What is Radiation like during Breast Cancer

Oh how I dreaded Radiation.  Probably more than Chemo.  My aunt was a Radiation Tech back in the 1950s and told me all of the horror stories.  However, my actual experience has been far better than I hoped it would be.  Thank you modern technology.

After your initial CT scan, not a diagnostic CT, Radiation Oncologist maps the area.  The Rad Onc team figure dosage, and try to miss your heart and lungs and in my case the esophagus.  That’s all scarey, but I don’t have any control over it.  I chose my physician and facility wisely, and that’s all I can do.

The 5 days a week going to Radiation is tiring, but it goes by quickly.  I am half done (almost) and it does fly by.  When I get to the hospital, I get called back usually right away, take off my upper clothing, get under the machine in my custom fit body mold that was done previously.  The Rad Techs line you up with the miniscule tattoos that were placed on mapping day.  There are laser beams located in the radiation room that align with your tattoos, and you are in alignment. I’m getting so good I can almost line myself up now.

I really like my Rad Techs and nurse, so I probably talk to them more than I should.  After all those months of Chemo locked up in the house with little socialization, when I get out now, I want to talk!   When they finally can get out of the room, the machine is on a pre-programmed cycle and is pretty much the same every day.  Mine lasts for about 8 minutes. You have to put your hands over your head.  I tend to squeeze the bars too hard and cause myself tension.  It is frightening the first two times, then the high powered machine sort of becomes your friend.  You get used to the sounds and noises.

Once a week, the Radiology Oncologist checks you, your vitals, your skin, and your side effects.  And also once a week, a couple of x-rays are taken under the machine to make sure you are still lined up properly.

Side effects

Skin – every day I slather my lotions and potions on my Mastectomy breast, up to my neck because they radiate up to the upper lymph nodes, under my arm, and on my entire back as treatment is received there as well.

Immediately after treatment I use www.mygirlscream.com which has done really well for me.  It was developed by a woman who had Radiation Treatment for Breast Cancer.   The other lotions I use are Aloe (recommended by Rad Onc), Cortisone 10, and Miaderm which is for radiation burns.  I’ve not used the Miaderm as yet.   I put on the lotions at least 4 times a day.

My skin is holding up well so far.   My sun damaged areas are worse than the areas that never saw the sun.  That surprised me.

No Bra – So far I figured out a way around this rule because I needed to be more balanced.  A Breast Cancer Survivor shared this tip with me, and it works!   I bought an inexpensive 100% cotton thin white tank top (got mine for $5.00 at Walmart).  I wear that next to my skin.  When I launder it, I just wash it in hot water no laundry soap.  Then over that I wear a 100% cotton front-snap sports bra in a size larger.  I then insert my foam boob aka foob in it.  I do not wear my heavy prosthesis.  Then over all of that, I place another cotton tank top.   It has prevented my skin from chafing and not caused any irritation thus far.

Lymphedema – I had 14 nodes removed and 9 had “activity”.  So I get hit pretty hard with radiation in the lymph area.  This can cause lymphedema.  I’ve already had Lymphedema problems, so I see a Lymphedema specialist for massage, and another massage therapist the hospital provides to help the lymphatic flow keep moving during radiation.  This has been a tremendous help to me and thankfully, my insurance has paid for it.

Tightness in my arm is a big problem so it is essential you do your arm exercises every day if you had node involvement and are being radiated for it.  I don’t like this imagery, but I read that radiation can make your muscles curl up like frying bacon, which makes sense.  The minute I get out of bed, I do my stretching exercises.  It helps tremendously.

Fatigue – They always throw “fatigue” at cancer patients no matter what because it becomes a way of life.  But after so much Chemo where I was so drained that I couldn’t get out of bed, this has been a cinch for me.  I do go to bed early and rest an hour or two before my actual sleep time, but the fatigue has not been bad.

No swimming – Since it is 100 degrees here today, the no swimming in chlorine pools is disappointing.  And no swimming in lakes that could cause you infection (all of them in my area of the Great Lakes could cause infection), so swimming is out for me unless a kiddie pool up to the waist.

Drink lots of Water – No one in the medical field told me this, but I figure it is a cure all for everything else, why not!  Plus, it would help lubricate the area I would think!!

Don’t Read the Internet too Much – Oh my, there are a lot of stories out there that will put real fear into you.  Don’t read them.  If you made up your mind to have Radiation, have Radiation.  Make a wise facility choice, and do the best you can.


  1. Denise, Thanks for sharing. It sounds like you are handling this part of treatment well. I appreciate your advice about how to handle dressing to save putting uncomfortable pressure on your skin.This is an utterly stupid question I am sure, but all that lotion slathering … done after treatment right away or later in the day? I am still waiting for my surgery…probably about a week from now but date yet uncertain. I am sorry to hear you’ve had some problems with lymph edema. It does sound like you are getting help with that which is great. Take care, Robin

  2. Hi Robin, I edited my post to name the lotions I use. I should have put that in right away. But I do put it on immediately after Radiation, and then about 3 other times during the day. In the morning, before Radiation, I take a shower with organic baby soap and wash the area so it is clean for treatment. Please let me know how you do after surgery, Robin! Thinking of you, Denise

  3. Denise ~
    Thank you for this post, your gift of putting words onto computer has been so inspiring and has helped me to understand this journey more than I could ever have otherwise.
    You are an amazing woman and dearest friend – sending love and hugs your way! Will be seeing you NEXT month!!!
    Love always, Connie

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