When I initially got diagnosed with Hodgkins, I immediately when into research mode. Ok, interwebs…tell me everything I need to prepare for these next months. I combed through every symptom and possibility. I knew what a good PET scan looked like before I ever got one. I have some issues with being in control and this was my way to control what I could in the process. If nothing else, I would be informed.
Sitting across from my therapist, I told her that I didn’t mind most of the symptoms. I could handle nausea, hair loss, sore mouth, taste issues, weight loss (dear God, please!) but I didn’t think I could handle loosing my mind. I love my brain. Personally, I think it is one of my best features. I love being smart. I know who I am when I am at the intellectual table. “I can’t lose that. I just can’t.” Well, ‘can’t’ is such a strong word because you better believe that I did.
They call it chemo brain. It is this sluggish thought processes and makes concentration and recall ability very difficult. My therapist informs me this happens at 40 and when you have twins. I cannot help turning 40, but twins are officially a NEVER will I ever. Chemo brain makes me feel stupid, constantly. And while I do think the medication is part of it, I blame most of this on anemia and low blood count. Because when I get that oh no, hold-onto-a-wall dizzy feeling that I get when my cells have dropped, I also get worse chemo brain.
What does this mean for daily life? Well, I forget where I put things constantly. Keys are impossible. On numerous occasions I will put things exactly where they go and then conduct a frantic search anyway. Oh my God where is my order for my blood work?! I had to have left it at home. Circle car around the block. Frantically call Mom to look. Nope, it is in my planner where it should be. Cell phone? Couldn’t tell you where it is half the time or how many times I have left it at home. Thankfully, I don’t have hair because I am pretty sure I would shampoo twice without realizing.
Words are really difficult too. I know what I want to say. I have it in my brain. But the words are stuck. I end up saying nonsensical vague words, which results in people looking at me with side-ways turned dog heads. This also makes writing difficult. I have a constant thesaurus on the search bar. And names…forget it. I will stare at a student. I have known this student for two full years. I call this student by his name everyday. He doesn’t even use a nickname in my class. What is your name? What is your name?! And that’s when I give up and say, “I forgot your name. Chemo has decided that your name is too difficult for my memory.” Then in the middle of trying to explain that it’s not his fault this is all mine…ESTEBAN! explodes out of my mouth, a five second delay. And Jesus do not ask me to remember a celebrity or politician or the name of that movie. All of that information went out of my body along with the excess nitrogen. (Yes, I looked up the composition of a human fart…60% nitrogen.) I literally write everything down because when a student tells me, “remember you said…” Nope, I don’t remember. And doctor’s appointments that are never at the same time, forget it. If I didn’t have twenty phone reminders, I would never see a doctor.
Then we come to concentration. I can stare at a student’s paper for fifteen minutes and not read a damn word. Or read the words four or five times in order to compute what is being said. And the problem is not with the writing on these occasions. In fact, the bad writers are easier for me to get through. My brain is on that level now. Reading books used to give me so much pleasure. Now, I can barely get through a chapter in an hour because I am reading and rereading. My concentration is laser focused which makes me a slow reader as well. And driving? Thankfully I have to shift when I drive because if I was in an automatic, I would have been in an accident by now. And through all of this, I am trying to learn Spanish. ha. ha. Spanish verbs and chemo brain is oil and water. Poor Nico has to deal with staccato Kim Escucha. me. no. puedo. pensar. as I concentrate on every word.
You know those moments when you are standing in a room and you are asking yourself why you are there? That is my struggle everyday. One brain fart after the next, along with the real farts, makes for an interesting life. Was I being dramatic with my therapist about this symptom, yes. I can deal with it. But this one, this particular symptom probably causes me the most frustration and annoyance.