Pro tips for surviving radiotherapy.
So you've got a hot date with Medusa.
1) I'm really sorry about that.
2) Here's a few things that make the process more endurable.
(This is flat-out advice, specifically directed at people who are undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer. Feel free to skip or ignore any of it, and as always, YMMV.)
Soft clothes. The softest ones you can find.
If your breasts are on the larger end, this bra is great. You can kind of engineer it so there's not a moist crease under the boob, and it deals well with a variety of unguents.
This bra is also great and fits a variety of body types. It runs pretty large, so if you want a little more support, size down. (I'm a 38E, ish, and the medium works for me.)
Grease your "treatment area" at least five times a day, and immediately after showering. I'm alternating between this stuff and this stuff. No, I don't know why radiation burn cream has to be gendered.
Make sure you haven't applied cream before your treatment, though, as I am informed that it can make the burns worse. (Or gently wash it off before you go in.)
If it's cool or cold outside, that can help reduce the swelling and inflammation. Go for a walk.
Get that exercise they tell you to get. Even when you don't want to. If it's physically possibly, do something. It makes a HUGE difference.
More sleep. Schedule your life so you can spend ten hours in bed, even if that means dropping every ball that is not immediately critical to your survival and the survival of your pets and children. Adult loved ones are on their own for a couple of months, they'll be okay.
If you can't sleep because of discomfort, edema, or anxiety, get drugs that help you sleep: melatonin, gabapentin, flexeril are all a little less prone to weird side effects than the heavy-duty hypnotics. Pot is great for sleep if you live where it's legal.
Try to eat some vegetables but if you can’t, you can’t.
You’re a cancer survivor until you’re not. Eyes on the prize.
Fellow cancer survivors will reach out to you. The vast majority are great, respectful, helpful, loving. The rest fall into about three categories: “You’re lucky your illness isn’t as bad as mine,” “Let me process my own medical trauma through your misfortune so I feel like it has Meaning,” and “I was healed via [insert woo of your choice here, you must Do Woo].” Feel free to ignore every single one of those last types.
Unless the woo makes you feel better, then woo all you want, just take your meds and show up for radiation too.
You will be provided with an endless stream of pushy medical advice from people who won’t take no for an answer, some of it dangerously wrong, some just expensive and useless. Ignore it unless you think you can do the time or get off on justifiable homicide. People do this because cancer is terrifying and the treatment is miserable and they want to feel like they are in control of whether or not they get sick and die. Spoiler: they are not.
Positive thinking does not cure cancer, but you cannot actually punch every single person who exhorts you to “Stay Positive!” in the nose because you would be spending your whole life on airplanes and you have to get to treatment five days a week. Feel free to be as absolutely pissed off and sad and emotionally labile as you need to be. It’s okay to grieve. Toxic positivity is not good for you. People who push it on you do so because they are uncomfortable sitting with your pain, not because they want to help you.
Even if you’re angry and sad, keep moving. Perform all the bullshit tasks of cancer. Think of it like a shitty temp job. Hope like hell it’s a shitty temp job. Get ‘er done.
You will also be provided with an endless stream of speculation about why you got cancer. The answer is this: you got cancer because a cell in your body forgot how to die, and also forgot how to stop reproducing. A lot of things could have triggered this, including the blasted cussedness of the universe, but almost all of them were outside your control. People do this because cancer is terrifying and the treatment is miserable and they want to feel like they are in control of whether or not they get sick and die. Spoiler: they still are not.
Things do not happen for a reason.
If you had any lymph nodes removed, remember that your lymph drainage is fucked up now. If your arm swells up from edema, elevate it or wear a compression sleeve. Try to sleep in such a way that fluid drains away from the treatment area, not into it. It's okay to wedge yourself in with pillows so you don't roll over. I'm a stomach sleeper by preference, so this one is really hard for me.
Gabapentin is also good for hot flashes, so if they've got you on tamoxifen or some other estrogen blocker that's making you feel like the God Of Hot Flashes, take it at night with gabapentin. This improved my quality of life and ability to sleep and work 350%.
Use every resource you are offered. There is no extra credit for doing this the hard way.
Lying on the treatment table, it turns out, is a great time for my mindfulness practice. This is my in breath. This is my out breath. This is my in breath. Holy shit that thing is shooting a particle beam at me right fucking now! Thinking. Thinking. Observe the thought, the thought exists. It is just a thought, a nonphysical object. This is my out breath. This is my in breath. This is my out breath. I'm so scared. My hip hurts. Feeling. Observe the feeling, the feeling exists. I do not have to act on the feeling. This is my in breath. I wonder how bad the scars will be? Worrying. Worry is a feeling. Observe the feeling. This is my out breath.
That's what I have right now.
You're not alone. I hope it helps a little.