Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chemo Brain

Some of you have asked about my sister Tracey, who was diagnosed with breast cancer while I was going through treatment. She finished up her treatment before me, and is doing really well. She caught her cancer earlier than I did and hers was slightly different than mine, so she had much less treatment. Praise the Lord!!!

I got to talk to her on the phone this past weekend and we laughed as we compared notes. One thing I haven't mentioned before is "chemo brain." Or perhaps I have mentioned it before and just can't remember. It is like "mommy brain" on steroids. We can laugh about it now and make fun of ourselves, since we've mostly recovered. But it did make life quite frustrating.

These things were constant, unlike the occasional memory loss and distraction that people commonly experience. It was really embarrassing and caused me to avoid people and conversations. It was like this:

  • I would concentrate as hard as I could when people were speaking to me and STILL forget mid-sentence what they were talking about. Then I'd look like I wasn't listening when I asked questions to find out things they had just told me.
  • I'd see someone I had known for years and completely forget their name. 
  • I couldn't remember details of people's lives...obvious ones, like, "Are they married? Do they have kids? Do they work? They just shared their life story with me yesterday!"
  • I'd see people and know that I was supposed to know them but had no idea who they were. "Do I know that person? Should I introduce myself or pretend I know them and hopefully I'll be able to figure it out by our conversation?" Then I'd be reminded by my husband that they had come to our house and brought us dinner the night before.
  • I would forget details of my own life. I couldn't remember what I had said, what I had done, or what I was about to do. I would strain to remember, with no success.
  • I couldn't remember words. Nothing sounded right when I spoke. I would mix things up. I couldn't keep a thought in my head long enough to communicate anything to anyone. At times I would go completely blank and stumble foolishly over my words.
  • I became really, really stupid. I got many strange looks because of my obvious lack of intelligence and odd behavior.
  • I was unable to focus, was constantly distracted, and probably shouldn't have even been driving. Fortunately I wasn't cooking or I might have burnt the house down.
  • I know it caused conflict in my family, I just can't quite remember how (see what I mean!). I'm pretty sure it was frustrating for them when I constantly failed to follow through on things I said I would do, then completely forget.

It was pretty funny at first. Damie would tease me, until it got so bad and I became so insecure about it that it just wasn't funny anymore. If I told him something repeatedly, instead of pointing it out to me, I asked him to just pretend it was the first time I said it. The fact that I had already told him something and didn't remember just made me want to cry.

I wanted to scream to the world, "YES, YOU ARE VERY IMPORTANT TO ME, EVEN IF I CAN'T REMEMBER YOUR NAME OR WHAT YOU JUST SAID TO ME OR THAT YOU SENT ME THAT FABULOUS BOUQUET OF FLOWERS LAST WEEK!" Instead I stared blankly and smiled awkwardly. I wonder how many peoples' feelings I hurt.

It doesn't go away over night. It's more of a process. My brain becomes clearer everyday. I still use the dictionary constantly, making sure that I'm using the right word and that it means what I think it means (not just the hard words, but often times the simple, obvious ones). I can remember past events of my life, but the details are gone. I feel like I have to relearn everything I once learned. When I read books I have read in the past, it is almost like reading them for the first time.
It's actually nice to get a fresh new look at life, and to be able to learn things without some of the bias generated by my past perceptions and experiences. Things become a bit clearer.


  1. Sounds a little like dementia - good thing it goes away! Thanks for being honest (and remembering to tell us!!). :)

  2. Sounds like you got an early taste of senior-itis! (that is, old age). At least you will understand what your parents are going through! We love you -- even when your brain is fuzzy. Mom

  3. Great post Steph! I can see you telling this, curled up on your couch :) I love you're blog because you're so real. Blessings and say hi to Damie.

  4. Don't be ashamed. I have been struggling with memory problems for about 5 years now. I forget things that I used to know and repeat myself. Scared me when it started and I couldn't remember appointments and things. I lose words to songs and stuff. And I forget conversations too.