SO I’M DONE! And as such, I thought it might be helpful (maybe?) to post a few things I learned along the radiation brick road.
First of all, expect the worst. I don’t mean this in a pessimistic way – hear me out. Everybody told me, “Oh, it’s so easy! It’s a walk in the park compared to chemo!” Dude, that was NOT the case for me. With chemo, it was a week and a half bad, a week and a half good. The alternation made it easier for me to take – there was always a quickly approaching light at the end of the tunnel. With radiation, it was a six-week, cumulative slog, and it SUCKED. Now, radiation for YOU may very well be like it was for the people who told me it would be easy-peasy. But I’m just trying to prepare you better than they did me – it might not be. Still, it WILL end and you WILL survive it!
Now, onto my favorite part: shopping! Here are some items that helped me and I think might also help you! I think I might also make a video of these for those who pick things up better that way.
- Boiron First Aid Calendula Cream – Okay so this was my biggest, biggest error. The nurse told me to use calendula cream, so I went on Amazon and searched for calendula cream and went by the nicest, most expensive ones with the highest star ratings. I also watched a widely circulated video where the narrator repeatedly advises women undergoing radiation treatments NOT to use any alcohol or alcohol-based products on their treated skin, and the first ingredient in this cream is alcohol. IGNORE HER! IGNORE RATINGS! This is the cream your nurse was recommending – it is just called Calendula Cream and it’s good! It’s non-greasy and it works. I could have saved myself a lot of pain and suffering if I had just bought this stuff to start with. You will use this and/or Miaderm 3 or more times a day. I did this morning after shower, afternoon after treatment, and evening before bed.
- Miaderm Radiation Relief – After I started experiencing skin breakdown, I got desperate and began googling for the best possible radiation skin treatments, and this cream came up again and again, so I bought some. After I started using this in conjunction with the cream mentioned above and the compresses I will discuss later, I took my skin from open, raw, and bordering on moist desquamation to completely healed and just pink in a matter of a week IN THE MIDDLE OF TREATMENT. When I mentioned to my technician that I was using it she said at her previous job, which was at a very well-respected breast cancer radiation center, Miaderm is the ONLY thing they recommended to their clients. It’s expensive and there is a reason, trust me.
- Carrasyn Gel Wound Dressing – I will explain how to use this below, but be sure to ask first if your doc has some they can give you – I got mine for free.
- Aquaphor Healing Ointment – Exact same info as #3.
- Telfa Non-Adherent Bandages – This will go with #s 3 & 4, and it will kind of be up to you what size you’ll want (I’ll explain below).
- CarraDres Clear Hydrogel Sheets – This is an expensive product, and one you will probably only get value out of if your skin breaks down and you’re in bad pain (as I was), so I’d wait on purchasing this. You might also be able to get a few free ones out of your doc. However, it was invaluable to be when my skin did break down. You could also try a less expensive but comparable product, like the ones made by Medela.
- Avocado Oil – Great if your skin gets very dry (again, as mine did). Obviously it’s an oil, so be prepared for it to get on your clothes. (And remember, if it does, some Dawn dish liquid on oil stains prewash will take them right out.)
- Prescription saline wash – Obviously you can’t get this on Amazon, so ask your provider – they were able to give it to me free. You keep it in the fridge (it’s non-perishable, but that helps keep it cool and soothing) and put it on a washcloth, which you then use as a compress on raw or broken skin. Made a big difference for me – I did it at night before bed.
All right, so again – my biggest error was getting the wrong damned cream for my radiation rash. I highly recommend the two listed above – if you use them early and often, you may never even need this other stuff. BUT IF YOU DO…
The nurse told me fairly early on about using #s 3, 4, & 5 together, but I tried it during the day. The idea is you take a Telfa bandage (she gave me a few long ones, but I used both long and short and kinda preferred the shorter ones) and put a line each of the aloe wound dressing and Aquaphor healing ointment down the center. You then slap it over the problem area and smush it down and there it stays. Except it doesn’t. It slides around all over the place, so using it during the day was both messy (Aquaphor, as the word “ointment” suggests, is greasy) and inefficient. I then discovered using it as a night dressing and it changed my world. My skin healed so quickly and so well my techs and I literally could not believe it. Typically when your skin opens in the midst of radiation they really don’t expect it to get better until well after you’ve finished, but between these compresses and the Miaderm, I finished radiation with fully closed skin.
The CarraDres pads are a similar idea but less messy, so better for daytime use. However, they also do not adhere well and will not adhere at all to lotioned skin, so be prepared to tuck one into your bra and adjust it constantly.
Avocado oil was what my doc pushed for dry skin caused by radiation. I did apply it fairly often, especially when my skin was at its worst, but did not prefer it because it stains. It can be gotten fairly easily and cheaply, however, so that is a bonus!
I also lived on Advil during the time my skin was open, and even took a few leftover prescription painkillers when it got tough to sleep because of the pain.
That about does it! If you have any questions, or if you want to endorse a product that worked especially well for you, feel free to comment below!