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Radiation: The emotional burn

Written by Amy Banocy

December 26, 2021

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. I think it’s been a combination of things….I haven’t felt much like writing/sharing updates, I’ve been exhausted from radiation and life in general, and oh yeah, my efforts have been so focused on this little project I’m doing called book writing! LOL! It’s a pretty demanding project, as you might imagine. AND, I am really enjoying it!

The other thing that has been weighing heavy on my mind and exhausting me, is all of these damn one year anniversaries….of mammogram (12/1), 2nd mammo (12/10), biopsies (12/24) and diagnosis (12/30).

There is BIG news though and I want to be sure I document and share it with you all here. On 12/14/21, I completed radiation!!! Yes, 25 rounds….done and done, thank you! All went according to schedule without any hiccups, which was nice after the bumpy road I had with chemo. My skin was barely even irritated until around day 21, which I was thrilled about. It’s healing now, albeit quite painful and burning.

Here’s the thing I’ll share about radiation, which I wasn’t prepared for….the emotional side! People kept telling me things like “The hard part is over.” and “Radiation is a breeze.”, so I went into it with an easy breezy attitude.

For me, lying on that table, and seeing my chest in the glass of the radiation machine was really hard! I felt so exposed and vulnerable. Not in an “Oh shit, I’m naked in front of people” sort of way, but in a “Holy shit, this cancer is still real and am having radiation, right here on this table” sort of way. I’d lay there, trusting that these invisible beams were hopefully killing any rogue cancer cells and the tears would just come. It was like cancer was literally staring me down, as I saw my breast in the reflection. My new breast and chest, all marked up. My new breast, with no nipple, that is. I was once again reminded that my body was forever changed.

And having to do that every fucking day, 5 days a week, for 5 weeks….cancer was slapped in my face constantly. It was mentally exhausting! Physically, I had a lot of pain, tingling and numbness in my upper arms when I had to hold them in position, which was bent overhead. This got better as the sessions moved faster, but on the longer days, man oh man, it could bring on the tears too. Imagine having the worst pins and needles, plus the worst itching and burning feeling, and you can’t move or do anything about it. Not fun, my friends. Not fun.

During the first session, I had an unexpected near panic attack All the lights, the sounds, the beeping, not being able to move while uncomfortable, seeing my reflection, all.of.it. It was awful and scary. I tried to meditate and picture myself on a beach, but thinking about the sand made my body itch more. I was able to do a lot of breathing and talk myself through it. When that first session was over, I was so relieved! Unfortunately, the first few sessions were really tough, but I did get into somewhat of a routine/groove, and the days began to pass much faster as they went on.

My radiation team was amazing! They were so kind and caring! Seeing their smiles everyday, was definitely uplifting and helped me get through this part of treatment.

I learned that there is some crazy mad science behind radiation y’all! The steps they take to create a plan for each person and their particular body and needs, is amazing. It takes a team of physicists and the radiation oncology team to make it all happen. Since my radiation was to my left chest wall, I needed a way to protect the radiation from reaching my heart. How they do this is called Deep Inspiration Breath Hold (DIBH).  I would take a deep breath in each time before the radiation was emitted and hold this breath while the radiation is delivered. This was repeated 8-10 times per treatment. By taking a deep breath in, my lungs filled with air and my heart would move away from my chest. I found that some days this was easier than others. I had a little monitor near my face that would light up green when my breath was in the right range. That’s where I’d hold it. If for any reason, I let my breath go, the radiation would stop. It was smart enough to know that it had to stop! Pretty cool stuff!

After the last treatment, I decided to ring the bell. I hadn’t done this with chemo, and felt differently this time. I felt officially DONE with radiation and the bell was a way to mark that. It felt good! Oh and it was super loud, which took me by surprise and made me chuckle a bit. It felt so good to smile, laugh and BE DONE! Derek and I shared lots of hugs afterward and celebrated with a delish breakfast at First Watch.

For me, I wouldn’t necessarily say radiation is easier than chemo. There were certainly ways in which it was easier, but I would say it was a different kind of hard. It was hard having cancer in my face every day with radiation. With chemo, at least there’s time in between. As for side effects, yes, it was much, much easier than chemo! Both are a different kind of hard physically, emotionally and mentally.

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