Battling Breast Cancer – From Fear to Courage: Radiation

I was so tired of being in treatment, but radiation was next. I had been slashed and poisoned, and now it was time to burn.

I received two key recommendations. The first was from my friend, Linda, who suggested I work with Dr. Yi Ping Hu, a licensed acupuncturist in Bethesda, Maryland. She has many cancer patients and treats the immune system. The second came from my chiropractor, Dr. Six, who recommended I take holy basil supplements during radiation.

Before starting the next phase, I took a mini-break. I celebrated the end of chemo with my sister, Cheryl, and our niece, Emily, from New York. We hiked Sugarloaf Mountain in Dickerson, Maryland. I had no doubt that I could hang on the hike, and my anemia didn’t pose a problem. We had fun!

Dr. Hu examined me the following week and said I had some weakness, but was remarkably strong for having just finished chemo. She wanted me to have acupuncture twice a week before starting radiation. She also gave me Chinese herbs to drink twice a day. I held my nose when I drank the nasty-tasting mushroom brew. Dr. Hu’s treatment was supposed to strengthen my immune system —  the body’s natural defense to disease.

My radiation oncologist proposed the radiation treatment field and explained I’d have a higher risk of lymphedema from radiation in certain areas of my chest.  Because of that risk, I told her I didn’t want radiation in those areas.  I didn’t want to risk my tennis game, you know. The doctor outlined the areas I consented to with tattoos.

Radiation was the treatment with the least apparent side effects. I was zapped five times a week for eight weeks. Each treatment took about 10 minutes. The doctor prescribed a cream to soothe my skin in case of burns. The health care provider’s literature on radiation warned about fatigue.

Here’s what happened (and didn’t happen):  I was never fatigued and, in fact, started playing league tennis again. My skin was deeply tanned in the radiation field, but didn’t burn, so I never filled the skin cream prescription. Over time, though, I realized the pain and tightness I felt somewhere between my right armpit and back ribs was caused by scar tissue from radiation. I massaged the area to break down the scar tissue; and I used yoga and other exercises to keep my right arm flexible. To this day, the area can feel tight and painful.

After radiation ended, Dr. Hu scaled back my acupuncture treatments to once a week for six months. After that, I went to acupuncture every other week. I also continued to take the Chinese herbs twice a day.

My surgeon made an awesome observation. When she examined me, she said my breast didn’t feel like it had been treated with radiation. I asked, “What should it have felt like?” She told me a radiated breast would would usually feel kind of hard and tough. To the contrary, mine is quite soft and pliable.

Could it be that acupuncture, yoga, and the supplements helped?

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Next:  Battling Breast Cancer – From Fear to Courage: How I Am Today

8 thoughts on “Battling Breast Cancer – From Fear to Courage: Radiation

  1. I remember that …and your fibroids shrank from the treatment. You were YEARS ahead of me in even considering Eastern medicine. My acupuncturist happens to have also trained in Western medicine in China, but here in the U.S., she chose to practice acupuncture.

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    • It’s amazing how open one can become when faced with options to restore health. When I was introduced to acupuncture, I thought I’d never try it but then I got sick and suddenly it wasn’t so invasive and far less so then surgery. But that’s just my case. I’m glad you were able to be open to it because I believe in my core that it was effective in your treatment. I never even told my OBGYN that I was complementing his treatment.

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  2. I think complementary treatments are still far outside the mainstream. You wouldn’t believe the resistance I get when I suggest it to people who have been diagnosed. They might do acupuncture a couple of times and then they abandon it. My acupuncturist deals with a lot of cancer patients. It’s Eastern medicine. To most people, it’s as mystical as faith healing and voodoo.

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  3. My mom was rediagnosed with cancer 3 weeks ago. At first they said ,” no treatment.” She went to MA General yesterday. They have a plan! She said, ” I feel hopeful!” I don’t know a lot about cancer. Your blog and story gives me the inside scoop I need. Thank you😄

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  4. My breast cancer treatment was much milder than yours–I was incredibly lucky in catching it early, and I’m a good bit older, which with breast cancer’s a good thing–but I used homeopathic remedies as a supplement to the surgery. I can’t know how it would have gone without them, but I had minimal bruising and a easy recovery. And a cream my homeopath suggested really does seem to be breaking down the adhesions. It still strikes me as a little batty, but homeopathy has often worked for me.

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    • Hi Ellen, we are both BC survivors! (I noted that when I read your post.) I refused to take the last part of the treatment — a five year drug regimen — because I saw the side effects and it would’ve been more damaging in my view than any good. I found supplements and changed my diet to load it up with foods that are aromatase inhibitors, like that drug. My oncologist was disappointed and said she’d follow me for five years. At the end of five years, she said the drug has been found effective for 10 years, so she asked if I would take it now. I said no. I had back pain last year and I knew it was the same kind of back pain a lot of tennis players have so I wasn’t concerned. She had me get an MRI for my back and hip, which showed me to be clear. Who knows what ill effects I suffered from being in the MRI machine for 1-1/2 hours!!! But, now I’m a 10 year survivor! I still go to acupuncture twice a month and take Chinese herbs twice a day — must be good for something!

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      • That’s great news. I wondered how long you’d been in the clear but in a rare moment of tact I hesitated to ask. I’m impressed with the way you were able to take control of your treatment. I have friends who’ve had to give up on some of the drugs because the side effects are more than they can live with.

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