Health Magazine

Coping with External Beam Radiation

Posted on the 09 February 2012 by Jean Campbell

radiationAfter a lumpectomy for my first breast cancer in 1999, I had the standard treatment following surgery…external beam radiation.

After the initial tattooing to establish the markers for the treatment area, the first 15 days of treatment were a big nothing. The biggest adjustments to radiation treatment were:

  • Getting up earlier every weekday morning to have treatment before heading off to work
  • Wearing clothing that accommodated going without a bra and was easy to get in and out of for treatment
  • Not using deodorant on the side being radiated

Then came week four…when the cumulative effects of radiation kicked in. Then getting up and getting to treatment, putting in a full day’s work, and keeping up a positive attitude got much harder to do.

The fatigue of radiation can only be described by one who has been through it. It was not as my radiation oncologist described…tiredness relieved by a nap. For me it was not a tiredness but a loss of energy that made doing the simplest tasks a major effort.

Finally, the six + weeks of radiation were over. It was a few weeks before wearing a bra was comfortable. It took a few months before I felt I had all my energy back. In retrospect…not so bad. There was no hair loss, no severe side effects and no lasting problems from the treatment.

According to the National Cancer Institute the side effects of external beam radiation may include:

  • The skin on the treated area becoming red, dry, tender, and itchy.
  • Your breast may feel heavy and tight.
  • Bras and tight clothes rubbing your skin causing soreness.
  • Your skin becoming  moist and “weepy.”
  • A lasting change in the color of your skin.
  • Tiredness midway to the end of treatment .
  • Changes in  the size of your breast and the way it looks.

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