You’ll remember that a little over a week ago I posted about my experience getting fitted for the radiation machine. On Monday, I started my first of fifteen sessions of radiation treatment of my right breast and clavicle. There can be some side effects like a burn similar to a sunburn where radiation is being applied and fatigue. But the general consensus is that if you have done chemotherapy, this will be a walk in the park.
Even so, I went into this experience just like I do with everything that is new and unknown to me in this cancer journey; nervous and apprehensive. What if the radiation beams hurt? When if they turn it up too high and it burns me?
Where did I get these ideas from? We all know that I have a creative and vivid imagination. It’s in these particular situations where it doesn’t serve me well.
Once I got called in and changed, I met my radiation nurses, Heather and Horris. Just like all the staff at NYU, they are wonderful. They took time to show me around the radiation room and the radiation machine, pointing out what each part of the machine does and how it moves. They told me that I could ask any question at any time. This really put me at ease. Ken gave me a kiss, bid me farewell as he headed into the waiting room.
I was then placed on the table where Heather and Horris attempted to put me in position. This is where things started to go downhill. It took a very, very long time to get me into position. I knew from when I was being fitted that the way I had to lie on the table wouldn’t be comfortable but suddenly it seemed very painful. My arms are stretched above my head as far as they can reach, my head is turned to the left and my right breast is angled down through a hole for the radiation beams. This is the position of contortionists. I even think I saw this used as a form of torture on The Tudors a while back.
When I go into this position, my right shoulder starts to twitch and, after a while, spasm. But I’m not allowed to move. Not a muscle.
That’s only part of it. For some reason on this table (not the one I was measured on), the edge of the opening digs into my rib cage and the cuts across my diaphragm making it very hard to breathe.
Imagine not being able to move…AT ALL!!!!….being stretched and contorted in completely unnatural ways and then being told you were going to have to hold that position for 25-30 minutes while they took x-rays and delivered treatment. “WHATTHEFUCKAREYOUKIDDINGME????!!!!????” is what I think I said. They weren’t kidding.
But it wasn’t a half hour. Because I was in such discomfort and they couldn’t get me into the right position for the machine, I was lying there like that for a good hour. I don’t think I have been in that much pain in my life. I thought this was supposed to be easy!!!!
When I talked to my radiation oncologist about this, she said I had to be in that position. “Well, can’t I just turn my head?” “No.” “Well, can’t I just move my arms down, just a bit?” “No.” Basically, it’s tough titty for me (ha! get it?). I have to be stretched out in that position because that is how the beams get to my breast and clavicle accurately. If I were to turn my head or move my arms, the radiation beams might hit my lungs and that is something we don’t want. She showed me some pictures. I’m not sure I can accurately describe each one, but I’ll try.
Getting radiation therapy does not hurt. I do not feel the beams. If the machine didn’t buzz, I wouldn’t know it was happening at all.
So why put myself through this? Why get radiation? According to Breastcancer.org, radiation therapy, “is a highly targeted and highly effective way to destroy cancer cells in the breast that may stick around after surgery. Radiation can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence by about 70%” Cancer cells that are undetectable can linger after surgery and if left untreated, can cause a recurrence or spread somewhere else in the body. Since I am high risk (I have a grade 3 which is a fast growing, poorly differentiated tumor), we need to give me every therapy known to man that will attack my kind of cancer. For me that means chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy.
And what is radiation therapy exactly? It is the use of a high-energy beam to damage cancer cells. In the process, it can also damage normal cells but it does more harm to cancer cells that are, “very busy growing and multiplying — 2 activities that can be slowed or stopped by radiation damage. And because cancer cells are less organized than healthy cells, it’s harder for them to repair the damage done by radiation. So cancer cells are more easily destroyed by radiation, while healthy, normal cells are better able to repair themselves and survive the treatment.”
Tomorrow marks my first week of getting radiation. Although the treatments are not as long, they are not getting easier as far as discomfort goes. It’s just something I have to suck up and deal with. But so far I have not been experiencing any burns or unusual fatigue. I hope that continues.
What was your experience like with radiation?