Radiation Treatment For Breast Cancer
It has been awhile since my last update and a lot has been going on. After my quick recovery from surgery, I started my course of radiation treatment at MD Anderson for six and a half weeks. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but my radiation oncologist, Dr. Wendy Woodward talked me through the process and what to expect. I also found a few other resources that I read from The National Cancer Institute that outlined what radiation treatment for breast cancer entails and its possible side effects. With all this information in hand, I tried to prepare myself the best way I could for my radiation treatment.
Before starting, I was very apprehensive because of my sensitive skin which reacts to everything since chemotherapy. I am not able to use most store bought skin products and break out in itchy rashes and blisters due to the preservatives, parabens, pthalates, triclosan, toluene, etc… so anxiety set in. Would my sensitive skin be able to withstand the aggressive radiation treatment for inflammatory breast cancer? What about the products that the doctors give you for your skin, will I break out from them? In fact, when I went in for my SIM at MD Anderson, they even gave me sharpies so I could touch up my own marking lines because I was allergic to the adhesive in the tape that they usually apply to keep the marks intact.
I knew I probably would not be able to use the majority of skin products that were recommended to me because of the chemical additives. so I did a lot of research and decided to make my own skin remedies for radiation treatment. What I came up with is a two part system.
Skin Care for Radiation Treatment
- During the week I would only use this water based spray to protect and soothe the skin. Sunburn and Radiation Relief Spray I would keep it in the refrigerator and spray it on for immediate relief right after radiation treatment. Then I would use it about three times a day.
- Right after my last treatment for the week on Friday, I would use my oil based Severe Burn Cream with Essential Oils ( recipe coming soon) to help keep the skin supple and less inflamed. I would use this cream liberally every Friday, Saturday and until noon on Sunday. Then I would switch back over to my water based spray so that there would be less chance of oil residue for my radiation treatment on Monday.
So now that I had my skin covered, I was ready to face my six and a half week exile into the world of radiation treatment. Ok, I was not quite ready! I still had the dilemma of food. How am I going to stay on my ketogenic way of eating in a hotel without access to a kitchen . Thankfully, there was a coffee maker and a small refrigerator in my little hotel room. Most of the time I would have to eat out, so I needed a plan.
Strategies for Staying on a Ketogenic Diet while Traveling
- I needed a way to still have my Bulletproof Mushroom Elixir in the morning. (avoiding caffeine because of its diuretic properties) I developed my Bulletproof Coffee Pods, which worked so well that I continue to make them at home just for convenience.
- What are good snacks to have on hand in my room? tins of sardines, macadamia nuts, olives, hard boiled eggs, avocados and pork rinds.
- I also made quarts of bone broth that I froze to keep in the small freezer. I would unfreeze one quart every week and enjoy a cup every day for the added protein and collagen to support skin health and repair.
- When you are undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer, it is very important to up your protein consumption. I would try and eat plenty of eggs, fish and even red meat. I also supplemented with Grass fed collagen twice a day dissolved either in my bone broth or my cup of herbal tea.
- Eating out was not as difficult as I thought it would be. Most restaurants would have omelettes, salads, or roasted fish and chicken. Everyone was happy to substitute the fries or rice with a nice green vegetable.
So now I was ready! I packed up all my things that I thought I would need for my extended stay in Houston. I really had no idea what I would need since this was all new to me and I was scared.
- Loose and comfortable clothing
- Comfortable shoes
- Books to read
- Laptop, Ipad and chargers
- Skin care products
Weeks 1 – 4 of Radiation for Breast Cancer
The first few weeks of my radiation treatment were pretty uneventful. Every day I would walk over to the radiation department, sign in, change into my fabulously attractive gown and wait for them to call me in for treatment. I would lay down in the cradle and my radiation team would commence with the treatment. I had to hold my breath as directed so that the radiation would not hit my lungs. Other than that I did not feel anything and honestly could have napped through the whole thing if I didn’t have to monitor my breathing. I think the hardest part of the first few weeks was the sweet treats that filled the tables of the waiting room. I didn’t really have any cravings, but the smell of sugar permeated the whole area. Why couldn’t they have hard boiled eggs instead of cupcakes? I guess that would not be a very popular choice!
During this time, my mother ( a breast cancer survivor herself) came and stayed with me the first two weeks in Houston so that I would have some support and not be too lonely. It was a good opportunity to catch up and have some girl time. We had a wonderful time going out to eat at the various restaurants around town, meeting up with some of her friends and participating in some of the yoga and tai chi classes at MD Anderson for cancer patients and their caretakers.
I was also very lucky to have met a bunch of really nice ladies that were also undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer. Some lived in Houston and others like me, were away from their families for their treatment. I thought I would be lonely but that was not the case. There was plenty to do: new restaurants to try, shopping for clothes ( since a lot of the things I brought with me were getting too big!), and I even managed to take the shuttle to Beto O’Rourke’s Meet and Greet in Rice Village.
Week 5 of Radiation for Breast Cancer
This was the week when my skin started getting red and slightly sore. Still not too bad but there was definitely some discomfort. I had to cancel my yoga classes this week because my chest felt really tight and the extra movements were starting to cause pain. Not wanting to get any unecessary UV rays, I stayed inside the hotel and out of the sun. I did go by to see the nurse and she gave me these wonderful foam patches (Mepilex) to place over my tender skin and keep it from chafing and rubbing under my clothing. It was all really boring and I was looking forward to going home for the weekend to see my family in Austin. At this point, I was really missing my husband and my boys. And did I mention…I was so tired of radiation treatment – the discomfort, the fatigue, the homesickness were all starting to wear me down.
Last Week of Radiation for Breast Cancer
Upside is that it was wonderful to spend some time at home with my family, but the thought of going back to MD Anderson for my last week of radiation treatment was so depressing. I know I may sound like a big whiner, but I was so miserable with the burning pain and itchiness. I was tired and grumpy from lack of sleep since no matter what position I took, it was still uncomfortable. It may be hard to understand why with only one week left, I would think about quitting treatment. I’m sure part of it was just tiredness and fatigue, but I think the other aspect was the culmination of eight months of aggressive cancer treatments. I was so ready for this all to be over and the closer the end was in sight, the more impatient I became. Thankfully, I reached out to some of my fellow IBC sisters and received the strength and support to finish up this last week of radiation treatment.