22 May, 2020

My experience of radiation therapy

After my last big cancer surgery, I was recommended to undergo radiation to kill any remaining cancer cells. There was a good chance it was not needed but you never know.

The radiation was primarily to my neck area. You have 20 brief sessions during which you are immobilized with a plastic mask over your face while the machine does its work. It sounded horrible but the chief of the Radiation Oncology Centre at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, Prof. Foote, talked me into trying it. It is bulk billed so costs me nothing.

I started on it a couple of weeks ago and found that their system was immaculately run. Queensland Health must have put a lot of money into it as there were heaps of staff: 18 radiation oncology specialist doctors and over 100 technical, allied health and administrative personnel. Result: Almost zero waiting time for patients. Not like Queensland health generally.

I took to the therapy well enough but the big problem is side effects. You sleep a lot and it gives you a sore throat. The sore throat got agonizing for me on Thursday night after my pizza dinner with Anne and it is still bad. The radiation has clearly damaged it substantially. I am a good healer so expect to get over it in a few days but it has put the kybosh on the radiation treatment. I am withdrawing from it. I will take my chances with any stray cancer cells. I did have 12 exposures out of the scheduled 20 so that may have been enough.

Jenny made me a very smooth dinner on Friday night consisting of grilled fish plus mashed potato so that was easy to get down but it still hurt a bit. The hospital gave me a Xylocaine gel to help with swallowing but it did little.

So my experience with radiation oncology was not a happy one.

Its practitioners are devoted to it and can see no fault in it. When my throat was badly burnt by the radiation, they still wanted to carry on with the treatment and damage my throat even more. Their only solution to the continuing pain was to bomb me out with morphine, which is no solution at all. The damage is still there and has to be confronted eventually, generally through a couple of months of severe unremitting pain during healing. The damage to the throat is so severe that some people have to be fed via a naso-gastric tube while healing

As my pain was so great as to disturb my sleep that was crazy - a case of the solution being much worse than the disease. Getting a cancer ripped out surgically results in very little pain and only a few days in hospital. That calculus was very apparent to me so I abandoned the treatment. I will get 6 monthly PET scans to detect cancers anywhere in my body and get them removed surgically.

There were other side effects of the treatment too. You sleep a lot, lose your taste to some extent and develop scaly patches on your skin. No fun at all.

It took me all of 7 days to get my throat better so I am pleased to be able to eat with no pain now and into the future.

UPDATE of 25th

I look into the mirror only when I have to brush my hair. I try not to notice the raddled face staring back at me.

I did however notice that, in the last days of my radiotherapy treatment, my face on one side was swollen and rather red, a predictable effect of radiation.

I checked that in the mirror this morning and found that both sides of my face were the same colour and the same shape. I am now back to normal and no longer have a misshapen face. So the treatment did have a bad effect on my appearance but those effects have now healed. Lucky I'm a good healer. A woman would have been distraught by the effect on her appearance

January 2021 update: I had a PET scan which confirmed no metastases in my head and neck area so the 12 exposures I had must have been sufficient

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