Saw this online and it reminded me so much of me at the time!
I hadn’t given Radiotherapy much thought. I was told at time of diagnosis that I’d have it after my surgery, but with Chemotherapy thrown into the mix I was too busy worrying about that, and dealing with it, to think about Radiotherapy.
However I was told on numerous occasions that it was a ‘walk in the park’ compared to Chemo.
‘Well we will see’, I thought, because during Chemotherapy, there was no way I could walk in ANY park’.
After I had the last dose of Chemo, I knew I had to get that 3 weeks over with and I’d start to pick up again. It gave me the usual side effects and I was quite poorly. Thinking I’d have a break between Chemo and Radiotherapy, I went to the Oncologist and we discussed it all.
How naive I was AGAIN. No – at the end of that 3 weeks, they wanted to start Radiotherapy.
Every day – Monday to Friday, for 4 weeks. 20 sessions.
I was exhausted. I could barely think what day it was. I just wanted to go to bed for a month. However the Oncologist knew that I’d had a rough time (understatement) on the Docetaxel, aka – Evil Drug – that she was prepared to delay the start of Radiotherapy.
By a whole week. Ok then.
Why Was I Given Radiotherapy?
Radiotherapy is a treatment for cancer that uses carefully measured and controlled high energy x-rays.
In primary breast cancer it aims to destroy any cancer cells that may be left behind in the breast area after surgery.
Radiotherapy has the greatest effect on cancer cells but also affects healthy tissue in the area being treated – however, this is generally able to recover and repair itself.
In primary breast cancer, radiotherapy treat the site where the cancer started. It is given after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer returning in the breast area.
The total dose you receive is split into a course of smaller treatments (called fractions), usually given daily over a few weeks.
For more information, please click here to read the information Breast Cancer Care provides on Radiotherapy.
Before Radiotherapy could begin I had to go for treatment planning. My Oncologist and Radiographer had to be happy that the wound from surgery was fully healed, and that I could lift my arms above my head and keep them there for 15 minutes.
THIS is where the exercises from surgery were really important. I was a good girl and did these daily. Thank goodness. Because after Axilliary Clearance, it is so painful to lift the arm up and over time and exercises it does get easier. And I was told I need to do these in order to have Radiotherapy. I now know why.
Measurements were taken using good old transparent film and marker pens. I kid you not. Based on the measurements on record of the how big the area was that was removed, they take these measurements and then measure what area needs the radiotherapy with CT scan. Then it’s time for the tattoos.
Oooooh my first tattoo!! How exciting!!
Ok, maybe not a design as such… it was in fact – 3 dots.
These 3 dots are permanent ink markings so that the machine lines up to the millimetre each time you visit for the rads, and the right area is treated.
It’s still tattoos!! And they are PERMANENT… scary stuff eh??
Time to Get Zapped
I’d been given my first appointment and turned up expecting more of the same friendly relaxed atmosphere as the Chemo unit had. But it was so different.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone was still friendly. But there was no time for chit chat, to get to know Radiography Therapists, and the waiting area was mixed with various people, of all ages, conditions and they’d come and go quickly in and out of the controlled Radiotherapy areas.
It was a very slick process. They see as many people through as possible, and can be up to 114 a day, according to one of the Therapists there.
I was shown what to do on that first visit, and they said the first one would take a bit longer as the machine would need to be set up precisely according to the measurements, and of course to my Magic Dots.
It was SO uncomfortable. Laying there as still as possible for what felt like an age. I laid there staring at the ceiling. Staring at this huge machine above me.
The team would move me up the table…down the table…the table would be raised up…the table would be lowered. I’d be wedged…the wedge moved…shoulders moved…body turned.
All by millimetres at a time.
Finally the huge machine on the ceiling buzzed, moved, the lights were bright, lasers shone, and the sound was loud.
It was quite unnerving.
And every day I would lay there looking at it moving thinking…like you do…what if this things falls off the ceiling??
I was in there just under half an hour the first time. And the actual treatment – the rays themselves were only about 3 minutes, in short blasts.
I imaged coming out a bit – fried – crispy skin anyone??
But of course, I didn’t. I felt fine. Like nothing had happened.
Every day I would turn up and go through the same routine. I was given a timetable on that first day, of my times for the next 19 sessions. Sometimes I would see the same person sat there, but most of the time the people were different. A few conversations started but it wasn’t long before I was called through.
It became the norm after the first week. I got used to the routine, albeit sometimes a little stressful for just 15-20 minutes in there.
In fact I spent longer driving there, driving around in circles finding somewhere to park (just to get in the free 2-hour zone ‘cos I really couldn’t be bothered to debate with the car park attendant every day that I have having daily ‘rads’ and could he PLEASE look at my ticket properly and not be a jobs-worth!! Breathe Claire breathe…sorry – I digress.
So yes, I would park up, walk up the road, into the hospital, down to the basement and into my little cubicle, hot, sweaty and knackered as I still had no stamina. Oh and also remembering to ensure I didn’t leave my gown in the car. I had one given to me on Day 1 and told to take it home and bring it with me each time. I thought this was actually a really good idea!
The End’s in Sight
After 3 weeks of rads being given to the whole breast area, I had a review before the final 5 days of targeted rays to the scar area were given, rather than to the whole breast area.
Not everyone will have the targeted rays, it’s just if the Oncologist or Specialist feels there is a higher risk of the cancer returning in the breast area.
We talked about the blistering causing a lot of discomfort, the fatigue building again and just the process of going down there and back again. They advised that this would also keep building for up to another month after treatment has ended as the ‘rads’ keep working. I said the fatigue comes in waves, one day I want to sleep, the next day I’m on the go all day.
This is normal and I should listen to my body. There’s that ‘normal’ thing again.
The pains inside that I could feel especially around the operation scar, she explained, was due to a lot of conflicting actions happening, where things are still trying to heal following surgery and the ‘rads’ are destroying tissue, hence the inflammation.
Following the last treatment I would then have an ‘End of Treatment’ meeting in two weeks with the BCN, then see Consultant again 6-8 weeks from the last treatment, to have a physical examination to see the effects of the radiation treatment, then up to Ladybird again to book in for the regular mammograms and tests! It was never ending.