Chemical Fog

Chemo brain is real.

Combine chemo brain with “old lady’s brain” and thinking becomes an adventure.

Everyone forgets why they went into a room. To get what?? Just go back to the previous room and the thought of what you were going to do magically returns to your brain. That’s the old person’s brain. With chemo brain added in, you don’t remember where you just came from!

Word retrieval problem: At first it was annoying that in a middle of a sentence I couldn’t remember a word. But everyone does that and just needs to slow it down, substitute a word or describe what they mean. With chemo brain, I can forget what I’m even talking about while I’m talking about it. I can’t find common words, like tree, as I’m looking at one! In Psychology, we call it the “tip of the tongue phenomenon”. (I love that Psychology has the words for everything) (The room problem is called context dependent memory)

Chemo brain increases as I get the chemo and slowly ebbs away into just old lady brain after a week or so. When I’ve had even a sip of alcohol, I’m tired or stressed, it comes on in full force. I actually can feel a sense of a fog develop in my brain. Now that I take chemo in a daily pill, chemo brain comes and goes at will. I’m getting used to talking as if I have expressive aphasia (finding those words and thoughts). People who see me regularly have increased their patience with me, suggest words or ideas I might be talking about and remind me of the topic.

Sometimes I don’t always understand what I read or hear. I thought Betty White had died. Thankfully not. Headlines in my paper that attempt a play on words or abbreviate their meaning can cause me to read most of an article before it dawns on me that they’re not talking about the economy (or anyone) actually playing hopscotch.

Once when I went for a walk, I realized I didn’t know where I was. I knew I couldn’t have gone too far so I kept walking until I recognized I was only a few blocks from home and was headed in the right direction. I always bring my phone when I walk now. I also make sure my husband has that “find your lost wandering loved one” app. 

Multi-tasking?  No longer an option. 

Once, while in the middle of a difficult chemo, I went walking with a dear friend who had just discovered she was in early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. We were both comfortable enough to laugh when neither of us could remember what we were talking about and just moved on to a different topic or walked with a comfortable silence.  I’m not alone struggling with illness.

Usually I’m cognitively okay. Most of the time, people don’t notice my lags. I’m more comfortable with it now and just go with the flow. Though, I do often wonder how the comments I write on my students’ paper sound to them!!

I have really slowed down in life and I like the feeling. Slowing down helps as I try to cognitively figure out the world from a new perspective. It also helps as I continue to wait to see a solid pattern of improvement in tumor marker numbers; I am just happy there has been the start of a pattern. I know this pandemic has created a weird new world for everyone, but for me, it’s just another aspect of my new perspective.

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This is my blog about living my life with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer—End stage. I joked about writing this imaginary blog when I spent a year on a treatment that allowed me only 10 days to feel well enough to live a fairly normal life. (Actually normal doesn’t even really exist for me anymore!) To earn those good days, I spent the previous 10 days living in post-chemo treatment physical hell – that also became normal in a perverse way. I’m also writing to honor those who are diagnosed with Stage Four Pancreatic Cancer. You might live longer than you expect and I want you to have someone who tells you what that’s like. There aren’t many role models for people with this because, well, they’re usually gone. So, this is for you. Maybe your journey will be similar to mine. Actually, it will probably be very different because “everyone is different.” Even still, maybe this will still be a bit of a guide.

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