How To Maintain Your Dignity During Radiotherapy Courses

Radiotherapy Centre - Patient Radiation therapy mask

Undertaking radiotherapy is a major step in treating cancer, whether it is aimed at potentially curing you completely or at least enabling you to live an extended life span.

By the time you start treatment, you will be familiar with the process that will take place, as your oncologist and other specialists at the radiotherapy centre will have explained to you not just what the use of radiation to attack cancerous cells and tumours aims to do – by preventing them from growing and reproducing – but also how the procedure works.

This will include aspects like how long it takes, what it is like being inside a chamber, how you will prepare and what to expect afterwards.

Why There Is More To Radiotherapy Than Radiation

In a wider context, the actual treatment, while of central importance, is brief and therefore only makes up a small part of the experience of going through radiotherapy.

That is partly because your treatment may combine radiotherapy with chemotherapy or surgery, with the latter often involving radiation being used to shrink a tumour before it is excised by a surgeon.

What the process also involves is a range of ways in which the process can be very gruelling. Firstly, there is the physical element, with a wide range of side-effects being experienced by those having radiotherapy, both in the short and long term.

These can include tiredness and fatigue, nausea, upset stomach and loose bowel movements, hair loss, skin soreness, loss of libido and sometimes (especially with pelvic radiotherapy) sex problems in the short term.

Longer-term effects, of particular concern for those with good prospects for survival, can include reduced fertility, which may have wider implications if you survive but want to have children thereafter. This may leave you with major decisions such as whether to freeze eggs or sperm, stay childless or consider adoption.

How To Fight Your Mental Battle

This last aspect highlights another key issue all cancer patients face; while you face the prospect of battling a potentially deadly disease, you will have to deal with all sorts of wider concerns, quite apart from being confronted with your own sense of mortality – something that happens even if the prospect of a full recovery is very strong.

Emotional and mental strains are a part of the battle, ranging from longer-term implications for survivors to the psychological impact on your family and, perhaps, on your own mental health, especially if this has already not been in a good state before your diagnosis.

There are various ways you can get help, from cancer charities and support groups, as well as getting to know fellow patients who may be undergoing similar treatment to yours.

Consider How Much You Want Others To Know

At the same time, while these may be useful people to open up to and share knowledge and experiences with, there will be other instances where the reverse is true.

Firstly, not everyone needs to know you have cancer or are undergoing radiotherapy unless you want them to. If you are facing the prospect of treatment starting soon, you may want to think carefully about what you share and with whom, be it in person, by phone, or on social media where a wider audience may see what is happening.

It is worth bearing in mind that some people can be quite intrusive, whether innocently or otherwise, in wanting constant updates when you may not be able to provide these. At times you may feel very ill from side effects when getting treatment and not want to be doing this.

A couple of somewhat exceptional cases of the conflict between interest and privacy arose recently in the UK when first King Charles III and then the Princess of Wales underwent surgery before each later revealed they had cancer.

The King announced this swiftly, having already been open about his treatment on a non-cancerous prostate issue, but the princess maintained her privacy over an abdominal operation for an undisclosed issue until responding to some wild speculation – further fuelled by revelations of family photos being photoshopped – by announcing she had cancer.

Even so, neither royal has disclosed exactly what kind of cancers they are being treated for.

In the case of famous individuals, whose every move gains media attention, keeping everything quiet proved impossible. Indeed, the fact-checkers have now been tackling reports repeated across several media outlets that King Charles has pancreatic cancer and has been given two years to live – all based on ‘sources’ that are impossible to verify.

For most people, this kind of attention will not be forthcoming, but there could still be rather more of it than you are comfortable with, which is why you should stick to your guns and maintain your privacy over the nature of your diagnosis and treatment, unless you are keen for people to know.

Avoid The Wrong Advice

Your dignity and privacy have another element to it as well. In addition to the fact you may need people to give you lots of time and space while you concentrate on your treatment, you don’t want to find yourself listening to too much advice from well-meaning people whose medical knowledge may be somewhat limited.

For example, there may be people who wrongly advise you to use aloe vera if you get sore skin after radiation treatment. But this is not only ineffective but, some studies suggest, may actually make things worse.

There are also foods you should avoid while being treated with radiotherapy, such as shellfish or salty foods, as these can harbour viruses and increase your blood pressure at a time when you need this least and your immune system is weaker. You must be cautious about other people offering to treat you.

What all this shows is that there are plenty of steps you can take to help yourself deal with the physical and emotional impact of having regular radiotherapy sessions.

The Priority Is You

Ultimately, what must happen is that your needs come first. You are the patient and even if you are used to making sacrifices and compromises for those around you, this is when things change. It is time for others to support you in your time of need.

The good news is that however family, friends and employers may act, you can count on the professionalism of some of the best people when you come to the radiotherapy centre for treatment.