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  • Writer's pictureSimone Coleman

What To Expect During Radiation: Helpful tips from a thriver

Cancer treatment has a lot of unknown side effects. How it will make you feel? What are the changes your body will face? What new things will you have to adapt to? etc. Everyone experiences a different reaction to radiation/chemo treatment. Below I share some helpful tips that helped me through the process of my cancer treatment.

  1. Pack a goodie bag

I was fortunate enough to stay in the Hope Lodge which was a close distance to my treatment facility. I found that preparing and having a goodie bag made the waiting process a little more comforting and it took my mind off of the treatment process. I carried crossword puzzles, playing cards, and a journal to help pass by time. I was blessed to have had my mother at every treatment session to talk and laugh with. She was there to give me a hug even when I felt I didn't need it, held my hand as I began to get discouraged, and my escort home after a fatigued treatment session. My treatment facility was good about being my warm welcome team each day I arrived. Each treatment session, I started to feel more and more like family because we became so connected. We'd share snacks, talk about how we were feeling by the day, and any activities planned ahead for the weekend. It gave us something to look forward to.

2. Drink Fluids Consistently

Drinking lots of water, green tea (unsweetened) can really help aid in a good recovery. Drinking lots of liquids before, during, and after therapy sessions can also alleviate feelings of nausea and help flush the toxins out of your body more quickly.

3. Tend to your Mental Health

Emotions run haywire when the big C comes into play. Anxiety, grief, depression, anger... so much of the cancer experience is mental. While we focus so much on the physical symptoms to expect from treatment, we can overlook the mental impacts it can have. All of the emotional trauma is a normal part of the experience but many people are ill prepared. There are people in position to help talk through the troubles and emotions weighing on you. There are resources available through your treatment center, local cancer institutes, and nearby hospitals.

4. Schedule routine Doctors appts

I knew it would be quite some time before I would see my primary care, eye doctor, etc. because I now had a team of specialty doctors who would be tending to the focus of my cancer. I made it a point to schedule my visits with my other doctors before going in for surgery/treatment. I wanted to ensure everything was taken care of beforehand (prescriptions filled and they were informed of my diagnosis) and it was less I had to do once I completed my treatment. I could focus on the present circumstance and my overall recovery.

5. Hair Adjustments

Wash day looked different for me during this time. Not my usual wash and go or deep conditioning setting in. It was baby shampoo, baby conditioner, and less protective low tensioned hairstyles. For someone who is natural with thick hair, this was quite a process. Not so much because my hair hadn't completely filled back in but because these products weren't my normal wash day products and my hair texture and sensitivity had completely changed during this time. This was a new normal!! Its been over 2yrs going on 3yrs and I will still only allow my mother to grease my scalp and let just say, I've learned to be more creative and found some easy D.I.Y. hairstyles. Between Pinterest and Youtube, I've been able to try out some new styles successfully.

6. Sensitive Skin

With my surgical site being opened twice, I had to remind myself that there was a lot of healing that would take place. Not to mention, as I received radiation daily, there was skin exposure to those proton beams of high energy and it would cause that area and everything surrounding it to become sensitive to sunlight, some itching and irritation, and even cause discoloration. I grew sensitive to sunlight so much so I couldn't stay in direct sunlight for more than 1hr at a time. While undergoing treatment, I wanted to be outdoors. I enjoyed walking around, getting fresh air, people watching, and just enjoying the beautiful creations of God. I looked forward to those days, but had to do so sparingly. I developed a good relationship with Aquaphor and other creams - they were my lifeline if I wanted to be outdoors. Having these topical creams helped keep my incisions moisturized and decreased the irritability and inflammation that appears when I was exposed to the sun.

7. Loss of Taste and Weight Loss/Gain

I often believed the metallic taste only came into play when patients received chemo. However, many people experience loss of appetite, distaste for certain foods (or nauseous reactions), and a temporary metallic taste in their mouths when treated for cancer. I faced the distaste for certain foods and odd taste in my mouth during my first few weeks of treatment despite doctors stating it could be weeks before I'd experience those symptoms. It wasn't long before I lost the urge to eat any foods at all and had to force myself to eat. My doctors weighed me weekly to ensure I did not lose any weight. In this discomforting phase of my treatment, I began to simply eat whenever I was hungry and not force myself. Not eating would make me sick and forcing myself to eat would too. Honestly speaking, there will be times when I was so nauseous I couldn't eat at all, so I really came to appreciate my appetite whenever I had one. When you do decide to eat a good meal, focus on fueling your body with healthy foods that's the key. Lastly, eat what you can, when you can!

8. Know when its time to sit down

Listen to your body. If R&R wasn't something you did before your diagnosis, you should definitely do it now. R&R aka Rest and Relaxation are imperative to a healthy recovery. It's important for your body to reset and recharge for your next day of events. You may have a certain routine and/or treatment schedule, but we know things change. So, I strongly encourage taking the time to do this daily. I know life happens and it's easy to forget or not wanting the guilt of "me time". Me time is not selfish in this light, me time is necessary in this light! Read, rest, relax, recover, recharge, refresh yourself and your mind so you can charge ahead. I use to say if I don't sit down, my body will tell me when to sit down. Like most patients, you won't have the energy to do anything else but relax.

9. Medications

Speak with your team about your dosage of medication whether it's stress meds, nausea meds, or radiation/chemo medication. In my case, some nausea medications weren't working and needed to be adjusted according to my onset of symptoms. Express your concerns to your doctors-they are there to help in any way.

10. Accept Support

Cancer support is unique because it comes in various forms. Clinically through counseling services, by organizations that may came in to visit your and do activities within your facility, choirs or churches who engage in faith based events, and so much more. There are people surrounding you and supporting you on your journey that want to show they care.

11. Connect with your fellow thrivers

Finding your army of supporters. You are not alone in this! There are people surrounding you going through much worse. I cant tell you the amount of friends I gained along the way battling much worse than me and were so optimistic and faith filled. Build on each others strength, faith, and resilience. Strive to beat the disease that's trying to beat you. Overcome it, don't succumb to it. God is far greater then your present battle. He has you!

These 11 tips were helping in preparing me for my journey ahead. I pray that it does the same for you or someone you know!

* Photo credit is not all the original work of @BeyondBrainCancer *

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