On your first treatment session you’ll meet the team, change into your gown and spend a bit longer than most other days while they take some x-rays and double-check all your measurements to make sure they’re blasting the right parts (take as long as you like with that thanks!). Then the giant robot-looking radiation machine rotates around you making high pitched noises while you have to stay perfectly still. The radiation treatment itself only lasts about 5 mins – the longest part of each session is getting changed, the lining up of the tattooed dots and the weekly x-rays.
You’ll be monitored weekly by nurses and your Radiation Oncologist to see how you’re feeling and how your skin is holding up under the regular exposure to burn inducing radiation. Other than that its all plain sailing – that hardest part of treatment is being at the hospital every day (constant reminder) being at your appointment on time come rain, snow, earthquake, children’s illnesses etc. and the after-effects of treatment that can be experienced.
Getting adorned with ink is the more pleasant mark that radiation can leave on your life. If your skin breaks down it usually happens towards the end of treatment and gets worse (or ‘peaks’) about a week afterwards before getting better. Your armpit and chest may resemble a weeping, BBQ’d version of their former selves and gauze-free dressings, strong painkillers and soft clothes turned inside-out to minimise seam damage will be the mainstay of the next fortnight or so. Keep an eye on the wound for signs of infection and follow any instructions you’ve been given by the hospital regarding dressings. The good news is that when it heals up it happens rather quickly and you’ll then be the proud owner of a one-sided red/pink/brown square(ish) (ex) boob tan and the possibility of a brighter future.
About two weeks after the end of treatment (around about when any burns have healed) don’t be surprised if you start to feel like you’ve been hit by a train in the fatigue department. Its quite normal after being nuked for your body to have its very own nuclear fallout. You’ll be working overtime getting rid of dead cells, beavering away making new ones and trying to detoxify all the rubbish waste products that radiation has left in the area. Try to get as much rest as possible and know that this too will pass in a few weeks and before you know it it’ll be gone.
Radiation treatment isn’t a totally bleak picture (the nurses are lovely, you might get to listen to the radio every morning and hey its helping to save your life) but its really important to recognise that its often the last stretch of treatment after any chemo and surgery and so easy to discount quite what it demands of you physically.