I don’t know why I expected it not to hurt. I mean, I’ve been to a lot of appointments and asked a ton of questions. I’ve seen the pictures and while, in the unflappable way of doctors, radiation has been described as “irritating to the skin, and it causes inflammation and contraction of the tissues,” I’ve been WAAAAAY rose-colored glasses about this whole thing. Radiation is only for 5 weeks, which is so short. I’m DONE with the mastectomy. I’m DONE with chemo (which was FOUR MONTHS!). I’m done with tissue expanding (which hurts like a son of a bitch). I did drains and I’ve gone through fertility treatment. 5 weeks of radiation with “skin irritation and discomfort” sounds AWESOME. Sounded awesome?
There are things I didn’t expect. I have/had limited range of motion because of the tissue expander and the mastectomy, and while I AM getting that all back, the first few times in the gauntlet were VERY physically uncomfortable. I have to be positioned a certain way and stay still; not moving around is hard, and trying to relax into the machine…. it’s not easy.
Have you ever dropped something heavy on your toe? I once had a peanut butter and jelly glass jar fall on my toe from about four feet up. Outwardly, it didn’t look too bad. There was a tiny bruise, but the thing ACHED for MONTHS. It was super sensitive all the time and the hyper awareness and the throbbing. That’s kind of how the radiation feels after: that heavy ache and super sensitivity.
There are also the zings. After radiation, you get “zings.” It’s somewhere between a static electric shock and touching an electric fence for horses. Immediately after radiation, I have them frequently, then after an hour or so, they taper off to be unexpected surprises. It’s like unexpected electric cobwebs throughout your day.
It’s also the backstretch of treatment, and that can be the hardest part. I’ve come so far, and this last little bit can seem more difficult, even though in objective comparison, it is much easier. And it’s hard to parse out cause. Do I hurt because of radiation or because of physical therapy or because of tissue expansion? Is my body tight because the residual mastectomy healing or because radiation is creating scar tissue?
It’s still very passive. I mean, it’s every day, which is a huge pain in the ass, even when you live within walking distance. I just have to show up and not struggle. I just have to show up and listen to my autocratic rad techs tell me how to breathe. So I just have to show up for the next month. I need a better way to mess with my rad onc so I have something to look forward to. I am going to start to call her my Radonc-adonk. That will have to be enough for now.
Also, fuck radiation side effects. It’s just pain. And I WILL NOT lose mobility and strength. I know that my tissue will be different, but I am going to use creams (of dubious efficacy) and do yoga and work and drink caffeine and take naps. And it’s only a month. I can do this shit. By the time the cumulative effects make it AWFUL, I’ll be almost done.
So, to sum up:
CONS: hypersensitivity, burns (tbd), works against your mobility as your trying to get mobility back, fucks up your tissue.
PROS: fucks up your CANCER, makes scars look way better, duration is short (both duration of appointments and duration of treatment).
Also, there is no choice. Well, there is always a choice. But radiation take my chances of getting cancer and cut them by 70%. SEVENTY. That’s a lot. So there is no choice. Also, the fatigue will contribute to inertia, so I’ll keep going to the appointments. And they have free snacks. I will do a surprising amount for free food, and great tea. Now every time I get radiation, I’m going to lie back and think of England.