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Breast Cancer Radiation



I always say that my radiation therapy gives me that special kind of "glow"! And it does.

After all, you are getting exposed to high-energy rays to kill cancer cells.


My radiation came towards the end of my active treatment plan; after I completed 6 months of neo-adjuvant chemotherapy and my surgery. I used to think that if you had a mastectomy, you wouldn't need radiation. However, depending on where the tumor is, and even how close it is to the chest wall or lymph nodes, or if there is a chance that cancerous cells may be left behind even after surgery, oncologists may recommend radiation regardless of a lumpectomy or mastectomy.


What to expect during radiation:

Prior to my first radiation appointment, I went in for an hour long visit with the radiation oncologist. During that visit she explained the goals of treatment, what I could expect, what I should and should not do while undergoing treatment and how to manage side effects. For example:

  • Don't put on lotions or deodorant before treatment.

  • Avoid chlorine (which was hard as I love swimming laps!).

  • Avoid certain vitamins which may interfere with the effectiveness of the radiation treatment.

During this initial visit, they positioned me on the radiation table to take exact measurements of where the external radiation beans were to be positioned. To ensure that I lay in the exact same position each time, they used a mold form to shape my upper torso. They also gave me 3 permanent tattoo marks the size of a ball-point pen which were used to align the rays. The tattoo only hurt for a moment and now I have bragging rights that I do in fact have a tattoo, I call it my radiation constellation!


I was surprised to learn that radiation treatment was a Monday-Friday ordeal! While the therapy treatment itself was at most 15 minutes (getting into the Johnny, getting positioned, receiving the radiation dose and getting dressed again), the time it takes to commute, find parking, and figure out all of the logistics with work seemed to take up more of my time!


If possible, I recommend trying to schedule your treatments for first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid work conflicts if you are able to still work during treatment (I did).



Radiation Side Effects:

My radiation was 6 weeks total. 5 weeks of full breast radiation with one week of a radiation boost where they targeted the exact area of where my tumor was. The first two weeks were pretty smooth sailing. Radiation itself doesn't hurt, but there is a cumulative effect from the doses. Over time, my skin got red and itchy and my fatigue was through the roof! There were days I hardly had the energy to carry groceries, put away laundry, or walk further than the bedroom to the couch. My skin was so hot and red I often wore oversized jersey tank tops when I didn't have to go into the office.


Generally speaking, my skin responded well. While it was red and irritated, I moisturized like crazy, literally three times a day. Since my appointments were first thing in the morning, it was easy to apply Aquaphor late morning, after lunch and before bed! However, be aware that Aquaphor is quite greasy and ended up staining some of my clothes!


Longer Term Side Effects:

I am positive my radiologist informed me of the longer term side effects from radiation, but like most things during treatment, I couldn't fathom all of the information. Despite the side effects, I didn't feel in a position to refuse radiation treatment either. We took an aggressive approach from the beginning so why change course now?

Now that I am 4 years out from my radiation treatment here's what I've learned:
  • Radiation can shrink the size of your radiated breast and even change the direction of your nipple if you had nipple sparing surgery

  • Radiation increases your risk for developing lymphedema

  • Depending on the side in which you had radiation, it can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease (ask your doctor if you should see a cardio-oncologist)

Want to learn more about my experience with Radiation? Check out the videos below where I documented my experience.







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