Excerpt from my work in progress “Today Cancer Tomorrow The World!”
I learn about chemo brain.
I’m sleepwalking through my march of time at home to pass through two-and-a-half week recovery time to get to my third cycle of chemo. There were changes in me. I was forgetting things I had previously no trouble recalling. Drawing a blank on simple words to express myself. It was like being hungover, I felt like my brain has been turned into a towel left inside a gym locker for a week I knew I wasn’t all there, so I didn’t drive because I thought my attention might wander and I could cause an accident. When I tried to read the words slipped off the page before they could go through my eyes and register to my brain. When I watched an episode of Inspector Morse on DVD, there was a scene where he was reading a book, researching an idea, and writing down a note. I started crying because I couldn’t do any of that. Reading and making notes on my observations was important to me. My Dad once said, “These guys who think they’ll retire and read, they won’t, intellectual curiosity is something you do your whole life.” I remembered how I was five years old and Dad took me to the public library for the first time. He was always reading histories. I was five and blown away by the shelves containing all the books on cowboys, Martians, and the Hardy Boys! The site of seeing these books on the shelves with all these cool stories. And then my mind shifted to a story my Dad told me about a brilliant co-worker who read his whole life, then had a stroke, and said, “Fred, I pick up and read a book and when I put it down I don’t remember a thing of what I just read.” And the world of books was taken away from me.
I told an oncology nurse about my concentration problems and how my mind just drifted, and she simply answered: “Chemo Brain.”
I looked it up on the internet:
Though chemo brain is a widely used term, it’s misleading. It’s not yet clear that chemotherapy is the mild cognitive impairment that causes of concentration and memory problems in cancer survivors. And many cancer survivors with memory problems still score well on cognitive tests, leaving doctors wondering whether chemo brain really exists.
Doctors “wondering whether chemo brain really exists”? Give me a break.
Chemo is like being naked and marching into a car wash. But instead of brushes there are needles drawing your blood. There’s no water and soap. You’re sprayed and swept into the force of a toxic thundercloud. You’re a kite without a string and a long tail in a whirling wind. All you can do is hold onto the tail and take in the smearing view. Then you’re blow dried with radiation from CT And PET scans. You emerge. It’s like getting off wild amusement park ride that made you queasy and dizzy and just short of nauseous and the inside of your head seems filled with sulfur, and your stomach is folded over a wire hanger and feels like dried-cracked mud, as if I you had too much coffee. You stagger, trying to stab your footing into the ground to move forward. You blindly peer through the haze, coughing, holding up your pants because they’ll slip and drop to your knees. By now you’ve lost so much weight that you walk cautiously because even your feet are thinner and can easily slip out of your shoes. Your focus is blurred, but slowly clearing like condensation on a windshield when you turn on the defroster. Then you’re back in the world, collapsed in a chair, or lying in bed, and you’re stuck in neutral and not moving but somehow launched into a daze where everything around you is partially comprehended then lost, you can’t grasp or follow anything, as if your thoughts are little jellied fish you’re trying to scoop out of a stream of unconsciousness but they keep wiggling and slipping between your fingers. Chemo compression can hold you in this a state for three hours and you wouldn’t know the time has passed until it suddenly and momentarily releases you.
Of course there’s chemo brain, I’ll tell you why. The hospital dumps toxic chemicals into my body that ransacks, rapes, and pillages every healthy and malignant and benign cell and nerve fiber. Let me give you this analogy, my sister once had one of those doll houses, and she’d put all this plastic furniture inside it, there was a living room a bedroom etc. So give this house chemo and shake it up and all the furniture that was your brain cells are in all the wrong rooms. The TV is in the bathroom, the toilet is in the bedroom, the stove is in the basement, how would you like to live in a house and you wonder why a person can’t seem to find the refrigerator? Why because there isn’t a kitchen anymore!