Warning: There are photos of my exposed, scarred mastectomy breasts in this blog.
Radiation. It was a word that sent my heartbeat skyrocketing. I didn’t want it. I didn’t want any part of it. So when my oncologist told me it was to be part of my healing I was not happy. I was scared. And you know what? I thought radiation was this crazy radioactive laser beam that makes you glow.
Ok, I knew I wasn’t going to glow. But I thought it was going to be a problem because they are radiating my lymph node areas and my chest wall. And what is behind that chest wall? My lung and heart.
This first photo is of the actual machine that I laid in for 10 minutes every day (except weekends) for five weeks. The five weeks went by pretty fast and I have some information I want to share with you in case you are starting this journey and don’t know what to expect.
I did a little sane googling and came up with a few things that helped get me to the place where I was going to accept that radiation was part of my healing journey.
The first thing is that while I was being radiated, I was constantly filling my lungs and holding my breath while the beam was hitting me. This is a buffer, as it were, to protect my heart. Also, considering my combined treatments created a low percentage of recurrence, I got on board.
And the second thing I came to understand is that radiation will not make you glow because it’s an X-ray of sorts:
“Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) is a cancer treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. At low doses, radiation is used in x-rays to see inside your body, as with x-rays of your teeth or broken bones.” From cancer.gov website.
Radiation indeed damages some healthy tissue. In the case of breast cancer, it often creates what is known as radiation burns on the skin. In my case, the cancer that was left after my mastectomy is in my lymph nodes as well as my chest wall. So, the radiation was mapped to my left breast, chest wall, and lymph node areas.
I was told that the burn from radiation is a lot like sunburn. And to a certain degree, it is. All the redness you see in the photos below are radiation burns. Most of it (noticing the difference between the two skin tones on each breast) is simply dry, red skin. Also, after a five-week course of radiation I had pretty standard radiation burn. It is uncomfortable, there is an open sore where I had blistered and the skin peeled off, exposing very new, tender skin. But it is manageable.
I am showing these photos not to scare. I hope it will do the opposite. Radiation isn’t fun. But if you know what you should expect, it isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.
And although I currently am not on anyone’s payroll I do have some recommendations based on what I used during this process. And the first item is LOTION!
I started with CeraVe lotion that I picked up at Target – you can get it at any store that carries lotions. The second I was done with my session each day I made sure I put lotion all over the area – before I even got dressed. I often re-applied multiple times per day. This just keeps your skin hydrated.
Here is a non-affiliate link to CeraVe at Amazon.
Once the burns started to show – which wasn’t actually until halfway through – I splurged on Rejuvaskin lotion. I say splurged because it is a little more expensive than a standard lotion. But I recommend it. I switched to this lotion once I started to see the burns and it did soothe it better than the CeraVe for me.
Here is a non-affiliate link to Rejuvaskin on Amazon.
Then once I had the blisters that broke open, I coated that area with Aquaphor which created a protective barrier. You know Aquaphor!
Everyone has a different reaction. But some important tips: lotion, lotion, lotion, water, water, water. Stay hydrated and stay lotioned!
Please ask any questions you might have. I’m happy to share any info I know.