Coping With Radiation Side Effects Taught Me Patience and Gratitude


I was experiencing a painful side effect from radiation therapy, but when the staff dressed up like characters from “The Wizard of Oz,” I became grateful for their willingness to brighten my day.

After my cancer diagnosis, I began the radiation treatments ordered by my oncologist. Radiation treatments started out very easy for me. However, I soon learned that skin dermatitis was one of the side effects of radiation therapy.

Dermatitis did not manifest itself during the initial radiation sessions, but it crept up on me later. It’s easy to lay blame and think the burns are the fault of the technicians not having exact measurements, but most often burns are a result of the therapy itself. It’s the responsibility of the dosimetrist to make sure the machine is working properly. She or he programs the machine so that all measurements are precise, and doses are administered properly. The type of radiation I had is aimed directly to the cancerous cells and after a while, this causes skin irritation.

There are special creams that can provide some relief; however, these burns can take many months and sometimes more than a year to heal. In my experience, the burns are very painful and depending on their location, it can be very uncomfortable to sit in a chair or lay in a bed. That was the case for me. I just could not get comfortable!

But I discovered a great resource for me in dealing with this condition in being able to grasp the concept of mindfulness mediation. Through mindfulness meditation, I learned how to remove the pain as my focus and to center myself in a calmer state.

My oncologist was not aware how severe the burns were on my body until I showed her during one of my clinical visits. When she could observe the burns closely, she gained understanding of how they were affecting my everyday activities. While I was in the examination room, she asked the nurse to put some cream on the affected area and she gave me some to take home. This was very efficacious.

When the radiation technicians became aware of my burns, they, too, tried to help by offering a distraction. One day, out of the blue, during a treatment session, all the radiation staff dressed up as characters from “The Wizard of Oz.” It took me a while to catch on, as I was focused on my pain.

When I signed in, I noticed that the receptionist looked somewhat like the character, Dorothy, from “The Wizard of Oz.” But I didn’t completely recognize what the staff were doing until I entered the treatment room. Then I saw the three technicians standing by the machine and they were dressed as the scarecrow, the cowardly lion and the tin man.

oz sparkles group | Image Credit: © stuart ©

I found strength through the support of my radiology oncology team who dressed up like "The Wizard of Oz" characters and made me laugh.

Finally, it dawned on me what was happening and I began to laugh. I was truly impressed by their very authentic costumes and told them that someone clearly took a great deal of time and care to make them. They confirmed my praise for their efforts by their smiles.

I went through my normal routine of preparation and once I got onto the table, they did their meticulous measurements. When everything was confirmed, I was transported into the magical world of Oz. I forgot my pain and began to play the television version of “The Wizard of Oz” in my mind’s eye. After a while I recalled the musical production of “The Wiz” with Diana Ross in the role of Dorothy! As my treatment came to an end, I visualized the scene in which Glinda, the Good Witch, portrayed by Lena Horne, sang “Believe in Yourself.” That song moved me deeply. That day, the impact of that song became very real to me in a most profound way.

It became clear to me; this is exactly what I needed to do as a patient. I had to believe in myself and have faith that I could make it through my treatments, even if it meant having to experience some uncomfortable side effects.

In my case, it took about six months for the dermatitis to heal, but I made a full recovery. I learned to be patient with myself, which is not always easy for me when I’m dealing with pain. I found strength through the support of my radiology oncology team whose doctors, nurses and technicians were willing to do something extraordinary to help relieve my pain.

So, now I have an attitude of gratitude! I believe it’s important to hold gratitude in my heart because of the wholeness and healing I believe it can bring to me. I believe it changes my body chemistry and helps me improve my physical and emotional wellbeing.

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