Patient Blog / 29 May, 2018

My cancer discovery: Radiation myths, are just myths

Karen Johnston

My cancer discovery: Radiation myths, are just myths

When I was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer, I was overwhelmed with emotions. I was the person who thought it wouldn’t be me. The lead up to my treatment was a lonely one and the unknown made me feel scared.

Luckily, with reality knocking at my door, I found a great deal of support from my family and the wonderful staff at the Icon Cancer Centre in Hobart. Here is my recollection of the events leading up to my first day of treatment; the day I would lie on that bed for the first time, overcoming fears, and ultimately finding safety in my darkest hour.

When you have cancer, you enter the world of the unknown. You don’t know what’s going to happen to you. It’s a mystery and you try to put on a brave face to keep those around you feeling as ‘normal’ as possible. Despite my brave facade, I remember turning up for my first appointment at Icon worried and scared.

I didn’t know anything about radiation treatment going in and felt uneasy. When you have cancer, your mind is a blur and sometimes you don’t take it all in. I wanted to know everything that was going to happen to me, and thankfully, the team answered any questions I had, making it easy for me to trust them and be carried willingly through the process.

Before my first radiation treatment, I had an appointment to get my personal vac bag created. It’s like a vacuum-sealed bean bag that’s moulded specifically to your body for you to lie on in each radiation session. This way your body is in the exact same place each time. I also got my special tattoos done. These small ink dots are placed on your skin so the radiation therapist can see where to line up the lasers for treatment. This whole process was painless and simple. Even during the preparation process, I was put at ease with details of what was happening explained fully to ensure I felt comfortable and safe.

D-Day came the next day – my first treatment. That day, I walked into the centre with some trepidation; more than anything I was worried about getting radiation burns in the process. But the nurses were there for me, explaining every minute detail, taking my blood pressure and making sure I was fit and healthy for the treatment. They assured me they would manage any side effects and any skin irritation could be easily dealt with.

When I was sitting on the treatment bed, under this big machine that would treat my cancer, I felt safe knowing that I had full contact with my radiation therapists, who were just on the other side of the wall. If anything went wrong, they would tell me. They could communicate with me through the intercom during the whole process, so it didn’t feel like I was alone. They tell you to stay still for the duration, at first I was nervous, but the treatment itself was so quick, and the staff relaxed me. You’re only lying there for about 10 minutes; I didn’t feel it at all and before I knew it, I was out of there.

My daily routine soon included meeting my new Icon friends in the afternoon for a welcomed cup of tea, followed by some friendly banter and a dose of radiation. Each day after the treatment, I’d come away with a smile on my face knowing I was fighting my cancer all while having a good time.

After 23 radiation sessions, I got the special opportunity to ring the bell signalling the end of my treatment. I thought, ‘wow, I am going to miss coming here’. I knew I’d miss my new friendy, my care team, the other patients and the general vibe of the centre, which always put a smile on my face from the moment I set foot in the door to the time I left. I felt special, like everyone cared and I wasn’t just another patient.

The staff at Icon were so supportive, every little detail through each process was explained thoroughly, so I was never left wondering what was going to happen.

To anyone out there about to go through radiation, I would tell you – don’t be scared. Your radiation therapists and everyone at the centre will support you all the way. Ask all the questions you want, and feel assured radiation myths are just that – myths.

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