When the doctor told me I would need radiation, my first thought was fear. Would it hurt? Would I still be able to do all the stuff i loved to do? I had flashbacks of my mom telling me not to stand in front of the microwave because it would kill me. Who knows, maybe it was that microwave that gave me breast cancer!? I’ll never know but I can give you some good news. Radiation treatment for breast cancer isn’t that bad.
What is it like to have radiation treatment for breast cancer?
- Accuracy At your first appointment, the technician will make sure the machine is lined up with all your specific coordinates. My initial fear was that it would be too close to my heart or lungs, and if you google that stuff……well, just don’t google it. My doctor assured me it was safe and I just needed to have faith in his ability. He told me that radiation was an extra insurance policy so the cancer cells wouldn’t come back and at this point, that has to be my main focus. When you are dealing with any kind of bad situation, mindset is key.
- You will get permanent tattoo markings. This, to me, was a complete surprise. They want to make sure the machine lines up perfectly with each treatment, so they mark the exact spots. I got 4 small markings and while I am thankful they want to be accurate, it’s a daily reminder of what I went through. Here is one that is on my stomach. Yes, it is small but I’m so pale that it looks very obvious to me. In the long scheme of things, it doesn’t actually matter –but just be prepared to have this done.
- Length of treatment: Depending on your situation, you will have treatment for 4-8 weeks. Treatment will be every single day, Monday through Friday. I was prescribed 20 treatments (4 weeks). The last 3 treatments are called “boost” and they are massive amounts of radiation to wrap up the entire treatment plan.
- You will make friends. Since the treatments were at the same time and day, you will see all the same faces in the waiting room. It was like being in a secret club that no one wants to be a part of. We shared stories, tips for treatment, and exchanged numbers. We celebrated when someone finished up their treatment and we all rallied around those who were told they would need a different treatment plan because their cancer was not responding. While radiation itself wasn’t pleasant, the kindness of others always filled my heart when I left. Everyone at the hospital was so warm, kind, and genuine that it made me feel like I really wasn’t alone in this battle.
- Treatments aren’t so bad. They line you up in the machine and it takes about 15-20 minutes. During this time you need to lay still and try to breathe normally. The first few times I had to fight back the “how is this my life” tears, but then I just got used to it. I was doing what needed to be done to get rid of the breast cancer. There wasn’t time to feel sorry for myself and I knew that it could have been much worse.
- Your skin will change. It will itch, it might burn, it will turn colors, and it will suck. The side effects are cumulative and by week two you will start to notice changes. My changes were gradual but honestly were not as bad as some of my friends in the waiting room. The itching was miserable, however they give you a lot of prescription cream to help. Toward the end my skin was burned and started to bubble up and peel. Wearing a sports bra, or any type of bra, was pretty uncomfortable. I was thankful the treatments stopped at four weeks versus six. The good news is that once treatment is over, your skin will return to normal.
- You will be exhausted. This, to me, was the toughest side effect. After the treatments I was wiped out. I’m not sure why, but it got worse with each week. I just wanted to sleep and unfortunately I couldn’t because I had to take care of my kids and get them to practice, dinner, etc. I feel like that has gotten a little better, but I definitely feel like I don’t have as much energy as I used to have.
Radiation treatment for breast cancer went by quickly and now I’m hopeful I will never have to go back there again. If you are coming here via search because you aren’t sure what to do, feel free to reach out and ask questions.
My next scans are in June and until then, I am living every single day to the fullest. Life is short, enjoy the ride.
And get your mammograms!!
Thanks for reading!