On March 22nd I began the first of my twenty daily radiation sessions (excluding weekends and one Bank Holiday). Fifteen of those treatments were to the right side of my chest - the breast itself with a large surrounding coverage, basically from my shoulder to a couple of inches below my breast. The remaining five were "boost" treatments directly into the tumour site, receiving a slightly higher dose than the previous "standard" ones.
With the exception of the first and last treatment, all my appointments were afternoon times. It's amazing how you can reschedule your life when needs be, for one whole month the daily travel became part of our normal routine. Hubby, to whom I'll be eternally grateful, provided the necessary taxi service and sat with me in the waiting area until my name was called then afterwards endured the drive home through the rush-hour traffic, which I have to admit wasn't as bad as we'd anticipated.
The radiation treatments themselves were to say the least, very interesting. The first day took the longest as they had to position me then take measurements and images to make sure everything was in order before the treatment could begin. The Radiation Treatment Machine (almost identical to the above image) scared me a little at first. I saw it as a giant living monster especially when its left arm (the one which took the images) moved over me then back again followed by the huge main head which would move right across me, down the other side and back above me. The whirring sound of that machine will remain etched in my memory for evermore.
I was very lucky in having excellent mobility in my right arm following the surgery as I had to have both arms raised above my head on the table for a considerable time period that day. The subsequent days required only a minimal amount of positioning and measuring. Three weeks into the treatment more images were taken to check that my right lung wasn't being affected by the radiation as it was slightly exposed during each dose.
By the end of the second week I was beginning to feel the first tiring effects. When they checked my blood pressure it was 185/102 and as I was also having headache and dizziness they sent me to my GP who put me on Omesar 10mg to lower the pressure. I'm really hoping it's not a side-effect of the Femara medication and that I'll be off the blood-pressure pills very soon. Both the hospital people and my GP think it's probably the combined effects of the medication and radiation, my poor body doesn't know which end of it is up!
However, I have to look at all of this in a positive light - the side-effects, nasty as they are, pose a very small inconvenience in comparison to having the cancer recur.
I have been extremely lucky with the radiation in that I've not burned except for a small blister beneath my breast which is slightly broken but otherwise my skin is fine. Apparently burning can be an issue for some women.
If it's any help to anyone, I used E45 lotion twice a day - first lot in the morning then washed if off later in the shower (using only Simple soap) before attending the unit then again before going to bed. I still continue with that routine which thank God, seems to be still working for me. For the past five weeks I've not used any deodorant or shaved under my arms, hence possibly beginning to resemble my one of my very early ancestors! Another three weeks until my armpits are bald and smelling of roses!
For any woman starting her radiotherapy treatment let me say that you have absolutely nothing to fear. At no point is there any discomfort during the process. The only problem for some women might be that their underarm may not be fully mobile following lymph node removal. My one word of advice would be to try to keep up the gentle arm exercises given by your physiotherapist following surgery, they really, really help.
So, my final radiation session was on the morning of April 20th. In a strange way I felt a sense of sadness leaving the building that had become my second home for the past month, indeed, for the past three months. Meeting the radiation therapists each day was like going into the office to chat with the girls and the young man. On Mondays we would talk about our weekend activities, mine definitely being a lot more sedentary than theirs!
Before leaving I was given my six-week check-up appointment and again saw the nurse who photographed my boob then dressed my broken blister. They keep a good eye on you in there during your treatment, one week you see the doctor then the following week, the nurse.
In some ways the tiredness is getting more pronounced as the weeks go by meaning, that sometimes I can't go somewhere that I've really looked forward to or just plain not being able to go on my walks. In time I know I'll be fine.
Radiotherapy Treatment Machine Image: www.myradiotherapy.com
St. James's Hospital, Dublin, Radiotherapy Treatment Waiting Area: www.avsystems.ie
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