Radiotherapy after Breast Cancer

My Uncle suffered from colon cancer and had told me that radiotherapy was not nearly as difficult to bear as chemotherapy. However, when I came to receive radiotherapy for my breast cancer, I came to disagree with him. Radiotherapy treatment is planned and delivered by specially trained professionals called therapy radiographers. It is given by a machine called a linear accererator. Breast cancer patients are usually treated for between 3 to 6 weeks.

The treatment only lasts a few seconds, but to get prepared and settled on the machinery, the period each patient is in the room is about 10 minutes. I needed four weeks treatment. It is given on week days, every week day except for public holidays, for the stated period, so I had to go for treatment 5 days a week for four weeks.

The treatment, at least at first, is painless. Still, reasons that I did not agree with my uncle were that the journey to the hospital that delivers the treatment is an hour’s drive from where I live, and an hour’s drive back. Given that and the wait for treatment at the beatsonhospital could mean a 3-4 four round trip. That was terribly tiring. Also, the treat ment is given in a large room that contains nothing but a chair to place my cloths on, a screen for the radiographers to stand behind as they deliver treatment and the machine, itself.

Patients are not treated by the same radiographers each day and students, male or female, may be amongst the team. I should have been asked if I was willing to have a student present , but I never was. Like many who suffer from breast cancer, I come from a generation that is not used to displaying my body to other people, especially much younger men. I was simply told to take off the clothes on my top half and come over to the machine. It was embarrassing and demeaning. I was just given a piece of paper towel to cover my modesty. Needless to say, that did not work!

The way this treatment was delivered was embarrassing and demeaning. The journey to get the treatment was long and tiring. During treatment I had to lie in a specific position so that the radiotherapy could be delivered most accurately. The radiographers dimmed the lights for a short time while they positioned the machine. They then stood behind the b machinescreen while the treatment was delivered.Once or twice the treament given was slightly different in that it was a boost to my scar area. However, the method of delivery and the lack of attention to personal sensitivities was the same as ever.

The treatment results in a cumulative effect to the cancer and side effects. At first, I felt no different after treatment. It was only after two weeks or so that I bagan to feel side effects and so terribly tired, weary, as a result of the treatment. It also caused burning on and in the flesh around my breast. The hospital provded aqueous cream to soothe that.

I needed the radiotherapy to help beat the cancer, but it was difficult to bear.

Valerie Penny


After My Breast Cancer Operation

Mr Osman does not use stitches in this kind of operation: he used glue. So I had to avoid soaking in a hot bath or taking showers that were long or hot. The cut under my arm was really a bit more uncomfortable that the cut on my breast.

I was terribly tired and slept for a large part of the day but I did have plans for the evening of the day after my operation. I could not cancel them without inconveniencing several people. I do not do that lightly. I run a writing group wkwriters you will find their work on their website and that evening was the only time the Scottish National Theatre Company was coming to the village. I had tickets for the members oft he group, wkwriters, to attend their performance. I needed to distribute the tickets to the members and I wanted to be there, if at all possible. It is very unusual for such a prestigious theatre company to visit a community as small as ours. I feel it is important to support such ventures to encourage them to be repeated. The play, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, was a sell out and part of the summer term course for my class. We put together reviews.  

I realise it probably took more energy than was sensible to attend the performance by the Scottish National Theatre Company. The following days were more exhausting than I could ever have imagined. Recovery was uppermost on my mind: but the road to recovery would take far more time than I could ever have imagined.

Valerie Penny

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