In the days before chemotherapy, I started making a mental checklist of all the things I would lose: my hair, my breakfast, my strength, my sense of taste, my ability to fight off infection, my weight (oh, how wrong I was!). But nothing scared me as much as the possibility of losing the ability to make a mental checklist.
In studious preparation for what lay ahead, I meticulously Googled (because Google is always a good idea in health situations) the side effects of my particular cocktail of chemo. And there it was: chemo brain. Over and over, detailed in scholarly articles and personal accounts alike. "Great," I thought. "So not only will I not have hair or breasts, but I'm going to be dumb, too?" This cancer thing was not working out for me. But I went ahead with it because we have to go ahead with it, am I right?
Over a year later, I'm here to tell you that, yes, chemo brain is real. Real real. It's frustrating and funny. It's aggravating and embarrassing. It's there... or maybe it's not there. I don't know. I don't have the mental faculties to figure it out. Just kidding. I think. Wait, what was I saying? Oh, right...
Chemo brain got me like:
I have been in conversation, in the middle of making a point, and forgotten what I was saying mid-sentence. "Yes! I loved that book too. The main character was just so brave and strong and... uhhh..." Blank stare. “Wait, WHAT are we talking about?”
It's that sudden and that random. And it's not the same as how I might have lost my train of thought, pre-chemo. It's like, sometimes, I can't even remember what station the train left from.
Boring My Friends
I have a sneaky suspicion that I keep telling people the same stories over and over. No one really calls me on it, but I think I have turned into my grandma. As I was telling my friend the story of how my daughter declared to the librarian that her name was "Poo Poo," my friend's face told me the story of how she had heard this before. It was her third time hearing that anecdote that week.
I keep comparing myself to a dog because of my lack of concentration, but that's not really fair to the canines. In all fairness, though, we are both distracted by shiny things and the promise of food.
Exasperating My BFFs
One of my girlfriends was telling me about how she was going to see a Michael Jackson tribute band for her birthday, and her husband slyly snuck in a joke that probably shouldn't be repeated here. I just kept right along, talking about how it would be so fun, wondering if I could get a babysitter that night, oblivious that a joke was even made. Then, a full 30 seconds later, bam! The joke hit me, and I laughed and high-fived my funny friend. It's a sort of delayed gratification when telling jokes around me now, because chemo brain = slower processing, you know?
Making Money for Target
I ran into Target last week specifically for coffee creamer. I didn't make any kind of list or write "creamer" on my daughter's forehead or anything. I spent $78.37 and left with a new shower curtain, but I had to drink black coffee at home for two more days. Remembering things is not my jam right now. I have learned to: Write. Everything. Down.
Disappointing My Old Math Team
The other day, I took my 2-year-old to an open play date that cost $3. I handed over a $10 bill to my friend, who was also dealing with other people's money, and I said, "I just need $6 back." So yeah, my quick thinking math skills have taken a hit (10 - 3 = 7, guys).
Also Disappointing My Old Lit Professors
In reading for pleasure after chemo, I have come to the realization that I have had to step down my game. I tried to read “The Goldfinch” last year, just as I finished chemo, and I couldn't keep up. Not only could I not process the book very well, but I could never remember what was happening and had to restart the book three times before giving up in frustration.
Complex thoughts + processing stuff + also having to remember storyline = ugh. So you will find me reading lighter (read: sometimes terrible) fare.
Horrifying Both Merriam and Webster
I drop words like they're hot now. It's like I have several mini strokes a day. "Sweetie, with your lunch, do you want an apple or a.... uhh.... umm...?" and my 4-year-old walks away as I ponder what those long yellow fruits are called.
Frustrating My Husband
So yeah, it's apparent that my memory kind of sucks now, and I expected that. What I didn't expect was the horror of not remembering anything I say. I kind of feel like I'm Steve Urkel's forgetful little sister. "Did I say that?"
My husband is always telling me things that I said, and I'm not sure if I should trust him or if he's just found this fun loophole for getting his way. But, really, I know it's true. I somehow forget entire conversations. Like, entire exchanges. So that's fun for all involved.
The truth, at least for me, is that these things are slowly fading and the chemo fog is finally lifting. I don't know if I'll ever be the same, but I do know that I'm alive. So if you are here with me, also chemo-brained but happy to be alive, I feel you... but I probably won't remember you.