When I had my first spinal radiation treatment I realized I might be a tiny bit claustrophobic. Having a plastic mask molded to your face and chest and then clipped on tight so that you don’t move a millimetre can feel incredibly restrictive.They do it because they need to you stay perfectly still and be able to mark exactly where the beam goes. I get it. The mask is important, but it still took some getting used to.
The first time they clamped me in I started getting anxious and could feel my heart racing. It was uncomfortable and felt like the longest 20 min in my life. Afterwards I had a headache and was tired and just felt awful – mostly I think from the stress surrounding it. I had 9 more days of it so I needed to find a better way to get through .
The next session I started to panic again and then I decided to start deep breathing. Things started to calm down. Then I added a mantra ‘Sat Nam’. I started repeating it on each inhale and exhale. It was a mantra I knew but didn’t fully know what it meant. Wow did it work. My entire body felt at calm and peaceful within minutes. My heart stopped racing and my jaw relaxed. The 20 min session seemed to pass in what felt like 2 min. It was amazing. Meditation was my salvation during this incredibly uncomfortable and stressful situation. It worked on the spot, right away, just like that.
That night I went home and looked up the meaning of Sat Nam. There were many interpretations and they all shared the theme of ‘truth’
Truth within – I am the truth – My true self – Universal truth – Bowing to the truth – Be your authentic self – We are all one
It reminded me of who I really am at my core. It gave me strength to look straight at the truth of the moment and accept it. It made me feel connected to my life and to the universe.
Two years ago I had radiation for breast cancer and afterwards my skin was pretty tender but overall recovery was not too bad. So I walked into this round thinking it would be the same. I was wrong. They told me I might have fatigue, get a sore throat and some back soreness. In my case that was an understatement.
A more true description would be:
‘Your throat will swell up so much and feel so burnt, kinda like swallowing shards of glass, knives and fire all at once. You will be unable to eat any solid foods for 16 days, and barely squeeze down liquids. You will lose 10 pounds, be unable to sleep from discomfort and basically lose your mind temporarily from hunger and exhaustion. Oh and you will do that while on medication that is putting you into menopause, with a sore neck from surgery all while being a mother to two little girls.’
It was not fun.
I got a little desperate by about day nine as the pain, hunger and lack of sleep took over. There were many tears, and then I thought of my mantra ‘Sat Nam’ . I tried my best to sneak in meditation whenever I could. It didn’t make the pain go away but it relaxed the rest of me and reminded me that I could do this.
I can now eat solid foods again and have started sleeping again too! Food has never tasted so good and my body is getting stronger again. Things are looking up. It just took a little longer than I expected.
In addition to meditation here are a few other quick tips for getting through radiation:
- rest when you need too
- take good care of your skin
- eat well when you have an appetite and whatever you can get down when you don’t
- tell your rads team if you have any pain or weird symptoms so they can try and help you – keep asking until you get some kind of help
- if you can’t swallow solid foods try smoothies, green juices, protein shakes and yogurt
- once you are done radiation both calendula cream and pure aloe vera are soothing and help the skin heal
- protect that delicate skin from the sun at all times – cover up
- find someone you can talk to, either a friend or a counsellor. Someone you can talk to about how you are feeling both – being heard is very healing.
- be patient ( this was a tough one for me) your skin will heal up and your energy will come back