After the Drama of Breast Cancer Chemo, Radiation Was Easier Than She Expected


"It was easy. I found it was the least invasive of the treatments."(THERESA BEISLEY)

Theresa Beisley, 43, had already been through a lot: Diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2002 at the age of 37, she had a lumpectomy in her right breast and four rounds of chemo powerhouses Adriamycin and Cytoxan. Then it was time for 30 days of external-beam radiation treatment.

But radiation turned out to be a whole lot easier than the Denville, N.J., shop owner expected. “It was easy—the biggest inconvenience was having to be there every day. Id go in, get undressed, and it was over in no more than five minutes,” she recalls.

Before the radiation began, Beisley did have to spend time preparing. "I was surprised that they create a body mold thats personal to each patient [the whole-body cast holds you in position]." Then came tiny tattoos to mark the spot where the radiation would be focused. And when the treatment got under way, there was the discomfort of needing to stay stock-still. What if I move? Beisley wondered. Is the beam going to hit something it shouldnt? "You find yourself holding your breath," she says.

But the radiation itself was painless. “I remember an electrostatic feeling," recalls Beisley, "almost like the hair on my arms would stand up. It doesnt hurt at all.”
More about radiation

Among the most common side effects of external-beam radiation are swelling, burns, and redness to the exposed skin. “You have to be good about putting on creams and moisturizers,” says Beisley, whose only side effect was fatigue that got progressively worse but never exceeded a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. “Right after radiation I would make sure Id put cream on and then again before I went to bed," she says. "I was surprised that I didnt have any issues with my skin. So many people had warned me that it would leave me with burns and rubbery skin.” (Beisley swears by the over-the-counter cream Aquaphor, which works to seal in moisture. Consult with your doctor on appropriate skin care. Experts advise avoiding lotions that contain metals, which can interfere with the radiation treatment. Doctors also recommend staying out of the sun during the course of treatment and for a few months afterward.)

Beisley knows, though, that some other women arent so lucky: “Just recently a woman in my support group told me how debilitating radiation was and that she had not been able to work at all because it rendered her exhausted.”

Not that anything has been easy for Theresa Beisley. Her cancer later metastasized to her spine and she had to undergo another 10 days of radiation in the summer of 2007. Still, she maintains that the time shes spent under the beams has been the simplest part of her treatments so far. “For me, I found it was the least invasive of all of them and almost like a no-brainer.”