What radiation feels like

I have had 15 radiation treatments so far, 10 more to go.

Compared to chemo, radiation feels like nothing. Chemo involved needles and IVs and a whole lot of drugs injected into my bloodstream. Chemo was unpredictable and frightening. Sessions started late, and took hours.

Radiation is predictable.  The sessions are almost always on time, quick and orderly. If chemo was like hell, then radiation is like purgatory. It feels a lot like nothing, like I am simply waiting for something to happen.

Here is the basic rundown of how a session goes:

Change into a hospital gown. Lie down on a steel platform. Radiation technicians position my left arm high above my head, and discuss alignment and breathing. “She is a belly-breather,” they often say. Or, “she tends to inhale slowly.” They bring out a ruler and measure. “2cm from scar.” My scars are like a roadmap, as are the four little tattoos I now have to mark the radiation zone.  The lights go off for a moment but I can see my reflection in the metal and glass machine above me. The image of a ruler is projected onto my chest, and the thin lines of green lasers cut across my body. They put the snorkel-type device into my mouth and put on the nose plug (so that they are able to control my breathing.) The technicians leave the room. The machine whirs and moves around me. The voice of the technicians come on over the loud speaker: “First breath in.” “Now second deep inhale in.” The snorkel kicks in and I can’t exhale for about 30 seconds. I can hear a slight ringing sound. There is no pain. The voice comes on again: “Breathe normally please.” The technician comes back in.  More measuring, more lasers. (They are making sure I’m aligned properly for the next portion.) Then they leave again. More holding my breath. The machine whirs and moves around me.

The whole thing takes about 15 minutes. It’s short. I feel a bit tired afterwards. My skin is red now, like a sunburn.

The worst part is that it is everyday. Going to and from the hospital is a constant reminder of illness. Because I’m training for the walk(!), I try to walk to and from the hospital (about 30-40 minutes each way).  I have to keep the radiated part of my body out of the sun. So even on hot days I often have to wear a scarf or jacket and hop from shade to shade, avoiding the sun and lingering in the shadows. And I am tired. But otherwise, it is okay.

On most days, I fee like this:



Because I get to hang out with this:



And I believe this:

You know it!

You know it!

Only 1o more sessions to go. The countdown continues.

About Naomi

Writing about health/wellness and motherhood at www.everybodyhearts.com and academia and research at www.tracingmemory.com
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10 Responses to What radiation feels like

  1. Linda says:

    xoxo Tout est possible!

  2. t'ai rising-moore says:

    you’re looking beautiful + the boys are looking very cuters. love you!

  3. sarah L. says:

    Beautiful pictures, Naomi. Love to your family.

  4. Maylene Lum says:

    you guys make me smile

  5. jb says:

    Love this post for so many reasons. Also, if it makes you feel better, I have to wear jackets and hop from shade to shade no matter what – so just imagine that I’m doing it with you! It’s the jb walk! I love all of these pictures!!! Today only 9 more to go! Single digits!!! Woot woot! Thank you for sharing your writing and for making the world a more interesting, complex, and beautiful place for everyone you know! xo j.

  6. Zenia Kish says:

    Thanks for your honest descriptions of what you experience at every step of the way toward well and healthy you! You have a wonderful way with words, and while I wish you didn’t have this topic to write about at all…you help demystify the process. And remind us constantly how strong you are. And that this is how survival and getting better works. You’re making it work so well!

  7. Chocho T says:

    Good to see your family photos; everyone is looking good. Keep walking the walk! Always praying for you!! take care. xo

  8. Sarah says:


  9. just so you know, I have bookmarked this post and read it at least 10 times in the last week, since I found out that I will be having 6 weeks of rads after 4 months of chemo. i was hoping to skip rads, since I had a radical-double mastectomy and really didn’t see what they possibly cold have left to radiate – it’s the lymph nodes….. so an extra 2.5 months of hospital visits…. but reading this, it gives me hope that it will be ok. and even though it will be AFTER my walk, I think I will take a page from you and walk to and from the hospital.

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks, Virginia. I hope it goes smoothly. It’s not fun, but it’s not too bad. I found that the saline soaks really helped. You are right, it will be okay. Sending you lots of strength. xo

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