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Radiation Side Effects And Coping Stragedies

Updated on March 8, 2015

Radiogists Oncologists Talks About Radiation


Today, I am getting ready to go through radiation? I always thought radiation would be a breeze. I did my research to assure I had complete control this adventure. I used the Susan G Komen foundation and the American Cancer Society as resources. After two go rounds with chemotherapy I have the side effects and terminology for chemotherapy assimilated into my life. Radiation is a new adventure. I like adventure in moderation. Usually I start adventure by following a trail of my own choosing. This is not of my choosing. I didn't have radiation after my first go with breast cancer. At the time it was thought a mastectomy and chemotherapy was sufficient. The first tumor seemed small enough a for a lumpectomy to be sufficient, but there was a question a mastectomy seemed better. This choice was made since our kids were little. After the biopsy all I could think was, "Get this stuff out as soon as possible and be done with it." I didn't have time for cancer. There was no time for cancer the second round either. After 15 years of cancer freedom there was a spot. I had dutifully gone to the oncologist every year. She asked me questions, examined me and sent me on my merry way. Then a new oncologist took over when the original retired. He is an interesting guy. At our first meeting he just stared at my arm. Then he finally said," Have you ever been checked for vitamin "D" deficiency"? He caused me to think about vitamin D long before anyone else I knew. Indeed there was a vitamin D deficiency.

There are frequently long periods of silence during appointments with this doctor. I found out completely by accident during those times he is expecting me to ask questions. Once I discovered he was giving me time to ask questions appointments went must smoother. Once we established some common ground my faith and trust in him grew. He is a bicyclist too. He is considered an excellent scientist by his colleagues. I personally, choose excellent scientist over nice doctor when it comes to my life. This scientist, his good thinking, and my good nutrition and exercise has brought me this day to radiation and hopefully many years of cancer free living.

The radiation is a two three punch to finish off the cancer. Dr C has been telling me for two years radiation was coming. Nonetheless, I am not a happy camper.

Set up for my treatment.  Treatments are extremely personalized and are different for everyone.
Set up for my treatment. Treatments are extremely personalized and are different for everyone. | Source

Side Effects

Side Effects from radiation can be similar to a burn, may include fatigue, nausea, fever, chills and itching.The most common is skin irritation. The location of treatments and your general health will make a difference in side effects.

For once being older has some benefits. Risks for younger people are higher because their cells are more susceptible to damage. (This is true for just about anything) The cancer is in my sternum. My major concern about radiation is heart and lung damage. When the doctor said, "The likelihood of heart and lung damage was in the single digits". I asked him to repeat himself. That was a relief.

In sever instances radiation can cause pneumonia. The pneumonia would not be viral or bacterial, it would be radiation induced and the treatment would be steroids instead of antibiotics.

The most common side effect is skin irritation with redness, soreness, itching, peeling and swelling. All these side effects are aggravating, but not insurmountable.

Coping With Side Effects

Life is a journey. Undergoing radiation is like taking a trip. Staying healthy during a trip requires some planning. When traveling there are certain things to do to avoid jet lag. This strategy will help with radiation side effects as well. The most important of these thing is to be well hydrated in advance of your trip as well as during the trip.

To do this, increase the amount of water you drink and use moisturizer. Any moisturizer that your skin tolerates is good. Aloe Vera, Aquaphor and Miaderm were lotions the radiologist suggested. For itching use over the counter hydro-cortisone cream.

The doctor said, "Use whatever moisturizer your skin tolerates well. Aloe Vera is good. Treat your skin as you would a sunburn. Keep treated areas out of the sun. Notify us if you have pain or are uncomfortable". .

Other coping methods are:

  • Manage pain with Tylenol or any medication your doctor recommends. Take the pain medicine before you have turned into a knot writhing with pain.
  • Hydrate. ( Drink, Drink, Drink, if you feel nauseous drink water or juice but drink) You are dealing with burns and your body needs fluids. I can not stress this enough. Pain is intensified and general malaise is increased unless you stay hydrated.
  • Exercise (Find a friend to agonize with) My life is built around exercise and for me,this has been challenging. Burned hurts. .
  • Moisturize (This is redundant, but the more you moisturize the better your skin feels.)
  • Leave treatment site uncovered as much as possible. When covered make sure clean soft cotton is the first layer or Teflon coated bandages.
  • Get plenty of rest.You will get tired. (procrastinators who pack the night before a trip don't do this well, so time management is essential.)
  • Positive attitude (Going through T.S.A. security will try your patience just like radiation) don't let health challenges ruin your life. Plan around days you don't have energy.
  • Get help when you need it. Would you think twice about hiring a moving company to move you from one state to another? No, of course not. Ask for help if you need it. Join a support group if you don't have a strong support team already.
  • If you have radiation burn Domeboro is amazing. I will repeat, Domeboro is amazing. Ask your radiologist for specific instructions. A year ago it was difficult finding Domeboro soaks at drug stores.. One year later, there has been no difficulty finding Domeboro. It's many uses make this a standard in my medicine cabinet.

The Journey

Remember, this is just part of the journey of life. Stay the course. Laugh whenever you have the chance, love well and surround yourself with beauty and interesting people.

Futher Down the Journey Frustration

After the initial consultation with the radiologist, and the positioning which, takes about an hour each comes the initial treatment that includes a tattoo. This treatment took about 25 minutes. The daily treatments are about 10 minutes. This is where the frustration sets in. I have a bad attitude about this taking so little time. It takes me 20 minutes to get there.

I hope your laughing at how silly that my biggest frustration is driving 20 minutes for a 6 minute appointment.

OK, I will put myself on a time out and get an attitude adjustment. (I am back) New attitude:

I am grateful I can have these appointments, I am grateful that I can get to the appointments.

Time to focus on the solution not the problem.
An audio book I can only listen to while going to radiation might be nice. I do have a favorite radio channel. This won't last forever :)

All Done

When the treatments are completed, there are still burns to deal with. I wasn't going to have any side effects. I was going to fly through radiation, but it didn't go as planned. So take it easy. Healing my take a couple of weeks, but you will. I can attest to this. Today just shy of three months after radiation I went on a bicycle ride with some friends. I had done the same ride a month after radiation,it was all I could do to get home then sleep the rest of the day. Today I couldn't believe how short the ride seemed. Yahoo for health!


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    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      Stars, my last scan was clear. I am having a wonderful summer babysitting my grandson. Not much time for writing, but the boy is so funny I will have lots to write about later:)

    • stars439 profile image

      stars439 4 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      God bless you precious heart. I pray that you will get well soon. I will keep you near my heart as I pray and sing to our Lord.

    • celeste inscribed profile image

      Celeste Wilson 4 years ago

      Thank you :0)

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      celeste inscribed- You will be in my thoughts and prayers. If you have questions ask away. Hopefully you will breeze through the process and never have to deal with cancer again.

    • celeste inscribed profile image

      Celeste Wilson 4 years ago

      I have just had my lumpectomy (yesterday) and I see the oncologist tomorrow. I have so many questions and your hub helped so much. I am looking at 6 weeks of radiation going forward. Thank you for taking some of the guesswork out of it for me.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      summerberrie, Delighted you got a glimpse from the inside. I understand that many are very private when undergoing cancer therapies. Though I understand, I see how it limits others ability to help when you need it most.

      Thank you for visiting.

    • profile image

      summerberrie 5 years ago

      Some of my family members have had breast cancer. They do not talk about their experiences much, so it was nice reading yours. It was like I was given a glimpse into this aspect of their lives. Thanks so much. I will continue to read through your hubs in these series!

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      tillsontitan, I blush at your kind words. Thanks you.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      Amy, so nice to see you. I have to laugh when you mention the green spaces around Davis. I just call it farmland. I have heard that I can ride bike trails from my place to Davis and then on to Sacramento 80- to 100 miles.

      Since we went to CSU Sacramento Davis has always been a rival.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      YOU are an inbcredible woman! You most definitely are a tirelesstraveler and face life with a joy and courage many of us lack.

      I hope your journey ends with a safe landing! God Bless.

      Voted up and interesting. If there was a courageous button I'd press that too.

    • Amy Becherer profile image

      Amy Becherer 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      My brother lives in Northern Cali and works as head chair microbiologist at UC, Davis. He loves Davis, CA, for all its green space and, in fact, rides his bike to the university everyday. His youngest son, Kyle, just graduated H.S. and is, like his older brother, very involved in swimming with aspirations for the Olympics. My brother, Steve, and my sister, Becky (who calls Hawaii home for over 30 years) both are of the opinion "why would anyone choose to live in Missouri?" We all grew up here, but they are far more adventurous than I! I think they both made fabulous choices.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      Amy- delighted by your comment. Dr. House thought I looked pale. It was December in Northern California. Everyone in Nor Cal looks pale in December without a spay-on tan. Actually everyone who lives north of the equator is probably low on Vitamin D.

      Radiation is amazingly refined these days. They use a CT scanner to pinpoint what they want to irradiate. It is actually one of the main treatments for very small breast cancers.

      Nice of you to visit.

      Best of luck with your travails.

    • Amy Becherer profile image

      Amy Becherer 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      I didn't realize that radiation was still part of a treatment plan for breast cancer. It would seem to have some inherent cancer causing properties of it's own. My maternal grandfather developed melanoma on his nose. Back in the 60's, state of the art was cobalt. It charred his nose and he lost it and his battle, so research has developed innovations that make a scary, traumatic process a little less dangerous with much better results. You certainly put my perspective into a new direction. I love your upbeat demeanor and choice to remain positive. These personal attributes have a dramatic positive impact on the immune system. If I may ask, tirelesstraveler, what made the "quiet thinker" doctor suspect osteoporosis or at least a vitamin D deficiency? I assume, although I prefer not to assume, that two rounds of chemo may have depleted your reserves? I have osteo with a chronically low Vit D count. I also have autoimmune disease, that has affected my digestive system the past 9 years. I have been on Pentasa (normally prescribed for Crohns) and surprised the bone and mineral doctor by an increase in bone density since taking Pentasa. My GI specialist expressed his opinion to me recently that my malabsorption due to autoimmune disease, probably caused the osteoporosis, which I've had since about 33 years old. And, yes, I agree with you. I'd take a Dr. House over some of the "smilin' simpletons I've encountered anyday.

      Fantastic read, tirelesstraveler, that applies to the diverse struggles we all, eventually, encounter. Stay strong.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      Bedbugabscond- Greetings. I will get pictures ASAP. Good luck with the radiology program.

    • Bedbugabscond profile image

      Melody Trent 5 years ago from United States

      If you could bring a camera that would be great. I am starting a radiology program in the fall. After two years I will be licensed to take x-rays. Then I need to pick a specialty, radiation therapy is on the list. Thanks you for sharing this, you are amazing.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      MikeNV- Thanks for stopping and commenting. I knew there was a relationship of iodine to thyroid cancer, but haven't heard anything about breast cancer. Will certainly do some research,

      The biggest correlation is vitamin D and breast cancer. 100% of all breast cancer patients are vitamin D deficient.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 5 years ago from southern USA

      God bless you, tirelesstraveler. You are so strong. I will be praying for you. In His Love, Faith Reaper

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      Lipnancy- when I go in next time I am bringing the camera so I can write on the steps of radiation.

      BlossomSB The travel when your a praying person is always safe:)

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Thank you for sharing your journey. I will be praying for safe travel for you. God bless.

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 5 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      God Bless you. Please keep educating us on the possible solutions. I know in my heart that the eradication of all cancer is just around the corner.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      Dear Pamela99- Having gone through much is a result of having lived more than half a century. Hee Hee :)Thank you for your good wishes

      Vellur- Blessings returned.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 5 years ago from Dubai

      Wishing you well my friend and many, many more happy days never to end. God Bless and take care.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

      You have sure been through a lot and are a survivor! I wish you a wonderful, healthy future.

    • Angelllite profile image

      Angelllite 5 years ago from United States

      Recent studies show that all radiation causes cancer to some degree!

    • profile image

      DigbyAdams 5 years ago

      I wish you the best with your treatments and that the side-effects will be minimal.

    • MikeNV profile image

      MikeNV 5 years ago from Henderson, NV

      You should dig into the research on Iodine/Iodide and breast cancer.