Breast cancer lesson 146: Time flies when you’re having a blast

It seems like only yesterday I was lying down to face my first tattoos. Now, four radiotherapy treatments down and I have completed my first week. There’s nothing like a daily mid-afternoon date with the hospital to make those days disappear – and fast!

So what have I learned from these daily doses? Here’s a quick rundown:

1) Don’t forget your dressing gown belt: it may seem like an insignificant detail, but a dressing gown without a belt just means you will flash more people than is really necessary.
2) Turn it around: to preserve your dignity a little longer, wear your dressing gown the wrong way round. That way, when you lie down on the bed, the technicians only need to reveal the blast area.
3) You can wash those felt-tip pen marks off: thanks to all those who advised me of this. It does seem like they only need to play noughts and crosses on your boob at the first session though. It’s just been one mark ever since.
4) Doublebase cream is your friend: what I love about this twice-daily (at least) ritual is the fact that it forces me to do a bit of scar massage at the same time. Doublebase may look thick and gooey, but it is actually lovely on the skin. Creaming first thing and at night works for me (it has to be two hours before treatment so it has time to absorb).
5) Practise your best rag doll pose: Tempting as it is to help the technicians get you into the correct position, it is best to let yourself go heavy on the bed so they can get wiggling.
6) Arriving early for an appointment is no bad thing: while I have never been called before my slot, it is better to check in than kill time in the hospital foyer, so you are more likely to be seen on time.
7) Keep it loose: while it is still early days for the skin, I am already seeing the benefits of keeping your clothes loose to reduce friction. It’s also good to carry your handbag on the other shoulder.
8) Clear that diary: radiotherapy schedules do change. It’s day four and I am on my third timetable. While you can move things around, it is good to avoid anything that puts you under extra time pressure (especially if your treatment is taking place underground with zero reception).
9) Expect to be taped up…but only on the first appointment: there is more setup involved at the first treatment, so you may find you have wires taped to your boob. Photos are also taken daily for the first few appointments (in my case four) before going weekly. Things speed up when there’s no topless photo shoot involved!
10) Don’t forget to breathe: if, like me, you become fascinated by the way the laser moves across your skin when you breathe in, don’t try and stop it by holding your breath (although this may be different if treatment is to the left side close to the heart). As a friend pointed out, you then have to breathe deeper to catch up – therefore moving the laser even more.
11) Keep that jewellery to a minimum: the post-radio hunt round the handbag for the rings, bracelet, watch and earrings keeps me in the changing cubicle for so long, I am convinced they must think I don’t know how to dress myself.
12) Pack that radio bag – and leave it that way: one foolproof way to remember your dressing gown (and belt), radiotherapy cloth, good book and appointment card, is to keep it together in a bag and leave it by the front door. Avoids all that last minute rushing too (unless, like me, you have sourdough bread in the oven that refuses to go brown)!

If reading this list makes you feel exhausted, you’ll appreciate just how significant the latest developments in radiotherapy treatment really are. In July, news reports applauded the introduction of intrabeam radiotherapy, which is administered at the time of breast surgery when the tumour is being removed. While I believe it can only be used when the tumour is contained within the breast tissue with no further spread, if this becomes standard practice, it could transform the lives of those going through treatment. As much as I admire and love my hospital for all it has done for me, I think daily visits are a little too much.

Four days in and I have my routine. Just 11 sessions left to go until the end of active treatment! Woohoo!