“The Red Devil”, better known as AC Chemo, is quite a nasty piece of work. It’s called “The Red Devil” for a reason. It wrecks havoc on your system, just like other chemotherapy. However, I’ve heard some pretty ugly stories about this particular type of chemo. It’s one that will hit your system so hard that you may find yourself unable to continue the rest of your chemo regime. I know women who made it through AC but couldn’t finish their next rounds of chemo treatment because the Red Devil destroyed their systems.
Facing and surviving the Red Devil is possible, but takes some prep-work and a HUGE amount of determination. Usually given once every three weeks, my treatments were dose-dense, meaning it was one treatment every TWO weeks. It gave me just enough time to recover (which took about 5 days after each infusion) and feel okay before I had to have my next infusion. My experience wasn’t typical – I made it through all my treatments, even after I had the Red Devil. I want to pass along some of the things I did to help my system as much as possible, and maybe ease the burden of this type on chemo on someone else.
Adriamycin: Facing and Surviving the Red Devil
My goal was to keep my weight up to avoid any delay in treatment, and to keep nausea at bay as much as possible. Treat this type of chemo like a battle you intend to win at all costs.
What I Stayed Away From:
- caffeine drinks
- sugary anything
Towards the end I was able to handle Sprite, but caffeinated beverages gave me splitting headaches, horrible heartburn, and made me nauseous.
Two Days Before Chemo
I drank lots of WATER (Sweet tea doesn’t count). I made it my personal goal to drink at least 3 liters (that’s about 12 cups) of water every day while I was undergoing chemotherapy. Was I running to the bathroom a lot? You betcha, but the goal was to get the Red Devil out of my system as soon as possible so it wouldn’t sit in my liver and kidneys. It can cause some real tissue damage if it’s just allowed to hang out in those organs, so drink up!
I also ate as much as I could during the days I felt okay to eat. I put on 5 pounds the week of and following one treatment, but it quickly diminished after treatment because I didn’t want to eat anything. Eat what you can, and don’t worry about weight gain. The goal is to give your body enough nutrients that it can repair itself. If you need inspiration, I recommend a book called “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen“. The author tells you how to adjust recipes for your new sense of taste, and what to do if you can’t taste at all (which is what happened to me).
Medications During Chemo Infusion Days
I took Olanzapine, 10mg, exactly five hours after the nurse began administering the FIRST chemo (not the anti-nausea meds). Olanzapine is an anti-psychotic that works on the brain to control nausea. I took this the day of, and three days following, chemo treatment.
Omeprazole (Prilosec) the day of and three days after helped me to avoid the nausea that comes from heartburn, which can be a side affect of treatment. I kept Zantac tablets handy because I needed them more than once.
Two extra strength Tylenol and one Actifed (Wal-Act) allergy pill became my best friends, and I took these when they began pumping in the anti-nausea meds. The reason is that Cytoxin is prone to cause severe headaches. Taking these meds at the right times allowed them to get into my system and start working before I got my headaches.
Routine the Day of My Chemo Infusions
I ate a huge omelet from IHOP before my appointments, and I stayed away from lots of carbs because the body uses them quickly, which leaves you feeling hungry, which can lead to nausea. Basically, I ate a very filling breakfast full of PROTEIN – an empty stomach is more susceptible to nausea.
I wore Sea-Bands around my wrists to try and activate pressure points to relieve nausea. These I wore constantly, and I believe they did help.
I drank 1000mL of water before my appointment, 500mL during my infusions, and at least 1500 mL of water after the infusions. I wanted to urinate out the Red Devil as fast as I could so it wouldn’t be sitting in my kidneys.
Saline flushes that come with chemo made me sick. Sucking on sour candies during the flush masked the taste, but only for so long. Eventually, I ended up holding my nose while I was getting my port flushed and that seemed to do the trick. Find what works for you.
I had the nurse adjust the time the Cytoxin ran. It was supposed to be 45 minutes, but my headaches were so painful I couldn’t take it. My perfect adjusted time ended up being 1 hour and 30 minutes. The nurse also did the Red Devil portion of my chemo before the Cytoxin, and I’m happy she did. When the headaches from the Cytoxin hit, the last thing I wanted to do was be sitting in that infusion chair. I just wanted to go home and go to bed.
I ate some light snacks during the infusion to try and keep my stomach full. Nothing heavy in starches, salts, or fats. I ate apple slices, almonds, granola bars, baked chips…just something to prevent the feeling that I was hungry, because this would trigger nausea.
After My Infusions
When I was finished, I was very light sensitive. Wearing sunglasses in the infusion room may look weird, but it helps. My light sensitivity also made me nauseous, so I made sure to close my eyes in the car ride home and didn’t watch the road.
When I got home, I made sure I had my 8mg of Odansetron (Zofran) sitting by my bedside. I took one exactly 1 hour after the Olanzapine and every 8 hours after that, and I set my alarm to make sure I took it during the wee hours of the night as I needed.
There was always a full bottle of water by my bedside. If I got up to use the restroom, I took three big gulps of water. I did this when I went and when I came back to bed, and every time I used the restroom, even during my infusions.
DO NOT DO ANYTHING after your treatment. Come straight home and go to bed. The more I moved around, the more I felt motion-sick. Have someone bring food and water to your bed, the couch, wherever you’ve decided to crash for the night. After I took my Olanzapine, I was groggy within a couple of hours and I went to sleep, but not without eating first. Plain white Minute rice became my go-to, because there was no smell, it was tasteless, and it’s full of water.
I stayed away from foods I liked immediately after my infusion. You’ll want to as well, because you won’t want to eat them again. To this day I cannot eat a crispy chicken salad, but I did try to eat something every 2 hours after I got home.
Eating foods that were cold or moist worked the best for me. Scrambled eggs, oatmeal, smoothies, breakfast drinks…I even drank an Ensure or a Boost with every meal. Fruit pops were great; so were cold fruit cups. I ate Dole mandarin oranges and turkey sandwiches from Subway as long as they added LOTS of oil and vinegar. I hated the through of breads and dry foods the day of my infusion and for a good solid week after.
I had to buy new body wash and hand soap because scents made me sick. I recommend staying away from the smell of rubbing alcohol, perfumes, and scented deodorants. This may even call fora change in your skin-care routine. I went with a brand called “Simple”, and they worked wonderfully well for me.
I drank Miralax (yes, MIRALAX), starting two nights before my infusion, night of my infusion, and everyday for at least the next three days following my infusion. Constipation was a serious and extremely painful side affect of this particular type of treatment, and after speaking to other AC receivers I’m not the only one. I ended up drinking Miralax every night. This is NOT overkill, TRUST me!
Take it easy, too! I didn’t shower for a few days following my infusion because I didn’t feel like I could stand up without passing out. I felt like I had the coffee jitters combined with the effects of being on a fast spinning merry-go-round! Rest, relax, let others make you food, and don’t feel like you have to do ANYTHING, because you’re in a battle. The goal is to win. Period.
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