When it comes to cancer treatments, radiotherapy is the lesser-talked-about sibling of chemotherapy. It doesn’t have the reputation that chemotherapy does, it isn’t perceived to be as blatant in the way it goes about its business, and it generally isn’t as widely recognised as part of Operation Let’s Blast the Pants off Cancer.
But radiotherapy, despite all these things, is still an integral part of cancer treatment for many people and one which can take its toll, if not as much physically as its predecessors then emotionally and mentally.
The treatments may only be 15 minutes long, but hot-footing your way to the hospital five days a week for a minimum of three weeks is hardly anyone’s idea of a good time.
I was very apprehensive ahead of my first session of radiotherapy. I’d had my CT scan and my planning session. The team had all the measurements for ensuring I’d be blasted in the right place and I’d learned the position I’d be spending 225 minutes in over the following three weeks (it’s a bit like being in fifth position in ballet, or what your arms would be doing if you were holding a beach ball above your head). I knew the basics of what I was going to be experiencing.
But it was quite different when I found myself on that first day, back in a hospital gown, back in a clinical setting, awaiting the last part of my active cancer treatment.
It was quite different when the team, though incredibly friendly and wonderfully reassuring, muttered numbers and words at one another over me in some kind of medical language that I had zero understanding of: ‘One right and one ant’.
It was quite different when they shifted me into exactly the right spot on the bed, telling me not to help them, but to let them manipulate my body as they needed to.
It was quite different when they left the room, the risk of them being exposed to what I was being exposed to, too great for them to remain.
It was quite different when the machine clunked and clicked and growled its way around me, blasting The Artist Formerly Known as Boob with radioactive waves, eradicating any final stubborn cancer cells which may have survived the poison of chemotherapy.
Radiotherapy is the last flourish across the finish line, the last push in a pretty brutal series of events. But for many people, the end of radiotherapy and active treatment marks the beginning of something else – a whole new journey, a new set of obstacles, a new bunch of challenges to tackle.
But that’s a topic for another blog post. Maybe to onlookers it seems like it’s easier than what has come before it. Maybe because it’s often the last thing on the treatment menu for most patients, it’s expected that the feeling of almost being ‘done’ will carry you to that victory lap.
I found radiotherapy easier than chemotherapy, but it’s all relative. No matter what has come before it, finding yourself in that environment will never be easy. It’s manageable.
Originally written for and posted on Breast Cancer Care