5 Radiation Misconceptions

1) Radiation skin damage is just a sunburn

While radiation skin toxicity looks like a sunburn and can often feel like a sunburn, the skin itself is not actually burned as if from a heat source. Radiation treatment is used to destroy the bad cells in our bodies, but in the process some of our good cells also get killed off. Since most of the time, radiation is targeted to the inside of the body and has to pass through the skin to reach the target area, the skin gets compromised to an extent.

The more times and the higher the dose of radiation passes through the skin the more good healthy skin cells die, leaving the burn-like effect. What you saw in most of my pictures was actually raw skin rather than burned skin. The skin starts to slough off after a while leaving new, very tender layers of fresh skin exposed to the elements. This new skin also dries out very quickly since it is normally covered in a thicker barrier that is used to outside exposure so its very important to keep it moisturized until the new skin has time to grow.

It’s also important to point out that skin toxicity from radiation doesn’t emit heat and can’t simply be healed or helped in the way sunburns can. It’s more of a sit, wait, stay moisturized, and protect it game. It’s fragile, painful, and it’s nearly inevitable, but it’s also manageable.

2) Radiation is the easier option to chemo

It’s probably not fair for me to say that and call it a fact since I didn’t go through chemo, but so many people have minimized radiation as a cancer treatment in comparison to chemotherapy or others. The fact is that radiation comes with its own set of side effects and misery that take physical and emotional strength to endure.

I am not by any means minimizing chemo treatment and the toll it takes on your body and mind as you get a front row seat to your hair falling out among other things, but more so that ANY kind of cancer diagnosis and/or treatment is hard. It’s hard during and it’s hard afterwards. The two are just very different.

3) Healing begins as soon as treatment ends

Radiation is cumulative. It builds up in your system, so while you’re treatments may have ceased, the radiation itself is still going to be taking effect in your body for a bit longer. You aren’t considered radioactive so you are free to move about as normal and hold babies, however you typically won’t start seeing true healing starting to take place for around a week or two after treatment.

4) Radiation is simply a physical journey

It seems that since radiation doesn’t involve anything intravenous, oral, or anything else that is put directly into your body, that it would be more of a physical journey, but in my experience (as you know if any of you have been following along) this journey is far more than just physical. It’s the emotional and spiritual that have seemed to take me down on more occasions than what has held me back physically.

Of course, radiation is hard on your body physically. It better be if it’s going to kill those feisty little cancer cells, but I wouldn’t mind if they worked on killing off some of the doubt and fear that comes with it too.

5) Once it’s over…it’s over

I’m not referring to treatment here. Of course, when treatment is over then treatment is over. I’m talking about the fear, the worry, and the overall anxiety that tends to creep in after you undergo cancer treatment. I remember when I first began this journey after my diagnosis and people told me more than anything that cancer has a way of affecting you long after it’s gone. And I didn’t understand what they meant. But boy, do I understand now more than ever.

Unfortunately until cancer has a cure, the journey doesn’t end after diagnosis and treatment. However, so much advancement has been made in medicine and cancer research in the last 5-10 years that survival rates as well as funding is at an all time high. More and more patients are seeing longer survival rates than our families did in the past, and cancer is no longer an inevitable death sentence every time. Sadly it is sometimes, but I have no doubt that even those patients and families will see the same advancements in the years to come. The good news is there are brilliant, brilliant minds working on our health. And while they take care of the physical, it’s up to us to care for and nurture the mental, emotional, and spiritual for the most part.

Work hard to find your happy, surround yourself with the people you love and find interesting, be diligent about squashing negative thoughts immediately, and take one day at a time. That’s not a fix all…but I would sure argue that it’s a darn good start.