Wednesday, June 10, 2009

tips for breast cancer radiation

1) cotton wear
I was told to wear cotton sports bras and loose cotton tops. So hit the shops and bought bra after bra (wasn't able to get all I needed at one shop) and then bought about five cotton long-sleeved t-shirts in a size to big.
In week four of radiation (five weeks in total I was told so hope it's not extended) and still have worn only one of those t-shirts and plan on swopping the others for my proper size.
Re the bras, the ones I originally disliked have turned out to be a godsend, so suggest looking for ones with soft, padded straps which don't have metal pieces in the front where you are most likely to have sensitive skin.
Also, have discovered that 85% or 80% cotton, that is not 100% pure, is almost as good as .. so it's an option.

2) washing
Was told not to wash or rub skin or use soap but was not told could not lie down in a bath. You can't. So don't.
Oh but do try washing with aqueous cream. Ensure that it is not vitamin enriched, like the one I was using (I simply bought the aqueous cream I always used), or has any other added eriching stuff. ("Vitamins tend to heal and we want to destroy," said the one radiotherapist when I asked about the no-vitamins rule.)
So just dab the aqueous cream under your armpit - no rubbing - then shower it off.

3) deoderant
Was told no deoderant. Was told that as I am having radiation only on one side, can use deoderant on the other side.
All fine and well. But I never put together the no soap, no deoderant rule to equal "smell!" It got so bad that one evening I never went to a function I wanted to go to cos I smelt so badly. And it is pretty downheartening to step out of a bath (of a few cm deep) in the morning and your armpit, and therefore you, smells like a labourer who has just worked for 12 hours digging ditches.
(Ok, that was before being told about 'washing' with aqueous.)
Not sure why the doctors withhold important information but here it is: use Borox and plain Johnson's baby powder (was told only that one but preferably the antiseptic one which I have yet to find) and the combo works like deoderant. You can also mix the two and then dab, not rub, it under the arm. Downside? It forms a paste and can be a little messy, what with it falling about/down while you're getting dressed, but who cares when you no longer smell? oh i dislike the smell of powder but who cares about that either?

4) itchiness and other side effects
Not everyone's radiation is the same. Mine is over the entire left chest area, from above the elbow to up to the chin, to the breastbone,and the same area at the back (I think), minus my lungs and heart (well beaming less to those areas). The point is: if you radiation is up to your chin, you are likely to start getting symptoms in the V-area in the front of your chest. The radiologists tell me that everyone (ok, maybe everyone in sunny South Africa) has sun damage there, whether you are consciously in the sun or not, so the first side effects are there. In my case, itchiness. The radiologists told me just to dab aqueous cream there but when I saw the dcotor she gave me a prescription for some cream which the pharmacist mixed with aqueous cream. So far have been able to use it once a day and it's sufficient although the other night used to twice during the night (keep it next to my bed).

Meanwhile, I am getting excited as it looks like have only eight radiation sessions left. I know that this is the time the side-effects kick in, and that they last for about three weeks after the treatment has ended, but still excited. Felt tired at the end of work today even though had arrived late after treatment and been out for an hour cos of biokinetics, but not tired anymore. So again I think the exhaustion must have something to do with work itself. Dunno.

And again my throat is sore and although they adjusted the radiation to beam less over my throat, and removed the headrest which was also exposing my throat to it, it is sore again. Still eating solids but not sure for how long.
But still excited I can see the end of this treatment in sight. Next up will be herceptin ......

Oh and got a bill for R17000 today - the medical aid paid half of the radiation and that is only a portion of the total radiation treatment but will go ask the centre tomorrow if this is the norm and then take it from there.

But still excited....


  1. Hope you are doing well. I have bilateral breast cancer. No chemo, but radiation. Today was my 3rd treatment. I found a little thing that helped me and I wanted to share it. My arms got cold during the treatment. So I pulled out an old pair of leg warmers (the things dancers wear on their legs to reduce the chance of cramping). The warmers work great on my arms by keeping them warm in the ever-present chilliness of the radiation room and also add a little padding for comfort.

  2. You made me smile on the change in perspective on bras. I've chuckled all along my own journey with starting out saying "I'll never...." only to end up gratefully doing just that because until it's real life for you, you can't really understand. It's a comedic point I enjoy with my friends as I adopt all the things I was never going to do, wear, get, buy... Best of wishes to you, Aloha ~V

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