Radiation - 10 Tips You Need To KNOW!

I am a lucky recipient of 55 radiation treatments at two different times. The first time, was 25, and recently I had an additional 30. What I can tell you is I was NOT prepared, supported, or cared for when I most needed it. I have compiled a list of what helped me, what I learned and how I overcame my radiation treatments both times.

First off, appointments are given 3 days at a time, each time you have an appointment they will review your upcoming times and often switch them. It can be tiresome to drive or get to the hospital every day (except weekends) and at all different times. The staff at our local hospital here in Kingston, are amazing. They really explain the setup, why we need little tattoos before radiation begins, and what to expect when you are laying on the bed for the actual treatment.

Radiation for me was about 5 minutes in total. I would be out of my car and back sometimes in 20 minutes. Weekly they offer you a doctor/nurse visit which I declined until the last week as there were no issues with my skin or any updates. Fatigue starts to set in during week 3, a combination of traveling every day, and mental and body tiredness.

During set up the radiation technologists will align you with your tattoos under the machine, you will see red lasers that they use and they will call our various measurements to ensure you are in the EXACT spot for your treatment. Once you are lined up, you DO NOT move, they leave the room, music plays and the machine starts to move. First, an x-ray is done (each and every visit) to make sure you are where you should be, they sometimes may come in and adjust your body even millimeters. Then the radiation begins, you won't feel anything, the machine will go around your body, targeting exactly where it should and you will hear a buzzing sound throughout. My first 25 radiation treatments were on my left breast, I had to hold my breath for each phase of treatment for 30 seconds to allow for more space between my heart and the radiation, allowing less damage.

1. Skin reacts in the 1 to 4 weeks following rads. I used a homemade mixture of 100% shea butter with 100% coconut oil and I applied it every day 3 times a day (also before rads started to ensure my skin was at its best).

2. Nonadhesive cloths saved me, I used these to cover the broken skin, it provided a barrier between my skin and clothing allowing me to move more freely and not in pain. It also stopped skin from peeling onto clothes and my arm rubbing. I wished I had these sooner, and used them right away, as the skin was starting to get worse.

3. Showering might seem gentle but use a mist only, not too hot or too cold. When getting out of the shower, keep the area that was radiated moist or wet, this will allow you to get dressed without it rubbing and sticking. Remember no harsh soaps.

4. Air, air, and more air! All-day as long as you can, a little fan was great for keeping it aired out.

5. Polysporin plus pain helped keep skin moist and the pain down when it started to break.

6. Saline soaks - ask for this at your last appointment whether you need it or not. Soak for 15 min, air out for 15 or more min, apply polysporin to broken skin, and air or cover with a nonadhesive bandage. Repeat.

7. After treatment continue moisturizing all areas of the breast, neck, arm, etc.

8. I needed pain meds to sleep, I was in a lot of pain and uncomfortable. Tylenol 1s helped and taking Advil regularly helped inflammation. I took them every 6 hours and felt skin pain when they would start to wear off. Don't suffer, ask for help and be proactive.

9. Have lots of shirts. I found t-shirts were better they needed to be snug and fitted under my arm to prevent rubbing. They get gross and having ones you like and a few to wash and wear will be helpful. If your skin has an odor, the nurse said that's normal

10. Drink a lot of water. Rest.

Day 11 after my last treatment was when I first felt relief. I think it's good to know it takes a long time. I felt not prepared for how bad it got.

The good news is. We can do it and get through it. But some things help make it just a little easier.

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