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

5 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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