What is Radiotherapy like?
I have been quiet for a while as I had my penultimate chemo last week (almost there!!) and wasn’t feeling well enough to stare at a computer screen till now. I wanted to take this opportunity to apologise for the lack of decent photographs I have. Like I mentioned in my first post, I haven’t even wanted to look in the mirror so taking pics and documenting this was the last thing I wanted to do.
So, after the VIDE chemo I was due to start a different type of chemo called VAC (I will talk about that in my next post) alongside 6 weeks of radiotherapy. Radiotherapy would be Monday to Friday and take anywhere between 30mins-2hours depending on the waiting time, although the scan itself only took 10 minutes.
Before the radiotherapy took place I met the Dr to go over the plan, what the side effect risks were and also to sign a disclaimer…Aaaargh! The possible side effects included dry/broken skin, fatigue, soreness, weakened bones and risk of cancer! So the cancer treatment could give me cancer….great, just like Pringles, BBQ food and the X Factor. The fatigue and dry/broken skin were a given, these side effects would accumulate and peak 10 days after each session. This resulted in my skin becoming broken and really tender 10 days after I finished my last radiotherapy treatment. To make this worse the skin broke under my armpit so moving my arm would just rip it apart, but this healed after a week or so. The key to looking after your skin during this is lots of moisturising and using Aloe Vera kept in the fridge! I was also told to use a high factor sun protection on my shoulder for 2 years after. The only plus side is I got a sweet shoulder tan.
When I turned up for my first scan there were hundreds of puzzles in the waiting room, I thought this was weird. After a few days of the same waiting room, the reason for having so many puzzles became obvious and I got stuck into completing one of The London Eye. Just as I started to make some real progress some heartless bastard came and replaced it, if things were not already bad enough! I looked around the waiting room and used to ask myself why I was there, why me? I was the youngest person by at least 30 years and if I had any hair left I’m sure I would have been the only person not grey.
So the process would go like this. Before my first scan I had a head and shoulder mask moulded (see image below). This was very claustrophobic despite the mouth and eye holes. This would be clipped down very tightly to the scanning table to keep me in the same position daily. The mask had crosses on it which would be lined up to lasers across the room to ensure I was in the same position every day. I would be manoeuvred into place on the automated table and then the radiographers would all leave the room to do the scans. It was just like getting a daily x-ray daily but being clipped down to a table for it. Something that really touched a nerve was when walking out of the treatment room I passed some shelves with all the different patients masks/moulds on, a couple of them were tiny and could only be for children. This made me angry that kids would have to be put through this.
Although driving 1.5 hours into hospital daily for 6 weeks was not fun it was the closest I got to having a routine back in my life, it was also a huge relief to see the back of the intense VIDE chemo. Every scan was a step closer to the finish line and felt like I was doing something proactive to fight it.