Radiotherapy. If you didn’t know what it meant, you might be forgiven for imagining it was some kind of restful treatment involving a comfy chair, headphones and a couple of hours of listening to the pleasing baritones of Richard Hawley and Liam McKahey, the soaring vocals of Adele, or whoever your favourite music artists may be. You certainly wouldn’t imagine it to be any form of cancer treatment.
If, however, I called it by its more usual American term – radiation therapy – I would lay odds that a completely different picture would instantly flash into your brain and Adele would vanish into a distant memory.
I am quite sure that a number of you reading this will be all too familiar with the side – and after – effects of this particular form of treatment. In my case, following extensive cancer surgery last year, I was advised that, as a curative measure, I would need five weeks of radiation directed at my pelvic and groin area. 25 sessions in all delivered daily Monday to Friday, with weekends off – presumably for good behaviour.
I have written on social media about the wonderful hospitals that have treated me over the past year or so. All of them in the Merseyside and Wirral areas of England. All of them world-class in their specialist fields. I have nothing but good to say about the Liverpool Women’s Hospital and Broadgreen. Now it was the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre’s turn to show why they deserve their many accolades and international reputation for excellence. From the minute I first came into contact with the consultant who would oversee my treatment, I was kept fully informed of what to expect, right down to likely timescales for the effects of the radiation to kick in. As a result, so far, there have been no nasty shocks.
Every day, a friendly team of consummate professionals steered me through the process. The actual zapping only takes a few seconds. The amazing machine moves around the bed you are lying on and it doesn’t hurt in the slightest. Week One was pretty straightforward. I kept to the advised low residue (low fibre) diet, used the Aquamax moisturizer ahead of any side-effects and made sure I had Loperamide handy – just in case.
By Week Three, certain delicate areas of my anatomy were beginning to feel as if I had left them lying exposed in the sunshine for too long. Aquamax required in larger doses – and a quirky, but effective, dressing called Polymem. This comes in a roll. You snip off the required length, wedge it in the required place and it will happily dispense regular amounts of soothing moisturizer to the broken skin. Lovely. If you can keep it in place that is. It does have a sneaky habit of trying to escape out of the edges of your knickers, so you need to teach it who is the boss. I persisted and we came to an arrangement. I wouldn’t keep wondering why the manufacturer had chosen to make it in that particularly lurid shade of pink, in return for its (mostly) full co-operation.
By Week Four, still sticking to the low residue diet and, by now, taking a couple of Loperamide per day, plus some codeine and paracetamol, I found the act of sitting down and standing up something of a trial. I was all right once I got to the required position, but it was the getting there that proved somewhat problematical.Apart from that - and wondering where my 'get up and go' had wandered off to - I was doing far better than I expected.
Week Five finally arrived and on the last day, I duly rang the bell three times – a Clatterbridge tradition. Everyone applauded and, after thanking the amazing staff, I waddled home.
Yes, waddled. Remember John Wayne and how he always managed to walk as if he had been sitting astride a horse for two days solid? That was me. It continued to be me for over a week afterwards. Even with all the wonderful medications, there is no getting around the fact that with radiotherapy comes sore skin. It stung, burned, prickled and, when I walked, it felt for all the world as if a hedgehog – spines erect – had taken up residence between my legs. When I sat down, I kept looking for the cactus I was sure I must have sat on.
It is now just over two weeks since my final blast of radiation. The 'hedgehog' has departed, leaving only a few prickles behind, so Polymem is a thing of history. Aquamax is still my good friend, and anyone passing the bathroom when I am showering might hear some sounds which… well, remember that famous scene in When Harry Met Sally? You know the one. In my case, the moans of ecstasy come as a result of the shower soothing some remaining sore (and itchy) bits.
No, Radiotherapy is not a cake-walk but, hopefully, as a result of the short term discomfort, I shall be cancer-free. Is it worth it? You betcha!
With my everlasting thanks to Liverpool Women’s Hospital, Broadgreen Hospital and Clatterbridge Cancer Centre. You all do an amazing job.