Once I completed my chemo for breast cancer, I had to mentally, emotionally, and physically prepare myself for radiation, the last leg of my long, pothole-filled road of treatment. Here are a few tips for coping with radiation treatment, from my book The Silver Lining: A Supportive & Insightful Guide to Breast Cancer.
● Be prepared for the length and discomfort of the planning/simulation day.
● Stretch before and after your planning session.
● Wear loose-fitting, comfortable cotton clothing that is easy to get on and off and won’t irritate the skin. An oversize button-down shirt is a super option.
● Ask your radiation oncologist whether there is a choice between the two types of tattoos.
● Don’t put anything (soap, lotion, etc.) on your skin before treatment.
● No topless sunbathing for one year. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
● No underarm shaving with a razor blade. This was not an issue for me because I still had no hair under there.
● Women who have larger breasts or who are heavier are more likely to have irritation or burning because of the extra skin folds for the radiation beam to pass through.
● Now is not the time to lose weight. Eating enough (but not too many!) calories and protein will help offset the side effects.
● Use birth control. If you are one of the lucky people who is still sexually active during treatment (yes, it is safe), be sure to use birth control because radiation is harmful to a fetus. And if you did manage to stay sexually active, please share your secret because I couldn’t muster an inkling of interest, energy, or enthusiasm for any sexual contact. Hugging and an occasional smooch was as intimate as I could be.
● Ask for as many warm blankets as possible because the rooms are (usually) freezing. You can even put a warm blanket under you.
● Wear lots of sunscreen. All day (AFTER treatment). Every day. And reapply.
● Avoid antioxidants during treatment because antioxidants protect cells from damage. The whole goal of radiation is to damage cells. You can beef up on the antioxidants when it is time to heal.
● Follow your doctor’s skin care instructions to a T.
● Communicate any skin changes, e.g., redness, swelling, or peeling, to your doctor and nurses immediately.
● Book the earliest appointment of the day. Even if you’re not a morning person, it’s worth it because early morning is the most efficient time in most radiology centers. If you can’t book it early, please arrive on time to keep the system moving forward.
● Be prepared for the fact that fatigue can linger long after treatment ends. Please be patient with yourself and rest as much as possible.