When the ‘Red Devil’ makes you sick

Each chemo infusion took a few hours, but always began with a blood test to check that all my levels were where they needed to be. If something was off or my white blood count was too low, my chemo may have been rescheduled. In order to help my white blood cells regenerate though, I got an injection called Nuelasta the day after each infusion. For me, it did the trick and I was lucky enough that my blood counts always came back up in time for my next chemo infusion. I did, however, need a Potassium IV drip before chemo one day since my levels were too low. My homework after that? Eat more bananas.

A/C chemo is nicknamed the red devil primarily for its bright red color (visualize fruit punch red, seriously), but also because it can be particularly brutal. It can cause severe chemical burns if it gets on your skin or leaks from the vein under the skin but this is rare and luckily did not happen to me. It also often gifts recipients with particularly unpleasant side effects. I experienced all of the major ones: nausea and vomiting, mouth sores and hair loss. None of this was entirely surprising to me, although I did expect the anti-nausea medication to work better than it did. I ended up switching to a steroid to help with nausea instead and that did the trick!

In an effort to be transparent with the good, bad and ugly, as well as to give you all a laugh, I’ll share a funny story with you, which prompted the switch in anti-nausea medications.

Trigger warning: vomit. Do not keep reading if you’re bothered by funny vomit stories. 

Alright, here we go! It was just a few days after my very first chemo infusion and the side effects were starting to kick in. It was early morning and I drank a fruit smoothie for breakfast, trying to get some nutrients in before my doctor’s appointment. Despite not feeling all too well, I learned my lesson from the biopsy that I should never go to a doctor’s appointment on an empty stomach because I never know what they may have to do to me. So, like a good patient, I drank the smoothie.

I was feeling a bit unwell but nothing too terrible so I managed to get ready for the drive over. We took my mom’s white Hyundai Sonata and she drove so that I could rest in the passenger seat. All was going well until I started feeling overwhelmingly nauseous about 30 minutes into the drive. It came on suddenly, so I started to take deep breaths hoping that it would pass. A couple minutes went by and I was suffering. I kept telling my mom how awful I felt and was on the verge of tears but we were only 10 minutes away from the office. I was convinced I could make it and maybe I’d feel better once we got there.

Well, the truth is, I couldn’t make it. As soon as I felt it coming up, I begged my mom to pull over. She was in the left lane trying her best to get over 3 lanes of traffic as quickly as possible, while I’m trying my best not to vomit. She’s telling me to hold on and I’m pleading for her to pull over.

In the meantime, I look down and see a plastic grocery bag. I quickly grab it, just in case, and almost instantaneously projectile vomit pink smoothie into the bag. Immediate relief floods over me until moments later, I started to feel something. It was vomit, and it was running down the seat. There was a tangerine sized hole in the bag and vomit was spilling ALL over me and my mom’s car. She finally pulls over into a small empty parking lot just off the main road while I’m holding the bag trying to close the hole and stop the vomit from getting everywhere.

As soon as the car stops, my mom opens the door and runs around to my side of the car to open my door. I’m holding the bag of vomit with two hands and immediately stand up out of the car and start laughing hysterically. I’m talking a big belly laugh with tears rolling down my face. I look around and then straight at my mom, who is standing there trying to make sense of what just happened, and I exclaim, “Oh my gosh, I feel SO much better. I can’t believe that just happened but I’d do it all again if I had to because I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER!” 

So here we are, standing on the side of a major road during rush hour traffic in a small, empty parking lot, me holding a plastic grocery bag full of vomit while also covered in said vomit, and we’re both dying of laughter. We finally compose ourselves enough to find a trash can for the vomit bag and then walk back to the car.

I stood there, looking at the car and then down at my vomit-covered hands and jeans, wondering what I should do. Luckily, my mom is one of the most prepared people I know and she had a small tan hand towel in the trunk. She takes it out and proceeds to try to wipe the vomit off me. We’re crying laughing again, knowing how futile this attempt is. She then wipes the seat off as best she can and we decide to get back to driving. We’re already going to be late to the doctor’s appointment and we can’t miss it, so we decide we’ll figure the rest out later.

Upon turning into the parking lot to the breast center, we got lucky with what I like to call princess parking, right up front. My mom gets out of the car and I just sit there, with the feel of my gross, wet vomit jeans looking down to see how bad it looks. How on earth am I going to walk into a doctor’s office covered in vomit? Well, I didn’t have a choice. So I started walking and my mom tried walking right behind me, hiding the worst of it from behind.

We arrive at the reception desk and I immediately ask if they have an extra pair of scrub bottoms without even thinking to explain the situation. I’m sure they thought I unexpectedly got my period but they agreed without question. The thing was, they only had an XL pair to spare so as a petite 5’1 woman I could barely keep them up. Thank goodness for being able to awkwardly tie them super tight. It did the trick and felt so much more comfortable.

Now though, not only was I feeling nauseous again (thankfully not to the same extent), but I was carrying my vomit-covered clothes and wearing XL scrub bottoms in public. And it wasn’t even 11am yet. We got through it though, or so we thought.

Did that seem like enough for one morning? Well, it sure felt like the universe was working against us because it wasn’t over yet. On the way home from the doctor’s office, a car was trying to bypass a stopped bus and hit us in a small fender bender. My mom and I looked at each other in shock, as the day had already been so eventful. All I wanted was to get home and shower after the vomit incident and yet, here we were. So, I stayed in the car, shrinking into the seat wishing I was invisible, while my mom handled the accident with the other driver and police officer. It took no more than 30 minutes but it felt like eternity. Eventually we were on our way again and made it home in one piece!

I promise I could not have made this up if I tried. I wish I had photos to laugh at but alas, we were pre-occupied and didn’t take a single photo. I hope you got a chuckle at my expense though. If I had to suffer, everyone should at least be able to laugh about it, and I still do too!

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