Katie & Briscoe

Katie & Briscoe

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Closer Look at Radiation Treatments...

Five weeks of radiation down, and two more to go. I go in later than usual on Monday so they can do some additional setup for the final seven treatments, called "boost" treatments. So far, the radiation has targeted the entire breast. At this point there is actually a visible square from the middle of my chest to my armpit where the skin is darker and mildly irritated. It hasn't been overly uncomfortable, though on Friday the area in my armpit started being very irritated and tender. It's a bad location and one they warned me would likely be an issue. It's been really sore since I got up Friday and I guess it won't get any better until at least the end of the regular treatments. The "boost" treatments are more precisely targeted at the area where the tumor was located, so presumably it will miss my armpit.

So, I've decided to post some pics of the radiation machine and of the effects it can have on the skin. Some of these are a little graphic, but they're the reality of getting radiation therapy for breast cancer. (And other kinds of cancer as well.) We'll start with a few shots of the machine itself and the setup used for breast cancer patients.
This is the linear accelerator used for treatment. It rotates all the way around the treatment table so that it can precisely target the desired area of the body.
This shot shows the arm rests that arc over the top of the table. In my therapy we use both of them, so that both of my arms are lifted over my head. You can also see the lasers (which come from both sides and the ceiling) that are used to line up the machine.
The tattoos I mentioned in an earlier post are used to line up with these lasers. The bed moves in all directions, including the head of the bed (waist up) being able to pivot side to side so that they can make sure the lasers are lined up exactly.
This drawing shows how the beams are aimed from two directions so that the entire breast area is treated.

Okay, now come the more disturbing images. There are a few of them that show the damage that can be done by the treatments. If you're squeamish, you might want to skip over them.
This is very extensive skin damage. Generally, it isn't this bad. I'm nowhere near this irritated. But potential patients ought to know this kind of reaction is possible.
The quality of this image isn't great, but you can clearly see the outline of the treatment area. This is more what I look like right now. It's red and irritated, feeling a lot like a sunburn.
Blisters and irritation in the crease beneath the breast are also very common. I am having more trouble with my armpit at this point, though this area on me is tender.
These shots indicate the skin changes in a woman at the end of her radiation treatment and the same woman a month after the completion of her treatment. So you can see that the skin damage is a temporary issue.

Here is a list of several websites that deal with the side effects of radiation treatment, as well as offering some ideas for treating the side effects.

Radiation and the Skin
Be a Survivor
American Cancer Society: Radiation Therapy Effects
National Cancer Institute: Radiation Therapy and You

I know the idea of going into radiation therapy can be daunting. But it isn't as bad as it seems. And while some of the above images are scary, the truth is that most of us won't have severe reactions. Like the Chemo, the side effects vary tremendously from one patient to the next. I'm the kind of person who wants to know what the worst case scenario could be so that I don't have to worry about being caught off guard by it if it should happen. Through all my treatment, though, I can honestly say that I have had nothing near the worst of the side effects I have heard others talk about. I won't pretend that chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy is easy. Neither of them is. But it isn't the end of the world. They are temporary. A mere blip in the course of an entire lifetime. If you are facing cancer treatment, don't let it scare you. Inform yourself with every scrap of information you can get your hands on. Research, research, research! That way you won't have to be afraid of it. And trust that God is in control. If you are His child, you have nothing to fear at all because you can rest assured that He will carry you when you cannot carry yourself.

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