My Experience with Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

In continuation of my personal story from two days ago it is a natural progression to move on past my surgeries and surgical recovery into treatment where they zapped the possibility of one cancer cell remaining in my breast.

I had been to the Radiation Oncology department at my local hospital where they gave me my tattoos to mark the path of radiation.  The tattoos look like two beauty marks one on my breast and the other one down my side.  My incisions were healing well, and I was booked into their schedule for 9AM every morning Monday through Friday for 5 weeks and then my 6th week would be what is known as the boost.  The boost is where they direct the radiation right at the tumor bed.

I started my therapy in January and Virginia has winter weather as well as black ice.  I would jump up out of bed, throw on my sweats, run out and start my car, run back in and drink some coffee and drive 30 minutes to therapy.  Once I was in there I would lie on a hard as a rock table with my talisman in my hand for luck, and 15 minutes later I would be back in my car and on my way home. 

I had this crystal that I had been given years ago, and it fits perfectly in the palm of my hand-that was my good luck piece.  I also used that time of treatment to visualize positive thoughts.  For 6 weeks I would lie on the table and see Pac Man running through my breast zapping any stray cells he might see.  I had done a lot of reading and I knew that visualization is a great tool for positive outcomes.

As far as the side effects of radiation therapy go, I had almost none.  It did tire me out after I was into it for several weeks.  I could come home and fall asleep while working at my dining room table.  I never stopped working with the exception of the Friday of my surgery.  I was back at work the following Monday, I used vacation time to go to Europe for the holidays but I did not miss more than a day of work because I also knew work was good for me.

I was blessed that I could work from home, but a computer and a telephone and the US mail made that possible.  I would come home and grab my breakfast and start in and sometimes I would wake up suddenly with my head on the dining room table and 30 minutes had passed by, that is what radiation therapy did to me.

My skin reddened on my right side but I am of Hungarian descent and have darker skin tones so I don’t burn that easily, but to protect myself I also used every tube of ointment or cream that was given to me by the technicians in the oncology department.

No 15 years later my right breast is where it would be at 30 and my left one is where it should be at my age, so I do point in two different directions and those little adhesive petal things come in handy to hide that fact from the entire world when needed.

I read recently that radiation treatments may be shortened, that the research is being done and that is wonderful.  I know some women opt to have a mastectomy because they don’t have 6 weeks to go every day for treatment for many reasons.  Maybe this will boost lumpectomy versus mastectomy statistics and remember this is absolute fact.  Lumpectomy with radiation is just as effective as a mastectomy in treating breast cancer.  There is no “one is better than the other” here.  It is a personal choice that every surgeon should be offering if it fits your diagnosis.

I do have one more reminder of making that choice but it is not a major issue and that is every now and then I feel like someone has poked me in the side with something sharp.  My breast cancer doctor here in Tampa told me that is absolutely from the therapy but nothing to be concerned about, and it passes as quickly as it happens.

This was my experience.  I hear the stories when I work the phone lines, and every woman’s experience is different.  Again it is all about getting answers if you have questions and calling in the big guns if you don’t get answers.

Remember you still have control – you have control every time you demand an answer, so ask questions.  Don’t ever think you cannot ask because you might hurt someone’sfeelings, the only feelings you need to be concerned with are your feelings. 

I am woman hear me roar – remember that one?  You don’t have to roar, as my mother, June, used to say “Carole you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”  She is right but one of my favorite tactics to use with medical personnel that are not quite giving you an answer or are trying to push you out the door rather than answer is to stare at them and say “I am sorry but you did not address my concerns adequately enough for me to feel comfortable enough to leave at this time.”  If other patients are standing nearby they will become your allies because every one on the other side of the counter is there for the fight of their lives.  Be nice, but be firm, and don’t ever let anyone treat you with anything but the utmost respect especially now.

That dear friends was my adventure through my treatment.  Next I will write about being discharged from care and how I moved on.

Have a sunshine day, it is cold here in Florida this AM, 35 degrees I had to put socks on!

Carole

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