Radiation therapy advice from survivors who’ve been there
Whether you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer or have completed one treatment and are preparing yourself for the next, the thought of radiation therapy may be scary or overwhelming. Although each patient’s experience is unique, it can be comforting to get advice from others who’ve already been through radiation therapy.
We asked our Facebook community to share their best advice for coping with radiation therapy and its side effects. Here’s what they had to say.
Ask questions: Educate yourself about what to expect beforehand by asking your care team as many questions as you can before you start radiation therapy. Be sure to ask about long-term side effects and lifestyle adjustments.
Listen to your care team: Bring a notepad and write down your care team’s instructions. Heed their advice. If you’re experiencing adverse side effects or have other issues, don’t be afraid to speak up because they may have other solutions.
Add some fun to your radiation therapy sessions: Befriend the staff or other patients in the waiting area so you have something to look forward to before each treatment. Ask your radiation techs to play your favorite music to get you through the session.
Listen to your body: Don’t overexert yourself. Take it easy, and if
you’re tired, take naps.
Address skin irritation: Some patients experience skin irritation
as a result of radiation therapy. Luckily, there are things you can use to soothe your skin, from aloe vera, emu oil to healing lotions and even wound dressing pads. Ask your doctor or nurse what they recommend for you.
Wear comfortable clothing: Loose, comfortable clothing can also help with skin irritation. Try loose-fitting cotton shirts, pants or skirts, depending on where the irritation is. Or, if the skin around your neck is irritated, try shirts with lower neck lines.
Seek dry mouth remedies: Dry mouth is another common side effect of radiation therapy. Many patients try hard candy or sugar-free gum, which includes xylitol, a chemical that helps produce saliva. You may also want to talk to your care team about these and other remedies, including prescription moisturizing dry mouth sprays.
Eat well and stay hydrated: Drinking lots of water and eating more protein can help keep your body strong during treatment. If you’re having trouble eating, try meal replacement drinks like Boost and Ensure. If your taste buds begin to change, try new foods that appeal to you. Your MD Anderson dietitian can help find ways to ensure you meet your nutritional needs at every stage of cancer treatment. You can ask your MD Anderson care team to connect you to one of our clinical dietitians.
Cope with stress: Cancer treatments like radiation therapy can be
stressful. But meditation and deep breathing exercises can help you. If you’re an MD Anderson patient, speak with your social work counselor about strategies to cope with your stress, or visit our Integrative Medicine Center and attend our meditation or yoga classes or get an oncology massage.
Try to maintain some normalcy: Try to schedule your radiation
treatments when it’s convenient for you. This way, you can also try to do the rest of the things you need to – go to work, pick up your kids or exercise, if you’re able.
Stay positive and hopeful: Like any cancer treatment, radiation
therapy can be tough. But remember that many other patients have endured radiation therapy, and you can do it, too. So focus on your happy place and remind yourself why you’re doing this.