I am a therapy radiographer who has been involved in delivering radiotherapy, education and research. My top tips have evolved from listening to the questions that patients have asked, dealing with their problems during treatment, and from talking to colleagues.
Visit the radiotherapy department before treatment starts
An increasing number of radiotherapy departments offer a visiting opportunity to patients who are starting radiotherapy. These visits are not only for patients but for their relatives, friends and carers. Familiarising yourself with the machinery involved in your treatment can help to minimise any worries you might have. There is often an opportunity to ask questions about the treatment process, and also to chat to other patients.
Plan the logistics
The logistics of getting to your appointment can be complicated but there are often solutions. Some departments will offer financial help with car parking costs and some will offer parking permits to patients.
The department will be busy but if there are certain days that you have specific time commitments or need to be treated promptly, please share this with the radiographers. They will try their hardest to accommodate any changes but if they are unaware then they cannot even consider your needs.
Think about your diet
Depending on which area of your body is being treated, you may be given dietary advice. Sometimes there is advice given before you even start your treatment, as preparation for your treatment. Evidence suggests that certain foods may increase side effects from the treatment or produce unwanted bowel movements.
During your treatment, your appetite may be affected, but it is very important that you manage to eat a reasonable amount of food. Discuss any dietary problems with your medical team, and find out if you have access to a dietitian.
Try to relax
On the day, the radiographers will position you in the correct place on a treatment couch. They will point a light that comes out of the machine at the part of your body where the treatment will be delivered. The radiographers will also be talking among themselves while they get you and the machine into the correct position.
When everything is set up correctly, the radiographers will leave the room but they will be watching you and can hear you on an intercom. If you need them at any time they will answer you or if needed, come back into the room.
You will not feel anything while the treatment is being delivered, but you will hear a buzzing noise that may be continuous or may turn off and on. The machine may also move around you, but it is very important that you stay still. The amount of time it takes will be tailored to your needs.
Feel free to discuss with the radiographers what your specific treatment involves. The less anxious you feel, the more relaxed you will be.
Be honest about side effects
Don’t pretend you’re fine if you’re not! There is a huge range of advice and medication available to help you manage side effects, so make sure that you mention anything that you may need help with.
Everyone is different, and side effects and their severity vary from person to person. Being honest will help the radiographers and nurses to tailor their advice to your personal needs.
My most important top tip would be to ask about any issue or problem that you are worried about during your radiotherapy. You will be surrounded by healthcare professionals with a wealth of knowledge and they will be only too pleased to explain things and help you through the treatment.