was the worst part of my treatment.
Although I was given much information to read, and I did read it, I felt overwhelmed at the time and I must have skimmed the words instead of COMPREHENDING the information. I realized later that the information on the side-effects did not sink in. If I’d known “then” what I know “now”, would I have continued? Well, because cancer was new to me at that time, I still would’ve chosen to have both chemo and radiation as my treatment. The combination is the “gold standard” for anal cancer. Near the end of my treatment, I had horrible burns from the radiation. I screamed with pain when urine passed through my tract. (And let me just add, I know what pain is … I’ve had a thoracotomy w/lung resection … that’s the day I learned what pain was). I was in horrible pain. I didn’t want to drink anything because I didn’t want to pee and I couldn’t handle the pain. But, that made things worse because the urine was more concentrated, which caused even more pain. I was hospitalized for eight days to get the pain under control.
My cancer hospital is a teaching hospital. Residents everywhere. Upon my admission, my nurse needed to take a look at “the area”. Then the doctor needed to see it. And then another doctor, and so on. I finally had enough of displaying myself to all the staff, and when another nurse came into my room, I asked, “do ya think you can find anyone else in the hallway that might need to see, because I think everyone in three counties has already been in to visit ‘the area’?!” That was said in my best sarcastic, and probably angry voice. She apologized for what I’d been through. I felt ashamed and humiliated. I hurt. I HURT A LOT. And I was at the point that all I could do was cry. I needed help and I was there for them to help me, not to for me to show my stuff to a bunch of strangers. Eight days later, the pain was finally under control with morphine. Lots and lots of morphine. During my stay, I found that if I used the morphine release pump as much as was permissible, before going to pee, I could do it without screaming. It was truly horrible. And it wasn’t just the pain. It was the fatigue, the dread, the feeling of defeat. Upon my release from the hospital, I was completely exhausted and I decided that simply could not go through one more day of radiation. I reluctantly told my fiancée. For the first time since being diagnosed, I was quitting ……. or so I thought.
My oncology radiologist gave me a short break which allowed me to further heal. I was able to finish my treatments and I was so relieved to know that I DID IT. IT WAS OVER.
Since finishing my chemo/radiation treatments, I thought I could relax.
I thought it was over.
It’s never over.
And I’m not just speaking of the chances of cancer returning. That shadow of fear will probably follow me for the rest of my life. But there has to be sunshine present to have a shadow. I will focus on that. The sun. The warm and glorious sun. I will press on. I am currently fighting side effects of radiation and they can be long-term, if not life-long. I will address my complications of radiation therapy in a later post … I’m still emotionally having trouble dealing with it all (side-effects). With that being said, I can almost hear someone saying, “My gosh, suck it up! You should be grateful to be alive instead of worrying about some type of “SIDE EFFECT“. Believe me, I am grateful …. and I have a tremendous amount of guilt with my moments of self-pity. God has been so good to me and I am overwhelmed by His goodness and mercy. But, I am human. I have my “moments”.
Now, for some FAQs:
1. What is radiation therapy?
Your treatment team will use high doses of radiation to kill, or at least slow down, the cancer to stop it from spreading. It’s like an X-ray, only stronger. And it’s targeted to a more specific area than say an X-ray of your back. Laser beams are used in conjunction with tiny tattooed dots (yes, seriously) to accurately target the exact area of the cancer every time.Laser beams. They projected out of the walls and ceiling. The technicians were very careful to have me perfectly aligned.
About 60% of all cancer patients need radiation treatments. If you have head or neck radiation, you’ll have to have a mask made. My cancer was at the other end ….. I’m simply providing my readers with additional information.ss
My radiation was pelvic and I had to have a mold made of my legs to stabilize my legs in the same position every single time.
. …… ….
The “mold” that was made to hold my legs in place. It was (originally) like a bean bag that formed around my legs. When I was in a comfortable position, the air was removed and it became hard like Styrofoam.
When I completed my treatments, it was thoroughly cleaned and re-inflated for remolding and reuse by another patient.
2. Does this treatment affect healthy cells?
Yes. Although targeted to a specific area, it does affect/damage nearby healthy cells. When deciding on your specific treatment regimen, the oncology radiologist determines the lowest dose that can be used to kill cancer cells.
3. Is radiation always coupled with chemo?
No. Depending on the type of cancer, it can be used alone or before, during and/or following surgery.
4. How long does it take to work?
It is not immediate, like chemo. It takes days to weeks before the cancer cells begin to die. And once it starts, it continues for weeks, or even months, after you’ve finished.
5. Are there different kinds of radiation?
Yes. There’s “external”, like an X-ray and there is also an “internal” radiation.
Internal radiation therapy requires either a liquid (which you drink), or some type of target device (a capsule or a seed) to be implanted in your body at the cancer site. It’s usually put into place through a catheter or some other type of applicator.
6. Do I have to have a specific diet during treatment?
Although not “required”, it’s important to maintain your current weight. Calories! Protein! It takes a lot of energy to HEAL. Talk with your oncology radiologist or a dietician for more specific guidelines.
7. Am I going to be able to continue working while going through treatment?
There’s not a definitive “yes” or “no” here. There are many factors that determine the answer. The type of treatment, and how your body handles it, are the major factors.
8. If I have external radiotherapy, am I going to be radioactive?
No. But there are precautions for internal radiation once it’s in place.
9. What side-effects might I experience?
Fatigue and some degree of skin changes (dry, itchy, a “sunburn” or even blistering skin) are usually inevitable.f
Depending on where your cancer is, the following (and I was VERY surprised to learn some of these) may be an issue: hair loss at the radiation site, nausea and/or vomiting and/or diarrhea, swelling, problems swallowing, changes in sexual function or fertility, pain, taste changes and urinary/bladder/bowel problems.
The good news is, MOST of these will go away within a couple of months after completion of radiation treatments.,,,,,,
And like I mentioned above, although rare, there are LATE side effects that may present later. These could be showing up 6 MONTHS after treatment has been completed. These late effects depend on:
- Area being treated
- Dose and length of treatment
- If/when chemotherapy was administered
10. Can you give me an example of the late side-effects?
Late effects for pelvic radiated areas may be:
- Changes in your brain (problems with memory, trouble thinking or personality changes)
- Joint changes (scar tissue, weakness, poor range-of-motion)
- Lymphedema (swelling caused by lymph fluid that builds up because of lymph node removal or damage to nodes during radiation)
If you enjoy this blog and would like to be notified of any updates, please sign up by clicking on the “follow” link at the bottom of this page).
If you have any questions or comments about radiation, please feel free to contact me. I’m not an expert, but I will tell you what I do know. 🙂