Hold onto your hats, it's going to be a bumpy ride! Thank you for stopping by and joining me for a while. I've recently been juggling (as all mums do) more balls than I am comfy with, and just when I felt like a professional juggler - BAM!! I get hit with this - BREAST CANCER!! I'm hoping that writing this blog will serve as some sort of therapy for me, to get me through this 'rough patch' ahead.... if it's interesting, entertaining, thought provoking or helpful to anyone else out there then that's an added bonus. If you like what you read, please visit again or click the "join" button below, and feel free to spread the word.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Radiotherapy for Dummies

I've been trying to write this post now for days and can never find a good time.  Anyway here it is, sorry if it's a bit rambling!!

I'm going to try and explain radiotherapy treatment so those of you who haven't got a clue what it is and what it does will get a better understanding of it.  It might even help me in the process!!
The treatment uses high energy x-rays (or electrons) to treat cancer.  It basically blasts the cancer cells and kills them off.   The machine that is used for this is called a Linear Accelerator and it looks a bit like a giant microscope, with me the patient being slid in underneath its 'lens'.   Before my treatment started I had a 'planning scan' where scan pictures and lots of measurements were taken of my boob, they also gave me two tiny little pin prick tattoos which they now use as reference points to line me up in the LA machine.   The planning of the treatment takes about 2 weeks and is very important as careful planning helps prevent the radiation from affecting healthy parts of the body.
My consultant has decided I need 4 weeks of treatment, that is once a day, 5 days a week for 3 weeks on my whole left boob and underarm and then 1 week concentrating just on the scar area, where the lump was.   My consultant has been through all the possible side effects with me and I had to sign a consent form acknowledging them all and giving my permission for treatment.   The most likely side effects are fatigue and skin soreness, but this can be minimised by avoiding irritants such as underwire bras and perfumed bath products, in fact I'm not allowed to use anything other than water, aqueous cream and aluminium free deodorant.  For me, ditching my underwire bras doesn't come easy as I like to keep my 34E's well supported!! So I need to get myself some 'comfort' bras and get used to the 'baggy boob' look!!  Funny how this bothers me more than other side effects I could be exposed to.....
As the treatment is to my left breast, there is a chance that my heart can be affected and also the lungs can become less stretchy which would result on shortness of breath, but the benefits of radiotherapy far outweighs the risks, so I'm not going to dwell on the negatives.
Since finishing Chemo I've had pretty much two months off of being a 'hospital patient', so going back in there last Monday was hard to do and has made me feel rather depressed during the past week.    On my first day of treatment I found it rather bemusing to find myself sitting next to 70 year old men in their dressing gowns in the waiting room.   The fact that all patients need to be half naked during treatment had escaped me, and as there is a shortage of clean hospital gowns patients are encouraged to bring in and wear their own robe.    For all of my treatments I have to strip to the waste and put on my robe (they provide changing rooms), then sit out in the waiting area to be called.   So far I haven't had to wait longer than 20 mins.     When the nurse (radiographer is probably the correct term) calls me I go round the corner down this long wide corridor and into a large room where the LA machine is.  At my hospital I think there are 8 of these machines in total, and they appear to all be in use and busy.   I don't think I will ever get used to seeing how busy this Cancer Centre is!  It's scary.
For every treatment I have to give the nurse my name, address and DOB, obviously so they can make sure they are giving the correct treatment to me and not someone elses.  Then I climb on the bench thingy, lay down and raise my left arm out to the side and above my head to hold onto a handle.  This bench then goes upwards (about 4ft off the ground) and back under the machine.    I'm told to lie heavily and relax whilst the nurses shift my position every so slightly to the left and make pen marks on my chest and underarm.    There is usually 2 to 4 people in the room, all doing their job, reading out measurements and checking that everything is set up accurately.   I'm very impressed with their speedy, professional yet chirpy bedside manner.   They must see dozens of patients in a day and treat all areas of the body, they must see all sorts of sights but just carry on in the same professional manner.    Whilst they are checking everything is set up properly the lights are dimmed a couple of times so they can check the position of the laser - at least I think that's what it is - there's a green laser beam and a red one coming out of the machine, which you can't see when the lights are on full.   So, once all the pre treatment checks are done, the nurses leave the room with a cheery "Here we go!" so they can avoid the radiation themselves and operate the machine from the adjoining room - they can see me via a camera and screen.    I need to stay completely still while the machine runs.  First it blasts me from the left side - not that I can feel or see anything happening but the machine makes a noise when its on, and then it moves over in an arc to my right side and blasts me again twice.    The actual treatment takes a matter of seconds and I'm in the treatment room for a total of 10 minutes all in.    I've now had 7 out of my 20 doses of radiation and so far have only noticed a few shooting pains through my boob and the skin is beginning to dry out.      The main reason I have found it tricky to get time to write this post, is because the journey too and from treatment takes me about an hour each way plus I have to park in Tesco's car park at the hospital so have got way-layed a few times having lunch at Costas or picking up a few supplies.   When I get home there's often only time for a cuppa tea and to empty the dishwasher before I have to go out again on the school run.  It's all go you know!
It's not all doom and gloom though.    I'm also making the most of free alternative therapies offered at the cancer support centre - yesterday I enjoyed a session called Bodytalk, on Thursday I have an Indian Head Massage booked and later in the month, a Mindfulness (otherwise known as meditation) session.   I shall post again on my experience of these.  Bye for now and please visit again! x


  1. Hi Cath,
    I have finished my treatment a year ago, but only now I am able to talk about the experience. For most of the time I just wanted for this to be over. So congratulations. You are keeping well and there is only a little to go.

    All the best,

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting Mila. Sometimes I question my decision to be so public about my cancer but I think generally it has helped me be strong and has lifted me out of my darker moments! Best wishes to you, I will read your blog with interest. X

  3. I think its helped us all to understand all that goes with being diagnosed with cancer. I know a lot of people enjoy reading your updates you always manage to inject a bit of humour into quite frankly a shit year! xx

  4. Thank you Natasha, you are too kind. If I dont laugh, I cry. That is all. Xx

  5. Hi…I am Katya…I am here to let you know that now there is a way to get breast cancer help. You can connect directly to medical doctors researching to find a cure at Also, you can look at different clinical trials recruiting people providing free medical care to those who may not be able to afford it. Please take a look at: Thank you! Let's fight breast cancer together!