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


It has to be a mistake………..Breast Cancer could not happen to me!

It is true that, at the end of the breast screening session at which I had my first mammogram, the radiographers did tell me that some people are recalled to have their mammogram results checked. It is also true that I did not pay a great deal of attention to that. Breast cancer could not happen to me, could it?

This is partly because I knew the staff had reached the end of their day and I did not want to hold them back. It was also because having a mammogram is not a very pleasant procedure, so I just wanted to get back to my husband waiting patiently in the car and go home. Most importantly, it was because I discounted the information: I was sure the breast cancer was not going to affect me. The mammogram was just a precaution.

I have already explained, my mind set, breast cancer did not happen to me.  Imagine my irritation when I got a notification for recall after the screening. It was clear to me that there must be a mistake. Perhaps the radiographer had been in such hurry to get home as my appointment has been the last one of the day, that she had made a mistake.  It must be a mistake……………………..

Breast cancer can affect anyone, man or woman. Breast cancer affects                                             
1 in 10 women in Scotland at some time in their life. It is
known that if breast cancer is found at an early stage,
treatment has the greatest chance of being successful.
The best way of screening for breast cancer is by having
regular mammograms, as you may not be able to see or feel any early changes to your breasts.

So on 19 April I attended the breast screening centre.  The correspondence I received in relation to the breast screening explained that the series of tests and examinations could take several hours. My long suffering husband did take me to the hospital, however, he did not sit and wait around. That is too hard for anybody.

This area of the hospital has been refurbished and is bright. The staff, without exception, are supportive, cheerful and professional. The patients remove their upper clothing and wear little pink shawls which will never win a design award, but are convenient, bearing in mind the examinations they will undergo.

The tests I was subjected to during this recall were, first of all another mammogram. By now I was paying more attention. A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray exam of the breasts to look for changes that are not normal. The results are recorded on x-ray film or directly into a computer for a doctor called a radiologist to examine.

A mammogram allows the doctor to have a closer look for changes in breast tissue that cannot be felt during a breast exam. It is used for women who have no breast complaints and for women who have breast symptoms, such as a change in the shape or size of a breast, a lump, nipple discharge, or pain. Breast changes occur in almost all women. In fact, most of these changes are not cancer and are called “benign,” but only a doctor can know for sure. Breast changes can also happen monthly, due to your menstrual period.

In addition to this the doctor required me to have an ultra sound. The primary use of breast ultrasound today is to help diagnose breast abnormalities detected by a physician during a physical exam (such as a lump or bloody or spontaneous clear nipple discharge) and to characterize potential abnormalities seen on mammography or breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Ultrasound imaging can help to determine if an abnormality is solid (which may be a non-cancerous lump of tissue or a cancerous tumor) or fluid-filled (such as a benign cyst) or both cystic and solid. Ultrasound can also help show additional features of the abnormal area. When an ultrasound examination reveals a suspicious breast abnormality, a physician may choose to perform an ultrasound-guided biopsy. Because ultrasound provides real-time images, it is often used to guide biopsy procedures. An ultrasound exam will usually need to be performed before the biopsy in order to plan the procedure and to determine if this method of biopsy can be used.

The doctor could not find the shadow that he saw on the mammogram in the ultra sound scan, so he did decide to try to burst the shadow, but when that did not work he decided to have biopsies taken.  The nurse who took the biopsies was very skilled. She managed to take 12 biopsies from a nip on my breast no bigger than the size of the top of a pin.

The visit took a total of almost 3 hours. At the end of it the doctor explained that he could not tell if the shadow he saw was benign or not. When he asked me if I had any questions, all the questions were dependent on the shadow being a cancerous tumour. Therefore I chose not to ask anything.  At this point even I began to have doubts, maybe breast cancer could happen to me.  Make sure you get checked regularly.

This wicked, shamed disease is no respecter of dignity.  It could happen to you.

Valerie Penny

Man or Woman: Breast Cancer Could Happen To You

invasive_lobular_carcinoma[2]_tcm8-79021  You have to appreciate the mind set. It couldn’t happen to me…………  I could not be one of those statistics. There was no question of me suffering breast cancer. So when I was sent an appointment for a mammogram, I was more concerned about the convenience of the time slot; the embarrassment factor of getting my tits out and the pain and indignity of the process. At no time did I consider what a remarkable machine has been developed and what skilled people interpret the results. It never occurred to me that this could be a significant event.

When you have a mammogram, a skilled technologist positions and compresses your breast between two clear plates. The plates are attached to a highly specialized camera, which takes two x-rays of the breast from two directions. Then the technologist repeats the technique on the opposite breast. For some women, more than two pictures may be needed to include as much tissue as possible.

Mammography can be painful for some women, but for most it is just mildly uncomfortable, and the sensation lasts for just a few seconds. Compressing the breast is necessary to flatten and reduce the thickness of the breast. The x-ray beam should penetrate as few layers of overlapping tissues as possible. From start to finish, the entire procedure takes about 20 minutes. A diagnostic mammogram generally takes more time than a screening mammogram because it takes more pictures from more angles.  mammogram

So, having rearranged the date and time to one that suited me, I was the last appointment in the mobile breast screening unit on 22 March. I was greeted with a smile and made to feel as comfortable as possible before the screening began. While the unit was effectively a modified caravan in a health centre car park, the female radiographers could not have been more courteous or professional.

This is not a dignified process. It is uncomfortable. However, it is worth swallowing your pride, put aside your embarrassment and shame, because, you see, those suffering from breast cancer are not statistics. It could, and did, happen to me: in fact, whether you are a man or a woman, it could even happen to you.

Valerie Penny

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