Under The Mask: Undergoing Brain Radiation
Radiation oncology is a powerful tool, especially in the metastatic setting. There are various types of radiation, or radiotherapy, to treat metastatic breast cancer.
I personally have had it to my lung, chest wall, lymph nodes, and bones. But having radiation to your brain is an entirely different experience!
Brain MRI to map for radiation
To begin, you need a brain MRI a few days before. This allows for the radiation oncology team to "map" where the beams will go, using the most recent imaging. A brain MRI is a longer scan than most and is sort of like having your head placed in a noisy drum.
Then, the therapists create a fitted mask for you. They do this using wet, bendable plastic. It is custom made for you, with holes so you can breathe. Once the map and mask are created, the team schedules your sessions. Sometimes there is one, other times there are several. I had three, with a day in between each so I could rest.
They lay you down on the board, putting wedges under your knees and back to make you comfortable. Warm blankets help a lot!
Securing your head to the board
Nothing, however, quite prepares you for having your head bolted to the board. It does not hurt, but it is the mental part that takes some getting used to. A lot of people take valium or something similar to keep calm. I was able to close my eyes and just relax for most of it. The whole session lasts about twenty minutes.
Side effects from the brain radiation
Aside from the exhaustion that follows, I experience occasional numbness and tingling in my face and neck. I was told this is uncommon but can happen, and it is certainly a weird feeling. I also feel off-balance sometimes, so have been skipping my walker walks. I take it even slower than my usual slow after my craniotomy, but remind myself that is okay!
It has taught me to listen to my body and allow it to feel whatever it needs to feel in the moment...slow, tired, tingly, whatever. I tell myself it will pass, and it always does!
Have you had brain radiation? Share your experience with our ABC family!
Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to share that on Friday, October 29, 2021, Danielle Thurston passed away. We know that Danielle’s voice and perspective continue to reach so many. She will be deeply missed.
Do you have a safe space where others understand what you are going through?