Meeting the Red Devil

I really didn’t know what to expect from chemotherapy. I had seen some images of people getting chemo but had never been to the infusion area of the hospital until my first round.

I choose to have my sessions on Friday afternoon. Mainly, out of practicality to not have the chemo interfere with work too much and the advantage of going straight into the weekend after infusion so I could recover. I had arranged to also have the Monday following chemo off, if I needed extra time.

On September 29th, 2017 I went for my first chemo session. My sweet husband, who went with me to every single session drove us to the Miami Cancer Institute.

I would have 4 rounds of AC chemo followed by 12 rounds of Taxol.

After checking in, one of the medical assistants would come and get us in the waiting area. They would weigh me, take my temperature and blood pressure. I was then brought to one of the infusion suites. Unlike the images I had seen, where people getting chemo share the same area, I got my own room, which could be closed off with a curtain.

The nurse who was assigned to me that day came to introduce herself. Her name was Josie.

The first step in the process was to connect my port and set up an IV. There was a special connector needle that would fit into my port. She would then flush the port with saline solution and draw blood. The blood would be sent to the lab for a CBC (Complete Blood Count). This was to ensure all my levels were in norm to administer the chemo.

I was put on an IV saline drip, so I would get some fluids.

As soon as the CBC results came back, the nurse would start with the pre-medication. I would get a steroid to counter the nausea.

And then the wait began. It would take up to an hour or sometimes two to get the actual chemo medication. The pharmacy at the Cancer Center was so busy they couldn’t handle the volume and it would be a slow and lengthy process. In the end I got used to this and knew what to expect, but it added a whole lot to my anxiety the first time.

Finally, the medication was delivered.

First it was C, which stands for Cyclophosphamide, which came in a little bag, that would be directly hooked up to my IV and slowly drip until the bag was empty.

The second drug, the A, is Adriamycin, also known as the Red Devil. It is called that way because it is a red liquid. You will have red or orange colored urine for a few days following the treatment.

The nurse would dress up in a special gown and gloves and would inject the chemo drug into the IV. It looked like a very big needle filled with a red substance. She has to slowly administer the drug.

Almost immediately after she was done, I started to feel very strange. It is hard to describe, but I got this strange headache like sensation and my vision was blurry.

I told the nurse and they immediately called a code rescue. This is standard protocol in the hospital and right away, there were multiple nurses and doctors surrounding me to ensure I wasn’t having an allergic reaction to the chemo drugs. After a few minutes, the strange sensation faded, but the headache remained.

It turned out, I was having a reaction to the steroids. I was told to take some Tylenol when I got home, which I did but I would feel weird for a few days.

When we finally got home and I went straight to bed. I didn’t have much of an appetite. After falling asleep and sleeping for a few hours, I woke up in the middle of the night very very nauseas. I had received some medication to prevent the nausea, but just the thought if having to take anything and swallow made it worse. Instead, I laid completely still and would focus on a single point in the room. This was the only thing that help and eased it. I would fall asleep again and the next morning the nausea was gone.

I had multiple small meals throughout the day to not aggravate the nausea. I would start taking my Claritin on Saturday in anticipation of Sunday.

On Sunday morning, I had to go back to the hospital to get a shot of Neulasta. Neulasta helps the body make white blood cells after receiving chemo. One of the side effects is bone pain, something I thankfully did not experience. I took the Claritin to counter the histamine production Neulasta activates.

By Monday, I would start to feel like myself again. On Friday it was back to the hospital for a CBC, to ensure all my blood levels were fine and my body was producing sufficient levels of white blood cells.

The AC treatment protocol was one week chemo, one week off in a total of four rounds. Before starting the next round, I would see my oncologist to ensure I was doing ok.

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