My cancer was a ‘treatment jackpot’ cancer, yup I needed 16 rounds of chemo, 32 rounds of radiotherapy and hormone therapy…oh and my boobs removed. Bloody radiotherapy, I thought I had it licked but on day 24 my body broke down and it all went to shit.
*this post is a recount of my treatment and contains photos of treatment.
A month after I finished chemo I started radiotherapy, there was a time I had hope that I wouldn’t actually need it. When I visited my radiotherapy oncologist for the first time I’d hoped she would say I was all good and there was no need to bother with radiotherapy. Yeah right!
When I sat down in her office she was furiously writing and walking me through my plan, sensing my surprise at needing radiotherapy she reminded me that with my age, tumour size and spread it was a non negotiable…so radiotherapy it was.
Did you know I received my first (and only) tattoo with radiotherapy? I did, prior to my first zapping session I needed to get measured up for my special grid and I now sport two pinhead size tats. I always thought I’d have a way cooler tat but it is what it is.
So what is radiotherapy? Put simply its a series of sessions that uses radiation, gamma rays, electrons or protons to kill or damage cancer cells. It’s a localized treatment given to people to either slow their cancer or kill it. Simply it’s where I lay on a table, got put into very precise positions and was zapped with laser beams. The whole ‘process’ was painless and only took a few minutes, the longest part of it all was getting into the correct position.
Every morning as the sun was rising I climbed into my car, braless, no deodorant and no moisturiser, but with a face of makeup on, because with my face on I could face anything. As the heater and music cranked I headed off to my 7am radiotherapy session. Five days a week for six and half weeks in the middle of winter I made the same trip. On the one day a week I met with the oncologist my 8am session meant a little sleep in, woohoo!
Each session I would arrive, remove my top and change into my special gown, get zapped, change and pop my gown into it’s pigeon hole ready for the next day. When having radiotherapy there’s no deodorant or lotions allowed as they can interfere with the laser beams business. Oh hey look, chemo gave me grey hair! Check out my brows growing back YAY!
Radiotherapy was a walk in the park compared to chemo (for me), the doctors kept talking about fatigue and waiting for the fatigue to set in but after 6 months of rough as hell chemo I was starting to feel like I was back in the land of the living and felt invincible. No zapping was going to take me down. Ha, well that was until day 24!
Oh yeah, I’d been warned about the radio burns but thought I had it under control, sure I was a little pink (see below) but I was religiously following all the skincare tips and looking after myself. I never expected the burns ( or the pain) that was to come.
Here’s the thing, chemo broke my body down and just as it was starting to heal I put my body through radiotherapy. It’s like the silent assassin, gradually zapping the shit out me until my skin broke down. I was left so bloody red raw, oozing and raw. Every day I had to slather on goop and padding and change the dressings four times a day. As I showered I would get a flannel and slough off the dead skin to prevent infection, I actually needed to medicate myself with painkillers to do this!
The burns were under my arm, down one side and across half of my chest, across the mastectomy scar that was still trying to heal. Yeah, it ended up pretty fucked!
I was made of bloody tough stuff though and kept powering on, truthfully I just had to. I was walking daily, doing my smoothies and getting on with the business’s of getting well while trying to keep a brave face for my kids. On my final day of radiotherapy the specialist quizzed me about fatigue, nu huh, I was all good, other than the freakin pain of the raw chest I felt strong. She reminded me that the burns would still keep coming as I kept cooking from the inside for another week or two, then prescribed some awesome painkillers and sent me home.
Well I went home and lay on the couch on that Thursday afternoon and didn’t get off except to shit n shower for five freakin days. That fucker radiotherapy finally caught up with me!
As bad as the burns got and as awful as it all looked, within 6-8 weeks it was healed and you would never have known what I’d been through. Well except for the dark tan marking that radiotherapy leaves behind, it’s kind of a tell tale sign. The skin in the area where I had radiotherapy is now compromised, it doesn’t heal or stretch as well as it did prior to radiotherapy. This has been a concern throughout my breast reconstruction surgeries but really, it’s done o.k.
Six and a half weeks of getting zapped was just one more step to throwing all we could at that bitch cancer. Not as bad as chemo but still not something I ever want to go through again.
Til next time,
If you need support contact Cancer Council Australia
* Everybody’s cancer treatment is different and so are their side effects…this is what happened to ‘me’.