clothes on. Therefore the shirts would get the lotions and stains if any and not my good clothes.
As I mentioned side effects include skin irritations but also fatigue. I did get tired so rest when your body tells you too. Your skin can tighten up so if you decided to have reconstruction most likely you will have expanders before they do the implants or Diep flap. They want to finish your treatments before going to this step. The expanders help to stretch the skin and chest wall muscles in order to make way for the reconstruction.
Most common side effects:
Color changes of the skin
Peeling or flaking
Skin that feels tender, dry, itchy or sore
Hair loss in the armpit (especially if the radiation is targeted there - unfortunately my hair came back in my armpits but not as much as I had before...so maybe I shave once a month...so that's still a win for me!
I know my radiologist told me to stretch the whole time so that my skin would not tighten so much. Therefore I was going to PT during this. I did end up with cording in my left arm (the side where the cancer was), this is common or some women also can get Lymphedema which is the swelling of the arm, hand or chest. Talk to your doctor if you feel anything. To this day I still have numbness in my armpit and chest area on the left side. I continue to do my stretches every few days and mainly do them in the shower...walking up the wall and corner stretches. I did have to go back to therapy as the cording came back a year after I was done with all treatments.
No lotion, deodorant 4 hours prior to treatment
Lotion, lotion, lotion after treatment 4-6x a day
Good luck to you through this...you got this! Remember YOU'RE A FIGHTER, NOT A QUITTER!