Everyone told me that radiotherapy was going to easy, and that it is simple compared to chemotherapy. So I was obviously expecting it to be a extremely easy. I had gone through 6 hard months of chemotherapy and I just waltzed into radiotherapy. By God, was I wrong!
I found the 6 weeks of radiotherapy awful. I hated it. From start to finish. The treatment itself was painless but the whole process of it was terrible. So let me explain why.
Basically, what happens in radiotherapy is that a very targeted area of your body receives radiation. The idea being that it will kill off any cancer cells that may remain. My cancer was extremely close to my rib bones so I had to get this treatment. Before the treatment starts, you get marked out for it and you also receive tiny tattoo markings to guide the nurses to the correct area. The consultant told me all the side effects, including sore skin, burnt, itchy skin, feeling of tiredness, soft tissue and skin hardening, increased firmness, scaring, pigmentation, shrinkage, ribs sensitive to trauma and sore ribs when you cough. These all seemed acceptable.
My biggest problem was the journey. I had to go to the hospital in Cork, CUH, every week day for my treatment, for 6 weeks in a row. The hospital is over 90 miles away from my home in Castletownbere and a 4 hour return journey. It was exhausting. I used to get up, drop the children to school and play-school, drive up, get treatment and then drive home again to collect the children from school. I remember bursting out crying at home after the first week wondering how I was going to get through this. Everyone had said that it was easy. So why was I finding it awful?
I think that many people who had had this treatment had actually stayed in Cork for the whole of their treatment. This must have been fantastic. And would have been great if I could have done it. But at the time my children were very small and I had to commute for this time.
As the weeks went on, I got more tired and exhausted from it. I drove as many days as I could myself. The treatment itself was fine. Also, I had many volunteers who drove me. They included Peader Lowney, Aunt Delia Power, Mathew Higgens, Uncle Jim Goggin, Joanna Murphy, Andrea Lotty, Jayne Sutton, Eileen McGrath, Paul Dudley, my Mom, my Dad, and my husband Dave. I will never forget the kindness shown to me by my community during this time. Many more people offered to help me too. It was amazing.
As the weeks rolled on, I used to stay in my Aunt Margaret Wiseman's house in Cork one night a week. It gave me great time to catch up with family and in many ways, it was a very special time. The treatment itself was agreeing with me and the only side effects were redness of my skin around my breast. I used lashings of cream as the nurses recommended and rubbed this in morning and night.
My first treatment was on Monday the 30th of April, 2012 and my final treatment was on Tuesday the 11th of June, 2012. 6 weeks of treatment, 5 sessions a week, 30 blasts of radiotherapy in total. The treatment itself only took a few minutes, lying on a medical type of bed, with my right hand out stretched above my head. The nurses were lovely and the treatment was always on time. Some days I might only be in the hospital 20 minutes. The radiation only took a few minutes.
This is what I used to lay on getting my treatment.
I was also very lucky in that my skin did not burn. I continued my treatment straight through. Many other patients were not as lucky and I remember speaking to other patients who were having severe burning and had to stop treatment to allow their skin to recover.
This is a photo of my skin after 5 weeks of treatment. You can see the redness, especially under my breast.
There was a constant flow of patients at the radiotherapy department. Rural "cancer buses" service these departments and a daily bus loads of patients would come from West Cork and Kerry. What a laugh we used to have together! Especially with the Kerry people. They were fantastic. I made some lovely friends that I remain in contact with. We used to have tea and biscuits when we were waiting for our appointments. I have some very fond, happy memories of these times.
And after 6 long, hard weeks the treatment came to an end. Thank God. I was never so delighted to be finished anything. I could not believe that I had done it. I had totally under estimated radiotherapy. And I certainly did not find it easy.
On a positive not, it was certainly character building. And after having gone through that ordeal and completing it, I definitely now feel that I can get through anything. The genuine kindness shown to me during that time in my life was unbelievable and I will never forget the support that I got from family, friends and from my community. Thank you all for getting me through radiotherapy.