Menu Close

How to help a friend who has to have radiation. ( Some of this advice works for helping a friend who’s sick with anything!)


Q: “A friend of mine has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s had a tumour removed and will soon start radiotherapy.

I’d be interested to hear from people who’ve had this kind of radiotherapy, so I have a better understanding of what my friend may need from me?”


A: ” I’ve had radiotherapy for a brain tumor. It was brutal. I had 28 sessions over 42 days. I was told not to expect significant side effects but I reacted worse than anticipated. Swelling, tremors, steroids, headaches, nausea, fatigue, some hair loss. I honestly looked as if I’d been inflated with a bicycle pump! It took months to get over the side effects. I was a single mum of three at the time. Suggestions: schedule plenty of time to rest, a meal roster so she doesn’t have to cook or fill the freezer beforehand. Driving schedule to lift her there. Don’t let her go on her own even if she says she’s feeling fine.”

” Don’t disappear from her life, no matter how hard and ugly it gets, but also try to be sensitive to her moods and needs. Sometimes people who are in need of support, and help, need peace and quiet, and the time to rest and gather their strength, too. Hundreds of people around a sick bed can be overwhelming.”

” Don’t tell her that she’ll definitely be alright. while hopefully the outcome from this kind of treatment has improved, you don’t know and all the wishing in the world won’t make that a fact that can give her comfort. Try to be optimistic, and if the news gets worse, rather say nothing that tell her something which she’ll know is not true.”

” Don’t expect anything of her. Don’t be offended by anything she does or says, she’s the one who is sick and scared, she is the one who requires grace and forgiveness. If you’re a very close friend or relative and her illness is hurting, or scaring you, get support for your traumas from elsewhere. Especially if you find yourself angry at her.”

I was also advised to be very careful about creams, soaps and so on during the process. No perfume. I was asked not to wash my hair on treatment days. No make up.”

” I have a brain tumour and had 42 radiation sessions. Last one was 24 Dec last year. I’m also on chemo tablets. My head is quite sensitive and the area cannot be exposed to sun. I lost all my hair in that area but it’s starting to grow back. I also experienced severe fatigue at times but it honestly wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”

” My advice is just to be there for her…. Cook for her, fetch kids, get groceries and force her to take it easy!!”

” I was told Maize a for radiation burn. She will probably feel fine most of the time and then completely wiped out and tired on other days.”

” Audiobooks make great gifts! There will be many times when she’s too tired to read, or watch a series or film, but might find listening to something light or engrossing, distracting and relaxing.”

” I had 28 sessions from Nov and ended on 28th Dec… every day except for weekends and Public Holidays… I was very lucky in that all I required was a lumpectomy in Sept and then started around 28th Nov… It was fine for the first 10 sessions but then I’m afraid it was horrible… I was like raw meat – it burned, itched… I was not a happy camper – PLEASE use Maizena – and I put it in the fridge so that when I sprinkled it on it was cold which DID help… I also found that I was very tired so was lucky it was over a time that I wasn’t at work either… for me – it was not pleasant but I do know it was the best thing – you can’t even see that I had any radiation – as quickly as it became unbearable – it healed… My oncologist told me that I could shower but not rub the breast or under the arm – but it was ok if water fell on it… pat it dry after the shower… All done now and very grateful – clear and clean.”

I was advised by my doctor to invest in Bionike Triderm Alpha cleansing base, Mitchum roll on (I had a lymph node removed as well) and, of course, Maizena. I was fortunate to only suffer from skin discolouration. I also take MSM and Omega 3 daily.” 

I have had 2 x 25 sessions of radiation. 1 round on the lymph glands in the left shoulder and then the next 25 on my right collar bone after it was removed. After chemo, radiation seems easier but it definitely has its side effects. Especially fatigue. Rest is so important. Maizena to keep the skin dry at all times. No creams at all during the radiation but after the treatment your friend can start putting on some really nourishing oil like Bio Oil. They now make a Bio Oil gel which is cooling and nourishing at the same time.
Meal train works very nicely. It’s an online meal roster for friends who are making meals. Alternatively Yummy Foods make the most reasonable and tasty dishes delivered to your door (in Cape Town). Very happy for your friend to DM me with any other questions. Important to remember that one persons journey is not necessarily how the next person will react.”

” I had 6 weeks of radiation on my face – no soaps creams, not even water. The procedure itself is painless. Side effects for me were very dry, red, flaky skin like sunburn on my face. I got sores in my mouth and nose, my hair at the back of my head directly in line with the radium went curly. Your friend would appreciate the small every day things – meals cooked, necessities like bread and milk to be bought, great if she could be driven to and from treatments and lots of bed rest. If she doesn’t have domestic , then having her washing done and ironed. If she has kids, someone to help with lunch boxes.”

” I went through the whole breast cancer story in 2017 relatively unscathed!! The worst thing about the radiation every day for 5 weeks was the commute!
A few friends have been through this since.
I have bought them a cute Tupperware with screw lid to keep maizena in their handbag and another to keep in the bathroom and little powder puffs Dischem sold these along the back wall after make up section in Blue Route. ( every time I went to the loo I would powder puff a bit)! Maizena is good as a deodorant.
( Showering is fine but no soap on affected area. Water and soap running over is fine.)
Then after about 2 weeks after all radiation is complete, bio oil.

So a bag containing Maizena, Tupperware, powder puffs and bio oil would be a helpful gift. Also perhaps a dark colored pretty vest/ underwear as she will be covered in pen marks, so as not to stain her clothes!

Perhaps offer to drive her once a week.

Of course, we are not all the same. Some people burn and blister. In which case she will need lots of love, rest and your friendship.

An amazing friend of mine made me a wall hanging calendar ( like an advent) and each pocket contained a quote, or photograph, or email link. Precious.

Also Please Please…. if she had a Mastectomy and nodes removed Please get her to see a specialized physio so that she never gets lymphedema, as that can be helped with treatment but not cured. She doesn’t have to get a swollen arm. Medical aid should pay for the physio. I see Cheryl Gaynor. She is amazing. 0217122384. “

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Share This

Copy Link to Clipboard