Radiation is a recommended treatment for breast cancer patients whether you had lumpectomy or mastectomy or chemo or no chemo. Radiation is said to "sterilize the breast" - get rid of any cancer cells that may have broken off during surgery. I was told about side effects and skin changes to expect but no one really gave the details so here is my blunt, unattractive truth about radiation.
First and foremost, OUCH, is the operative word after about 14 or so treatments. Nothing like a rectangle sunburn over one boob to make your clothes and some movement uncomfortable. The first two weeks weren't bad at all. Once you get past having more and more people see your boob everyday, it's easy to manage. You don't feel anything when the radiation beam is shot into you and the treatment lasts less than 2 minutes. When the "sunburn" starts coming on, then your skin is really dry feeling and can get itchy.
The next milestone is the hyper-sensitivity of the areola and especially the nipple (yep, I said it) Geez! There are no words to explain this level of discomfort. The radiation "tanning" of the surgical scars is also a bit unpleasant. That new healing skin is very sensitive to the zapping. And don't forget under your boob, that's the spot that gets the most skin damage and "tanning". The bra issue I have discussed in other blog entries is ever present and even more important now. Nothing feels comfy. I have found putting gauze squares in my bra and over the two surgical scars helps; however, there is still nothing better than being able to go topless in your house for a while.
During radiation you can not use your typical deodorant, so I have a stick for one armpit and non-metallic deo for the other armpit. You can't shave the armpit that's being zapped. The hair is suppose to fall out, but I am hear to tell you after 27 treatments it's still growing. It is unnerving to face the mirror with scissors and cut off little short hairs from your armpit, but there is no way in hell I was going with that "natural look". You also can't use your favorite soap or body wash. I have Cetaphil for the offending area with a plain washcloth and an Olay soft skin wash with my favorite loofah for the rest of me.
Next week I'll start the more concentrated zapping - they'll be focusing the beam on the surgical spot. This does not sound fun and I am not looking forward to having the scars "fried" any further. On the up shot, I was told that the rest of my skin would start healing once the treatment shifted from all boob to lumpectomy spot. The "suntan" is suppose to fade over time and match the rest of my skin in a year or less.
I have tried different recommended lotions, creams and ointments during the radiation. You can't use anything with fragrance, etc. it has to be the plainest of basic lotions. During the day, after treatment, I use Natural Care Gel by Bard which I found in the hospitals out-patient pharmacy. At night or when I can go topless in the house, I cover myself in Elta which is a Swiss skin care moisturizer. These two things may have saved my skin and my sanity (as much as they could have been saved).
I only have 6 more zappings to go!