this is your brain on drugs

do you remember those PSAs from the 80s? the one with eggs getting scrambled or the girl diving into an empty pool? the ominous narrator chimes in, “this is your brain. this is your brain on drugs. any questions?” well, he kind of wasn’t joking. my brain is on drugs, and it is really wacked.

i’ve heard from other cancer patients that their short-term memory is gone, finito, sh*t. and now it’s happening to me. what does this look like?

when i can’t concentrate for more than 30 seconds at a time.

when i lose my former ability to multi-task, forgetting about scrambling eggs on the stove because i’m engrossed vacuuming in the other room (this happened today, so the PSA is feeling spot on).

when i begin most sentences with: “did i tell you [insert anything]?” and your answer is a resolving “yes.”

when i lose my words. there are plenty of examples like this last one, but, i haven’t found the words yet so can’t share them. true story.

when i tell you a big piece of news that you actually had told me first.

when i take forever to get out of the house. this is a pre-condition to chemo but has been totally exacerbated because of it. sorry, mike.

thank god i’m not driving on the freeway, folks!

my NP said they don’t quite understand the biological reasons behind chemo brain, but it is medically recognized as a condition. she did offer up some ponderings on it though. like, your brain partially shuts down to prevent any more trauma. or you have PTSD from your diagnosis and can’t process what’s continually happening to you. or the drugs produce the fog. or your fatigue and low blood counts cause it. or the drive-by that is chemo attacks your brain cells in some way.

the good news is that with growing recognition of this real side effect, the research is also starting to pay attention (see here for a recent study that showed EEGs of patients receiving chemo having “high amplitude;” that is, more brain activity when doing cognitive tasks. in other words, chemo patients had to work a lot harder to think.) (yes, first the research needs to confirm it’s true before they can figure out how to treat it. thank you, science, for confirming what cancer patients have been saying is true for decades) (chemo brain can’t kill my sarcasm, dammit!).

this might be the side effect that bothers me the most. i’m not ready to have senior moments, although they would go hand-in-hand with the hot flashes. chemo brain can be short-term while receiving chemo, or, worst case scenario, can last a few years or longer. i get my life but lose my brain. so please humor me for the time being, when you witness or are part of an interaction with any of the above examples. the only comeback i have is borrowed from a t-shirt i saw in the infusion room: “i have chemo brain. what’s your excuse?” cancer humor, slightly dark and mostly snarky.

up this week: getting me some more of that fancy chemo! my 12th and final taxol, right in time for turkey day. i’m thankful to have received all my treatments so far on time and without life-threatening side effects. pretty low bar but there it is.

i’m also continually thankful for family and friends, whether it’s here on caringbridge, in the city or across the miles. it might be meals, letters, visits, texts, trips to pier 1, or getting henna-ed together–it all is deeply meaningful. and that last experience, getting my head painted with henna, was totally awesome. i got more than a few double-takes out and about today, with people likely being initially afraid of me for being so hard core to tattoo my whole head. but the interactions–“what’s the occasion for the henna?”–were way more positive than i usually get in public (e.g., eyes averted, fear, discomfort). art is beautiful, and now i get to wear it on my head.

happy short (US) week to you all. enjoy the cornucopia this week brings and safe travels if you’re headed out.
ps some of you have inquired – we cannot see who reads the blog unless you heart a post or comment. i’m not asking for either but wanted to share how it works from our end.

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