What you need to know before you begin radiation for breast cancer.
Non-Medical Advice from a Breast Cancer Survivor
Breast Cancer Radiation Treatments, the name alone, is intimidating enough, but the thought of a large, strange machine pointing and shooting radiation into my body made me cringe. I half expected to glow like some science fiction movie character or for my skin to look like a charred piece of bacon by the end of my treatments.
Neither of those things happened, of course.
But, while receiving radiation treatments wasn’t a “walk in the park,” it wasn’t nearly as dreadful as I imagined.
So, if you’re feeling nervous, concerned, or downright terrified about your upcoming radiation therapy for breast cancer, these tips can ease your mind and help you feel your best during treatments.
Follow Your Radiation Oncologist’s Instructions
Your radiation oncologist should provide you with lots of information and instructions before starting radiation therapy. The most important thing you can do is follow all these instructions precisely. They’re essential to your treatment and healing.
And, if you have any questions or concerns about what to expect or what you need to do, be sure to ask your radiation oncology team.
It’s a good idea to have a list of questions ready for your oncologist before each appointment. Also, make notes of your doctor’s answers to those questions.
Do Not “Google” Radiation Images
My first and possibly most significant advice is: Don’t “Google” radiation images. I did, and many were gruesome. Please don’t do it! The pictures shown are always the most extreme cases.
Just as with chemotherapy, each patient reacts differently to treatment and every person’s treatment plan is different. Radiation treatment plans differ and are based on factors such as the stage, lumpectomy or mastectomy, the amount of lymph nodes affected, and how close the tumor was to the skin.
Your oncologist will know that, so don’t Google the questions. Ask your doctor for recommendations specifically for your care.
And, then follow your doctor’s instructions and take excellent care of yourself. The more you do that, the better you will feel!
So, as my grandmother always said, “don’t borrow trouble.” Don’t look up images of radiation on the internet. It will only cause you to worry and be fearful.
How to Take Care of Your Skin During Radiation Treatments
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Imagine going to the beach and getting a light sunburn. You do this for five consecutive days and then take a two-day break. You repeat this cycle for another week and then another for as many days as prescribed by your doctor. Initually you don’t feel much discomfort, but you will become a little more tender/sore as your treatments continue. That is how the radiation felt to me and others I know.
So, the good news is that you don’t become sore or hurt on the first day of treatments. It will take several treatments that occurs.
And just as using sunscreen helps prevent your skin from burning, using the moisturizers your doctor suggests will help protect and take care of your skin.
Taking care of your skin is the most important thing you can do for yourself during radiation treatments.
I began moisturizing my skin a couple of weeks before my radiation treatments started, per my doctor’s instructions. Your radiation team will give you suggestions on what products to use and when to use them. My doctor suggested Carrasyn Gel and Gold Bond Healing lotion, which worked well for me. But, I have friends who used other products that worked well for them. So, be sure to ask your doctor which one they recommend.
Whatever lotion you use, apply it liberally morning, noon, and night. The healthier your skin remains during this process, the better you will feel.
My Favorite Product for Radiation Treatments
The one product I think everyone should use if they are going through radiation treatments for breasts cancer is the Lindi Cool Roll.
Radiation can make your skin feel hot (like a sunburn). The Lindi Cool roll is a 4″ x60″ roll (looks like a big slippery fruit roll-up 😉) you store in your refrigerator. It’s infused with aloe and green tea extract, and provides instant cooling relief. You just cut off the size you need and apply it to the “hot” burning area. It provides instant cooling, pain relief!
My cousin first told me about the Lindi Cool Roll, and I’m so glad she did. Now, I tell everyone I meet, going through radiation treatments about the Lindi Cool Rool. I can’t imagine going through treatments without it.
To use, cut off the amount you need to cover your radiated skin. (To use the strip more than once, pop the used strip in a ziplock bag and stick it back into the refrigerator.) Each “cut piece” lasts two to three times before it dries out, so one roll goes a long way.
The Lindi Cool Roll is worth every penny! You will want to have this on hand during your radiation treatments.
The Best Clothing to Wear During Radiation Treatments
Before you begin treatments, make sure you have a lightweight, comfortable, wire-free bra or bralette. Get one with clasps, or even better, one that opens in the front. Don’t use the pull-over-your-head type. They are difficult and uncomfortable to put on during this time.
The one that I particularly like zips in the front and fits comfortably. Or as comfortable as a bra can be. If you’re like I was, you’ll only wear one when you have to during this time.
If you don’t have loose-fitting, soft, comfortable shirts, now is the time to get these. You won’t want anything scratchy touching you. I walked around the stores touching all the fabrics looking for the softest shirts. The $5.00 t-shirts I found on clearance in Walmart’s sleepwear department ended up being my favorites to wear around the house. I also claimed every soft, worn-out t-shirt my husband had.
I need to mention that I applied the lotion so thick it stained a couple of my shirts. I also noticed that black shirts don’t show stains as much as white and other colors did. So, don’t spend a lot of money on the shirts you will wear during your treatments, and don’t plan on wearing your good shirts during this time.
Take Extra Good Care of Yourself During Radiation Treatments
Just as you’ve been doing throughout your breast cancer treatments, continue to take extra good care of yourself during this time.
Eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water. Your skin needs to stay exceptionally hydrated during this time.
As with chemotherapy, radiation treatments can make you feel fatigued. So it’s essential to get plenty of rest during this time.
It’s also important to get enough sleep. I know it can be challenging to sleep when you’re uncomfortable from the treatments, so please talk with your doctor if you’re having trouble sleeping. They may be able to provide you with solutions.
You can also check this link for some practical tips to make sleeping easier.
So don’t fear or dread radiation treatments. By following your doctor’s precise orders and taking care of yourself, you can minimize radiation treatment discomforts and side effects.
8 Things You Need to Do During Your Breast Cancer Radiation Treatments
- Moisturize, moisturize, and then moisturize some more!
- Use the Lindi Cool Roll when your skin feels “sunburn” hot.
- Wear soft, comfortable clothes that won’t feel scratchy on your skin.
- Drink lots of water.
- Eat healthy foods.
- Limit or alleviate stress as best you can.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Get Plenty of Sleep.
And remember, this is only for a little while. With each treatment, you are getting better. It may not feel like it, but the radiation is killing those cancer cells and advancing your healing process. You can do this!