Breast cancer lesson 143: Let the blasting begin!

Radiotherapy is now all that stands between me and the end of active treatment. 

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Tomorrow, I will go in for the first of fifteen blasts to my chest area and collar bone. And, in three weeks time, (if we ignore the fact the side effects are often worse a few weeks after treatment, I will still have side effects from chemo, no hair and ten years of drugs to take – not to mention a new nipple and tattoo to secure), it will all be over! No more needles. No more frequent visits to the hospital. No more cancer. Just me, a daily reminder in pill shape form and the determination to see the brighter side of life.

Up until now, I have seen radiotherapy as less of a treatment and more as the only thing stopping me from closing the door on this hospital-focused chapter of my life and moving forward. Now, as the day approaches, however, I confess I am a little nervous. I have been told that if you can handle chemo, you can more than handle radiotherapy. But, never one to get complacent, I don’t think I will feel entirely comfortable until I have stripped off and lifted my arms above my head a few times. 

Of course, while it hasn’t plagued every waking moment, I am prepared for this next stage. I have my dressing gown, appointment card and that strange piece of cloth I was given at the ready and I’ve been creaming the area since Thursday to get the skin ready for its close up. I have my tattoos (which still make me laugh every time I look at them) and I have already been thinking about which loose clothes and bras I can wear that hopefully won’t break the skin (they suggest you don’t wear dresses so you don’t have to strip each time). The information sheet warns against the wearing of ‘tight elastic undergarments’. I am just hoping one of my bras fits the bill otherwise running may prove a little tricky. 

Cream recommendations vary from hospital to hospital. For me, the recommendation is Doublebase, which I would describe as a gunge-like gel. Skin reactions are common, however, so I am creaming up two to three times a day and will avoid any other deodorants and shower gels for the period (thank goodness they removed my sweat glands in surgery). The advice is to use a small amount on the treatment area, massaging it in with the fingertips. The aim is to get a light covering so the cream absorbs easily. 

Amusingly, I was told that the only way radiotherapy can be effective is if you don’t miss a session and are blasted for five days in a row. I guess if that were completely true, we wouldn’t be honouring the August bank holiday! My treatment now starts on a Tuesday and finishes on a Monday! 

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, external radiotherapy does not make you radioactive. I will not glow yellow or look like an extra from a nuclear disaster movie. I will just be me – but maybe with a red boob and baggy tops! 

I am ready to meet Elekta (yes, my radiotherapy machine has a name). Wish me luck! 

NB: if you’ve recently discovered you’re due to have radiotherapy and would like to know more about the planning appointment, click here to read lesson 133. 

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