What Is Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer Really Like? – Readers Share

Radiation therapy was not part of my breast cancer treatment plan, but I did witness it from a daughter’s perspective when my mother had it. I get emails asking me about radiation, so I wanted to address the topic here on the blog. When I haven’t experienced something breast cancer related myself, I often put out the call to you, my Dear Readers, usually via an email (sign up here). 

I was particularly interested in if anyone felt marginalized. The responses speak for themselves about that and so much more. Thank you to those who generously shared about their experiences for this post.

Excellent information about radiation therapy for breast cancer is readily available, all you have to do is a bit of Googling or, of course, ask your medical team. For starters, check out Radiation for Breast Cancer on American Cancer Society’s site. BreastCancer.org explains radiation therapy nicely too.

As always, please remember this blog is not a substitute for “real” medical advice.

Some women (and men) will receive radiation therapy as part of their breast cancer treatment plan and some will not. It all depends on your type of surgery, whether or not your cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body, tumor size, age and other factors.

Basically, radiation is treatment utilizing high-energy rays that destroy cancer cells. External beam radiation is used most commonly when treating breast cancer. As the name implies, the source of the radiation is external – a machine that delivers the rays.

The other kind is internal beam radiation (brachytherapy). With this type, a radioactive source is positioned in the body.

Traditionally, patients have received whole breast radiation for five days a week for five to six weeks. This was the schedule my mother was put on. With whole-breast radiation, the entire breast is treated. Newer methods deliver the radiation to the precise area where the cancer is located; this is called partial-breast radiation. In addition, some doctors are now offering accelerated irradiation. This means larger doses are given over a shorter time span. This makes the whole ordeal somewhat more manageable for some. Some patients also receive what’s referred to as a boost when treatment winds down.

Generally, radiation treatment begins after your lumpectomy or other surgical wound has healed.

What are the side effects of radiation therapy?

The most common side effects are skin issues that may (or may not) crop up such as reddening, swelling, itching, burning, soreness and sometimes peeling. And let’s not forget our old friend, fatigue.

I don’t know abut you, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing quite like hearing about the experiences of those who’ve been through it.

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So, now it’s time to hear from the experts, the dear readers who shared.

Roberta recently finished radiation and described what her experience was like:

To prepare for radiation, I had a CT scan and markings (tattoos) were made on my torso so they knew where the tumor (surgery) was and could calculate how to radiate that area plus a certain diameter around it. The markings are tiny, hardly noticeable, two on the middle of my torso and one on each side under the arms. I didn’t know this, but radiation beams pass through you. They have to be very careful not to harm other organs around the breast. Our radiation machines are in the basement of the cancer center because beams would keep going forever if not stopped by metal or concrete. Radiation was done every day for 5 or 16 days (you get weekends off). It’s pretty routine. You get there, change, wait to be called, lie down on a table – sorta like an MRI table. They line up your tattoos with their machines, and then they leave the room. The machine does its thing by moving around you or the table moves to whatever position is required. They are not noisy like MRI’s but do make whirring sounds as the machine moves around. I was on the table about 25 minutes each time. I think if you go for the 16 treatments they are shorter treatments, but you also have to do a holding your breath routine for whole breast radiation. I got to lie there very still and relax. If one could. I didn’t feel a thing during the treatments. The machine comes close to you at times but never touches you. They gave me some cream right after the first treatment. I was to use it on my breast 3 times a day even if I didn’t get a rash or sunburn effect. Near the last treatment, I noticed a slight sunburn, and I did get a pimple type rash but not severe. It has been 6 days since my last treatment, and the skin is almost back to normal, no hardness anywhere, which is sometimes a side effect. I was told radiation keeps working in your body for up to 3 weeks after treatment. It was weird to know the radiation stays with you for awhile. They said I might get tired after. I wasn’t sure this would happen as I felt pretty good. However, day 5 I noticed I was tired, very tired at times. I go to meetings and can hardly keep my eyes open. They say to rest when you feel this way and be sure to get exercise, sleep and eat healthy. I haven’t been too good with any of these.

If you have whole breast radiation, you cannot receive radiation there again should cancer recur or if a new cancer presents. With partial radiation you can have radiation again. Now I just have to do my follow-up exams, and then I think I’m done. I will have to work on better coping skills and not worrying about the future.

Throughout the radiation experience, I did not feel marginalized at all. The staff and doctors treated me with the utmost respect and made sure I understood every step and all my options.

Julia had this to say: 

1) Radiation is hard. You have to make yourself turn up day after day, even as you can feel the effects increasing. Psychologically, it’s tough and it’s lonely.
2) There’s not a lot of sympathy or compassion – several people said something like, “at least you aren’t having chemo…” sort of as if that negated my whole radiation experience. I had seven weeks of radiation and not one person offered help, except for my dad. Perhaps part of this is that radiation doesn’t really have a public image (for better or worse). It’s really a mystery to most people, and the side effects are less predictable than chemo and continue to arise months and years after treatment.
3) There are teeny, tiny upsides – I will never have to shave my left axilla again! Nor is sweat an issue on that side.
4) On feeling marginalized – Many women who’ve had MX or BMX do not realize that a LX and RT can impact a woman deeply. I suspect medical professionals don’t either. Maybe this comes from that tendency to make comparisons – “well, at least you got to keep your breast”. Many ROs don’t follow their patients for long and are notorious for brushing off most side effects. 
Teresa also responded candidly about feeling marginalized: 
Because of my fair skin and the location of my tumor, I’ve suffered severe burns. It’s now 3 months since I began radiation, and I think the worst is finally over. I’ve suffered so much, but am reluctant to reach out, as I always hear how lucky I am that I didn’t have chemo, and how “so and so” had it much worse. Also, people don’t understand the worst effects of radiation are after treatments are finished, and they seem a bit skeptical, because “so and so” had radiation and it was a breeze. When I hear these things, I can’t help but marginalize myself, too, thinking maybe I am a wimp. Thank you for helping me validate my cancer experience.
Rebeca, blogger behind The small c, shares candidly in a blog post, They said it was the easiest part:
I have to say that, emotionally, radiation was worse for me than chemo. I did not cry during my chemo infusions, but I did during radiation treatments…Because I was told that radiation would be the “easiest” part of my treatments, I did not ask anyone to come with me. Each daily appointment was no longer than 30-45 minutes anyway, including the wait. I thought I could handle it juuust fine.
Kathi, aka, The Accidental Amazon, shared the following in her blog post, Glowing in the Dark – Radiation: 
Receiving radiation treatment for cancer is a lot like being abducted by aliens & spirited off into outer space. You are led into this white room & instructed to lie down on a table topped with a metal grid with a meager strip of upholstery down the middle, all of which goes up & down on a hydrolic lift. At the head of this table is what looks like a massive floor lamp & is called a linear accelerator…
They leave the room because they are about to shoot poison death-rays at you. I mean, let’s not get cute here. They want to get the heck out of the way. So, they go into another room where they watch you on a video camera that shows you on their computer screen, so that they don’t get zapped while they’re zapping you & also so that you don’t secretly wiggle once they’ve left you all nice & lined up to get zapped.
 Angela offered the following tips, with a healthy dose of humor thrown in too:
1) Invest in multiple jugs of aloe with pumps; you will need them everywhere you go. Make up travel sizes too.
2) Get used to not wearing a bra. Invest in tank tops and camisoles to keep things a little tamed.
3) Invest in Miaderm, you can buy it online. Amazon is a good place to get it.
4) Clip coupons for Aquaphor, Eurcerin, etc. as it gets expensive buying that stuff.
5) Get as much sleep as you can; you may not get much when you feel like you are on fire and can’t roll over in bed and are itching all the time…And about that fatigue, they told me to “just go with it”. Uh huh. I slogged my way to treatment and then to my job.
6) Don’t wear your favorite things – unless you are fine with greasy favorite things.
7) Remember, this too shall pass. You’ll be surprised how fast you will heal and the burn will fade, but you’ll also be surprised how long you will see your “tan” – mine lasted a year. (Like a sash for Miss America. Yep. I sure felt like Miss America!)
8) Radiation may make you more susceptible to developing lymphedema, just one more gift to be thankful for…along with heart, lung and bone damage worries, if you have full-breast radiation. Gulp. But the latter are very rare, they said.
If you’re facing radiation, I hope reading this post gives you some idea about what to expect. Please remember, every person is different and your experience will be uniquely yours. As usual, learning from others who’ve been there can help just a bit.


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If applicable, please share about YOUR radiation experience with a comment below. If you’re a blogger and have written a post about it, feel free to share the link as well. Thank you!


Have you had radiation therapy and if so, how did it go for you?


If yes, did you ever feel marginalized and hear things like, at least you didn’t need chemo or at least you got to keep your breast(s)?


If applicable, did you experience side effects from radiation therapy and/or are you now?


Do you have any tips to add for someone about to begin radiation?


This is one type of machine used to deliver external radiation – a lineac. Image via myradiotherapy.com

 #Radiation Therapy for #BreastCancer, What's It Really Like?

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47 thoughts to “What Is Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer Really Like? – Readers Share”

  1. At the beginning of November 2017 I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in my left breast. After meeting with my surgeon and oncologist it was decided that my treatment plan would be six rounds of chemo three weeks apart, then a lumpectomy, and then six weeks of radiation. My chemo was not bad. I did lose my hair, my taste was affected, and some neuropathy that I already had worsened. I almost looked forward to my chemo treatments because my husband and daughter always went with me and we made a party of it. My daughter would bring a cooler that she had packed with snacks and she would say that we were “tailgating”. I never had any nausea or any of the other awful side effects. My surgery couldn’t have gone better. Then came radiation. I first met with my team — nurse, nurse practitioner, and radiation oncologist. Everything was explained to me and I was reassured that they were all available at any time should I have any questions, and that I would meet with each of them every Monday for the six weeks that I was being treated. My actual experience was much like Roberta’s. Each morning I would drive to the medical pavilion, sign in, change into a hospital gown and wait to be called. I did not have tattoos — instead they made marks on me with magic markers to indicate the area to be targeted. During my second appointment a mold had been made to position me correctly; however, the technicians would work very hard to position me correctly, often taking quite some time to get me in the precise position needed. The radiation itself only took about 6 minutes. Tomorrow I will have my last radiation treatment and I am almost sad to see it end. I have met some remarkable women there — both employees and patients. I often say that if I had to have breast cancer, I couldn’t have had a better experience. I am so grateful to the women and men who have treated me. To a person they have treated me as someone they actually cared about.

    1. Helen, I am glad you’ve had such good care and wonderful support. It’ll be a strange, but good feeling to finish up RT tomorrow. My best to you as you move forward. Thank you for sharing about your experience.

    2. I was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer, had a lumpectomy and am meeting with two oncologists tomorrow to review and start radiation for the next five weeks. Been through so many emotions in the past two months I sometimes feel like driving into a guardrail would feel better. Mostly everyone in my close circle has been so wonderful, wanting to come with me to appointments, drive, errands. The only one who is not here is my partner, whom Ive been with over twenty years. He is experiencing a lot of anxiety mixed with stupidity. Don’t mean to say that but true. He was great for about two days after my lumpectomy and now has very little to say =except “get over it, you’re fine” ok enough for now . feeling really sad and scared.

  2. I had a lumpectomy almost 2 years ago and subsequent radiation with the boost — 7 weeks, 5 days a week. I was very stoic about it and felt it was just something to get through and now everything would be fine. The staff was all very considerate and kind. The machine was scary and the room cold and sterile and dark, I always kept my eyes closed because I was afraid if I opened them and saw the machine inches from my face moving, I would freak out. I had burned skin at the end which healed, and now still have a tan on that side. I had extreme anxiety and panic attacks and sleeplessness after it was all through. It was like, okay, I’ve made it, now I can let myself feel all the emotions I held in check. I try to be positive that now it’s all behind me and they say “time heals all”. I live in fear of the other shoe dropping and breast cancer rearing it’s very ugly head again. I may look fine on the outside and people always remark how great I look — like I should look like death warmed over and on the brink. I have a big ugly scar on my psyche now I try to run from. I take Yoga, eat very healthy and jog some. I plan to live another 30 years healthy but if cancer crosses my path again, all the anger and sorrow will return — lots and lots of anger. And everyone sweeps it under the rug.

    1. Nancy, You’re not the only one who’s tried to remain stoic. Lots of us have done the same from time to time. It’s pretty common to have emotions you’ve kept in check surface later on. I’m wondering if you have a good support person or two to confide in, or if you belong to an online community. your emotional well being matters, too, and your feelings of anger and sorrow or whatever shouldn’t just be swept under the rug. Perhaps mention them to your doctor or someone else you feel comfortable with. You’re always welcome to share here and you can be as candid as you want. Lots of us get it. Thank you for sharing so candidly.

  3. I was HAPPY to get radiation for I felt I would do ANYTHING in lieu of chemotherapy, For the first week of daily radiation appointments, I skipped into the place and hopped out…I was that grateful to be spared chemo, a feeling that was reinforced as I saw some of the women there who did chemo first then were getting radiation. By the second week I was getting a little tired….and my bra started to hurt on the left side: the side being treated…..By the fourth week I had weeping sores on my breast and had to change dressings multiple times a day. I was taking Advil and Tylenol round the clock. It hurt so much! By the last week I was sobbing (and I am no coward!) because nothing could relieve the pain of my skin breaking down. Nothing. And I was so fatigued all the time. The radiologist said I could stop at treatment 26, three short of the 30 treatment plan because of the condition of my skin. It took weeks to heal, and my breast was warm to the touch for months. I felt I was DECEIVED by people who told me it would be “like a sunburn”…nay, I was LIED to. If I could upload pictures to this site I would happily share what it was like for me.

      1. it was horrible…took some time to heal physically and spiritually….and get strength back…last summer was a wash.
        And then I started the aromatase inhibitors and realized ….I will always be a cancer patient…it does not stop. This was not a bump in the road….it is a whole new landscape. And yet people (family & friends) seem to think it is all behind me now…no one even asks how it is going. I feel kinda abandoned. I dont mean to feel sorry for myself, so I wont bring it up, but, I am the only person who “gets it”…..its lonely here!!
        I do appreciate sharing with you…thanks!

        1. The aromataze inhibitors have caused so much pain in my joints and muscles . I can barely move when I first get up in the am, or when I get out of my car, feel like I’ll fall when I first get up.
          Just had right hip replaced, but ankles and left shoulder are now so tender, has anyone else had joint replacements or this kind of pain. Forget stairs, I avoid them at all cost as I need both railings to support myself .
          The first inhibitor Fumara I could not tolerate so taking Anasterole , a sister drug?? It’s not great, weight gain
          and still joint pain . I hope I do not have to stay on this drug much longer , it’s been 3 years now with a 6 week break, then back on it.

    1. Carolyn, I’m sorry you had such nasty side effects and that you felt deceived. How awful. I hope you’re doing well now. I appreciate that you took time to share about your experience. Thank you.

    2. I just finished radiation 3 wks ago and, like you, had an absolutely miserable experience. Originally, I was supposed to do 33 rounds of radiation (the last 5 being boosters). I was fine until wk 5, then all hell broke loose. My skin blistered and broke out in radiation induced eczema over a wknd I was off from rads. Nothing helped w/ the pain, not even hydrocodone. My secondary radiation oncologist(s) (I saw 2 dr’s because my main dr was only at the facility once a week) had me take 5 days off to heal. I came back after the break with new blistering and broken, weeping, bleeding sores and my main dr wanted me to resume treatment that day. I felt so pressured to finish (and didn’t want to at ALL) that I agreed to come back later in the day for my treatment, then went home and immediately called my oncologist to discuss it with her (she told me to quit, that she was abhorred the dr would allow me to continue w/ my skin in the condition it was).

      Like you, I feel lied to. Everyone said it would be a breeze and at most their patients just end up with “the sunburn”. Well, my skin is not typical and freaked out beyond words. It would have been nice to know what I went through was a possibility. And 3 wks later, I’m still having problems. I developed cellulitis where the bleeding wounds were and was on 10 days of antibiotics. Now I’m having a dermatitis outbreak all over the breast that was radiated and all around it; I itch constantly and NOTHING helps it. I’m more miserable now than I was at any time during the other treatments I had including chemo.

  4. Angela summed it up well! I had 20 sessions about a year ago. Skin very irritated but didn’t break down. Whole breast was still sore at 1 year mark.

    I asked about PT last year & not referred. This year RO referred me to PT with manual lyphatic massage. Has helped so much! They showed me how to do it & swelling reduced. I knew about lyphedema of arm but didn’t have that. The lymph fluid collects under my arm & in breast. This works & also they press on areas that are lumpy & hurt but are not cancer. Also exercise, esp swimming has been very helpful.

    1. Renee, I’m glad your RO referred you so you could get your LE issues addressed. I’m sorry you have to deal with that too. You’re right about exercise, esp swimming being beneficial to managing LE. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Hello Nancy – thanks so much for this… I hope you won’t mind me butting in here as a person who has not undergone breast cancer treatment.

    When the hospital where I worked completed its beautiful new state-of-the-art Cancer Clinic, we were invited for a pre-opening tour for hospital staff led by Clinic employees. When we got to the radiation area, I asked our ‘tour guide’ if this brand new equipment would produce fewer problems with radiation-based burns (as some of my own friends with breast cancer had suffered with, and as both Carolyn and Nancy described in their comments here ).

    She quickly interrupted to correct me: “We prefer to call these ‘skin irritations’ – not burns!”

    “Honey”, I replied to her, “I’ve seen them with my own eyes. They’re burns!” After that tour, I always wondered how that particular radiation therapist prepares the women she’s about to treat for this experience. Would she be one of the ‘at least you’re not having chemo’ folks?

    1. Carolyn, You are never butting in here! My, that was an interesting response from your “tour guide”. Thank you for calling her out on that one! I wonder if she’d be one of those “at least” people too. Hope not. Thank you for adding to this discussion. Your insights are always valuable here, too, and very welcome, Carolyn.

  6. I had 22 radiation sessions a year ago to both breasts and armpits. My skin handled it well, but I started using aloe lotion immediately after the first treatment. I had the tattoos marked on my skin as described by someone else.

    The radiation room had a nice tree mural across the ceiling, and I found myself focusing on it daily as I went through treatment. The longest part was the radiation techs being very cautious with the lineup of the machine. I also was referred to physical therapy after it was done which I think helped. The techs were kind and considerate.

    However, one year later, I still have fatigue and breast pain which comes and goes. The tan lines lasted for months but are no longer noticeable. I also get comments about how great I look — I wish I felt as great as they say I look.

    1. Rene, I’m wondering if being referred to a PT is more commonly done now. I hope so. Many can benefit from that. I’m sorry you deal with fatigue and pain. As they say, looks can be deceiving, right? Thank you for sharing about your experience.

    2. Rene…. were your treatments in Edmonton??
      I just had 4 weeks of radiation in February of this
      Year and there were tree murals in the treatment area!
      And the same tattoo part…
      also, all the techs were so kind !
      So fortunate not to get the horrible burning some
      Women got…. I feel like I got off pretty easy.
      Still tired at times but I always have been, from
      Time to time.
      Wish everyone WELL!!

  7. I had 16 radiation sessions. Before they began it was suggested that I purchase some soft white cotton tops (home wear) and sports bras (going out wear). This worked really well. I was also told that I should smear my breast with Glaxal Base three times a day, I slathered it on six or eight times a day.

    My tattoos, lol, the lady who did them said they would just look like freckles, ummm, have any of you seen someone who has blue freckles?

    The receptionist and radiation team couldn’t have been nicer, well except for one stern faced lady who looked like she would rather be anywhere except where she was. My favorite one was a gentleman I had about half a dozen times, he always greeted me with a smile, played soft music for me while I was getting my treatment and always gave me kind words and a smile when I left.

    My first day of radiation, I laid on that table and shook like a leaf. After that I decided I had to find something that would keep me calm, then I discovered a few of the ceiling tiles had maple leaves etched on them, I etched them in my mind, it helped but there were not enough of them. The next time I tried a new game, I studied the two parts of the machine that traded sides, as for the zaps I counted them, I have to say the machine was really loud so I never missed any. This was definitely the best game, I stayed calm and the time seemed to pass quickly.
    So for anyone facing radiation I would suggest, buy some soft white cotton tops, a couple of sports bras, lots of whatever kind of cream they suggest, request that someone play some soft music for you and figure out some silly mind game to play while you are getting your treatments.

    1. Laura, Thank you for sharing about your experience and for your tips. I use one that you mentioned whenever I have unpleasant procedures done. I find a spot to zero in on and focus on. It can just be a spot on the wall. I learned that one in child birth prep classes and it works, for me anyway.

      1. Nancy
        l am a Retired Reg. N trying to be a support for my dearest friend as she starts her journey for treatment of Breast Cancer. She is currently early in her Chemo and will have Radiation in the Spring. l have treated a number of patients over my career as they went through both Chemo and Radiation
        Therapy to battle various Cancers. l applaud you for creating a forum where Women are able to share real experiences in a safe non judgemental
        place. l am writing this comment as more of a thought that occurs to me as l read some of the posts. The stories do not surprise me from a symptoms perspective, and each one touches me as l feel the strength and bravery of these writers sometimes despite their anger and painful memories. It is the comment about the benefits a Physio Therapy has brought to a few of these Women that made me think of another therapy that could offer help. l wonder if as well as PT Women would benefit from the offer of group or individual out patient counselling, a Therapist who specializes in the field of Oncology or Women’s Medical Outpatient Clinics. Having a clinician to help Breast Cancer Patients work through some of these very understandable issues as they go through treatment and later, post treatment, once they are in the first years after the treatment phase is complete. Perhaps as a resource, support for any latent feelings that may arise of anger, loss, grief and frustration. Surviving the Cancer is in itself life altering, it can only be a daily battle to then have to hear peoples ignorant insensitive comments even if they are meant as well meaning. For myself l can only think that if l heard some of the things l am reading have been said to these Brave Survivors, l would feel as though the commenters were trying to diminish the life and death battles these Women have fought and won.

        1. Tamarah, I would love to see more patients having access to a therapist or counseling of some sort. Sadly, a patient’s mental well-being isn’t typically addressed much, if at all, during cancer treatment. You’re right about cancer being a life-altering experience, regardless of stage. Evaluation, support and guidance (when wanted and necessary) from someone trained in mental health would be great. Sounds like your friend is lucky to have you in her life. My best to you both.

  8. Hi Nancy,

    This post is excellent, and it’s really interesting to see what other patients have gone through and their advice. I didn’t feel marginalized, but I went through this awful period of time alone. My boss and co-workers were not the most understanding — they thought it was great that I got to come to work late. Nevermind I was getting fried.

    We must have been thinking about the same topic because my latest post is about possible collateral damage from my radiation 17 years ago. I just published it today, but spent a week writing it: http://bethgainer.com/radiation-blues/

    1. Beth, Gosh, that must’ve been hard going through it alone. And your boss and coworkers sure didn’t get it. Jeez. Lucky you getting to come in to work late. Not! I look forward to reading your post. Thank you for sharing the link.

  9. Great post, Nancy! Thank you for including me. It’s too bad so many patients have to deal with the collateral damage radiation brings.

    I have been thinking about radiation and I think I know what contributed to my trauma. I spent countless hours searching about chemo and I was basically ready for the worst. For radiation, I only asked a couple of questions and was always told it was the easy part, so I didn’t look deep enough. Maybe, in a way, it was good. Maybe not. I’ll never know. But I can say that by knowing ALL the possible side effects from chemo, it sort of prepared me mentally, even though I was also scared. None of this is easy and all routes seem to have their tradeoffs.

    To me, all treatments associated with cancer are challenging in some way or another. Wish this wasn’t the case.

    1. Rebecca, Your last two sentences say it all. Nothing about cancer treatment is easy. And yes, who knows if you would’ve been less traumatized by RT if you had learned more about it beforehand. I’m sorry it was so hard. Thank YOU for allowing me to share your quote. I have never forgotten that post. It has an important message. Thank you for reading mine and for taking time to comment.

  10. I had quite a severe reaction to radiation, similar to a previous poster, Carolyn Aguirre. I had 16 treatments, and I experienced the beginnings of skin reactions early on. After treatments ended, I suffered bout after bout of burning, swelling, weeping and dry blisters, skin peeling, and pain. My breast has been and is still hot to the touch. Today is exactly 3 months from the date radiation began. I’ve read in several places that some women experience severe reactions as long as three months. I’m here, but I’m in the middle of yet another flare up with burning, tender skin and pain. I expect this one to subside soon, begin to look and feel more normal, then perhaps flare up again. It just goes on and on, and I honestly don’t ever expect my breast to look or feel normal again.

    1. Teresa, I am sorry you had such a severe skin reaction. It sounds horrible. I didn’t know some continue to have flareups that far out. I hope things continue to improve for you. Thank you for allowing me to share your quote and for commenting. My best to you.

    2. gosh, Teresa I feel for you….radiation is ….well it HURTS like nothing else….I have never been in such pain.

  11. Hi Nancy and all your dear readers!
    Thank you for including me in your post!
    I have found great comfort from being able to share some of my
    experiences/issues/rants/snarks/bitches/side effects/feelings/bad jokes/etc………

    My Radiation Experience.
    I remember waiting an eternity (3 weeks) for my oncotype Dx results
    This score would decide my fate,
    chemo or “just” radiation.
    I remember my fear,
    and saying to myself,
    oh, please, oh, please, no chemo………
    Score came back 19…….no chemo, “just” radiation………..
    I googled and youtubed and did it some more
    “just” radiation has it’s own possible long term effects

    I was tattooed and mapped and told it could take up to 10 days
    for the radiation plan to be ready.
    Oh………(head drops, shoulders slumped……….. more waiting)
    Then I would come in for a “mock” treatment
    Oh…….(wait some more)
    Then I would begin my 7 weeks of whole left breast radiation
    35 total treatments, with 7 boosts at the tumor bed at the end.
    I was given my double secret entry card, to be waved under the sensor
    so I was allowed in the magic kingdom
    like coming to a private club every day
    (everybody was real nice! They really were very kind, I almost missed them afterwards)
    I made all the usual bad jokes, you know, to make them feel more comfortable
    about radiating me………….
    and this started at the end of July and was to end near to mid September
    heavy sigh……………
    I was told to stay out of the sun……..LOL……..it’s summertime! 🙁
    Only use unscented for sensitive skin soap/bodywash ( I used Dove, still do, but with scents!)
    No aluminum deodorant (go ahead, look at all the labels and see what you have to choose from)
    Start using the aloe and aquaphor (here is a tiny sample) immediately after the very first treatment
    and immediately after every treatment after that
    apply generously
    at least a couple times a day.
    Ha…………..more like every hour
    It became an obsession
    there was a big pump bottle of aloe in the bathroom at work
    there was a big pump bottle of aloe in the bathroom at home
    and there were travel sizes I made up in every bag I owned
    and a box of all these potions next to my bed
    There was the aquaphor, eucerin,
    emu oil and calendula salve (after trip to the expensive natural food store)
    and Miaderm (with lidocaine!) from Amazon
    all after watching youtube videos
    and googling…..oh my…………
    I slathered and applied generously
    all day long
    my undershirts (tight tank or camisole) stuck to me
    all day long
    the aloe is very cooling as well as offering moisture

    ‘Cause every day I saw the colors get deeper
    the nipple & scars get purplish, browner

    the pink ribbon become more apparent…………………

    Oh the colors I turned!
    And how it truly did burn…………

    I am fair skinned and fair haired
    And I burn easily
    So of course I burned easily
    It was the worst “sunburn” under the sun!
    and I’ve had a few
    Skin irritation”??

    I can say that I did get tired, sometimes just plain exhausted.
    Sometimes it was like a drug induced tired
    like I think I’ll just lay down right here on the cool floor
    I continued to work full time
    Treatments were at 7:45 am, and then I was in work by 8:15
    I did go home a little early only one or two times
    They tell you to drink as much water as you can
    Get as much sleep as you can (lying on your back, unable to roll over)
    I could feel the heat emanating from the burn
    it was one angry boob!

    I was inspected weekly
    by the Doc and the Nurse
    Just a quick peek down under
    to check for the worst

    On treatment day 28
    the last day of my regular dose
    a quick peek down under
    showed the dusky crease had burst

    “Time to go dry” the nurse did proclaim
    and I looked on in a daze
    But I need my aloe!
    my boob is ablaze!

    No, No, she insisted
    time to go dry………….

    She cut up some Mepilex (amazingly awesome and on Amazon)
    crafting this big butterfly thing
    out of this thin silicone foam pad stuff
    and gently lifted my blazing boob
    and stuck the pad thing onto the crease

    Ohhh myyy, this is how we do “dry”…… aaahhhh
    Wear it for 3 days and no shower for 3 days!
    Nope, can’t get it wet!
    But keep applying goop generously to the surrounding tissue
    here are some extra pads………….heavy sigh……………..
    Here is what I wrote in my journal 3 days later
    ” The itches are mind blowing, sudden, stabbing, stinging itches
    bitches of itches
    I apply light pressure with my fingers to relieve the itch
    if I rub or itch an itch
    it would be bad……
    the skin there is like tissue paper.
    The sentinel node scar has turned into a large brownish, blackish,
    purplish patch of dry papery feeling skin”

    I walked around most of the day with my fingers held under the boob.
    Now remember: Disclaimer: You may not experience the same side effects,
    so don’t let mine influence you in aaany way
    But there are a lot of things you really aren’t told
    because everyone becomes a “wait and see tolerance level for {discomfort} thing……..
    the olde “pick a number between 1 & 10″ to describe your discomfort level”
    (boy, that statement & answer become much clearer later, after I started the next leg,
    the tiny little pill………..:(

    I highly recommend those Mepilex dressings OMGawd!
    Funky feeling stuff, but a lifesaver! (and sanity and pain)
    Sticks, but doesn’t stick, and cushiony
    Great for any open wound in an area that may rub and needs to “go dry”
    You know, for burn victims………………….

    So of course, my last 7 boost treatments were scheduled after Labor day.
    I was almost finished!!!! I finally finished on the 12th and on the 13th (wha whaaa)
    I began the 5 year plan.
    “Just” swallow this little white pill called anastrozole for the next 5 years……………..

    But that’s another story…………….

    So, in conclusion, the crease healed miraculously in about 2 weeks
    But boy, did I peel, flake, molt, and “pill” all over the place for many more weeks
    The whole darn boob came apart in pieces and sheets
    the poor nipple cracked and flaked brown bits
    and still I slathered and applied generously
    with all the potions I had
    (oh, and I have pictures, too!)
    The itches diminished, but would flare up suddenly
    The blazing heat diminished, but would flare up suddenly
    It’s been 21 months and I still get “the burn” sometimes
    The poor nipple was the most painful throughout, it has recovered, but ain’t quite the same
    Sometimes the whole boob aches and twinges for a day or two
    My recent 2 year mammo/ultrasound (all clear!) was a torture session of teat yanking
    actually the lady was really good, and thorough,
    she wanted a couple extra films, (groan)
    I have dense breast and had lobular carcinoma, both make it more difficult to detect, interpret
    and distinguish between normal tissue and suspicious,
    Sometimes being “special” ain’t so special……………

    I remember the last day of my treatments, they asked me if I wanted to keep the “club card” that I had used for the last 7 weeks or did I just want them to destroy it………………………..
    I hesitated for a mere matter of moments………..and then handed it to them
    I walked out the door, into the sunshine and felt so free,
    so ready to “move on”.
    Boy, was I still so naive……………………….
    and boy, am I still pissed,
    but I am still grateful to be alive……………..(and my apologies for being a blog hog again!)

    1. Tarzangela, You’re welcome. I thought your tips I included in this post were very helpful, and I love your humor with a dose of sarcasm thrown in as well. We need that too! Thank you for sharing about your experience.

  12. It’s been nearly two years since I finished radiation. Before I started, my breast oncologist told me to moisturize as often as I could, only avoiding the fours hours before treatment time. I can’t imagine how my skin would have reacted if I hadn’t taken her advice. By the third week, I was in pain most of the time. By the final session, my skin was blistered and weepy. Gross and painful. Even after all of this time, I still have residual aches and itching. I moisturize every day. Nothing like trying to scratch an itch on a breast you can’t feel!

    I documented every week of my radiation treatment on my blog. I even recorded a treatment and annotated it. I found that many people have this very vague idea of radiation treatment. I wanted to be able to show people the procedure and take the mystery out of it. Here is the link to my blog page of the video. https://anothercancerandme.com/2016/10/17/a-video-of-one-of-my-radiation-treatments/

    1. Tash, Nothing like trying to scratch an itch on a breast you can’t feel – boy I relate to that! Good for you for documenting your radiation treatment. You’re right, most people only have a vague idea of what radiation is about, so thank you for sharing the link and for your comment.

  13. My experience with radiation has been wonderful, especially compared to some of the things I read here. 21 treatments, 2 caring technologists (1 male, 1 female) and my radiation oncologist and nurse whom I absolutely love. The longest treatment was the first one and it took 20 minutes, including wait time. More frequently it was 7 minutes, they were usually waiting on me and I tried to get there 5 minutes early! My doc encouraged me to call any time, not to wait til Monday morning. No problems with skin, but I was diligent with aloe from my plant and coconut oil per my doc’s recommendation. I wish you all could have had the wonderful experience I did.

    1. I probably should have said that I am an engineer and have worked in the nuclear power industry for years so I know what radiation is and what it can do. No learning curve here.

  14. Just wanted to comment on a radiation storyline in a program we are watching called Borgen. It’s on Netflix and is about a woman who becomes Prime Minister of Denmark. In season three she’s no longer PM, is trying to form a new party, and finds out that she has ‘precancerous cells” in a breast. They operate, remove the cells, and she’s supposed to have 5 weeks of radiation. They show her having radiation and it all seems correct EXCEPT she went in to her doctor for tingling in her fingers and I suppose had a complete physical. Even the character, when she’s told about these cells, says, “I came in because my fingers were bothering me” and the doctor says that other symptoms can lead to a cancer diagnosis. I’m wondering: has anyone else gone to the doctor for something and ended up with a BC diagnosis?

    1. Linda, Interesting and annoying at times how we can’t get away from cancer even when watching TV. Before my diagnosis, I initially went to the doctor thinking I was having a heart attack. In fact, chapter one of my book is titled, “I think I’m having a heart attack!”. Even though my mother had recently died from mbc, I never suspected breast cancer. I had always heard that there’s not pain involved. Wrong. So in answer to your question, YES.

      1. Nancy,
        I went in with an arrhythmia episode and was diagnosed with Invasive Breast Cancer that had metastasized into my lymph nodes. Had a heart catheterization that showed my arteries were clear but I had a myocardial bridge. I still have the arrhythmia but had bilateral mastectomy on January 26th…

  15. No one has mentioned how hard radiation treatments are for those with back problems. I didn’t realize that once they got everything tattooed and marked and measured, I would not be able to, say, put a pillow under my knees to relieve pressure on my back. My technicians were kind, and considering that two of them always had to help me up from lying flat, they were good-hearted and strong! I left my first several treatments and sat in the car and cried, thinking about six more weeks of pain. I learned to use a warm towel on my back afterwards to soothe the pain. On another matter — I slathered faithfully (trying many things) and had a few tender sites towards the end, and continued slathering, but my worst skin breaks happened a couple weeks after treatments were done, which surprised me. They were painful but I felt lucky compared to some fellow-patients. My radiologist (closer to home) did not suggest physical therapy but when my oncologist (at my primary facility) found out, she immediately scheduled me for some, even months later. Through the P.T. I also got a bra insert to help prevent lymphedema — I don’t think anyone here has mentioned those inserts. All this was more than four years ago.

    1. Barbara, Thank you for sharing about your radiation therapy experience. God bless those kind technicians. PT is certainly underutilized. I’m glad you were able to have that. I’m confused about the bra insert helping to prevent LE. Perhaps you can clarify that.

  16. The inserts come in different shapes, and have some foam in them and ridges on the outside so it helps “massage” the breast. There are big binders full of types to choose from, that my P.T. haf, and she sent me to a person who ordered it for me.

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