Chemo Brain

8 Sep


For the longest time, I thought that the term “chemo brain” was one of my own invention.  After I started to read other cancer patients’ stories, though, I realized that this was a widespread phenomenon.

One afternoon I had a particularly frustrating encounter with chemo brain that sent me on a wild goose chase.  I had gone to the grocery store to stock up on some basics — eggs, milk, tuna, soft sandwich rolls (sliced bread tears up your mouth on chemo!) — you get the idea. I left the bottom floor of the supermarket with two bags of groceries and took the escalator up to the middle floor to buy chocolate. Something smelled warm and good on the chocolate floor, and I went to go investigate… onion/cheese focaccia for 3.90 francs. Perfect lunch. I grabbed some, put it in the chocolate bag and hurried out to try to get home by the time my mom wanted to Skype me.

I sat at the tram stop for five or 10 minutes, finally getting on one that stops a few blocks away from where I normally like to get off. Once we arrived at my stop, I got off and noticed that I had a problem… only two bags. The chocolate/focaccia bag (the most important one!) was missing.

“Okay,” I told myself. “Take a deep breath and calm down.”  I waited at the tram stop for 10 more minutes to catch the tram back to where I had started from. Once I boarded the tram, I traveled one stop before realizing… “hey, it smells like focaccia in here. I shouldn’t be able to smell it if it isn’t here.” Bag recount! One… two… oh, hey, here’s the third bag. I was carrying it all along.

Of course, by then I was going the wrong way to get home, so I had to get off and wait at the tram stop for another five minutes to catch the right tram. I got home half an hour later than I wanted to. Chemo can really make you wonder about the state of your mind sometimes!

Another thing that chemo brain affected was my ability to hold anything steady. One morning I put on a load of clothes, including my favorite pair of sweatpants, during my scheduled weekly laundry slot. Then I put on my second-favorite (read: only other) pair of pants and started making tuna salad in the kitchen. Halfway through cranking open the tuna with a manual can opener, I dropped it… and got thick, greasy tuna oil all over my pants. The only clean pair I had. So I washed them out in the sink in my room — and spilled detergent in the floor. At that point, the whole shaky hand thing was getting pretty annoying.

The silver lining was that spilling the detergent motivated me to sweep my floor, which meant that I eradicated all the hairball/dust bunnies living under the bed. Poor little things got relegated to the trash can.

Then I began to do silly little things, like forget whether or not I had eaten in the morning or forget which TV show I was watching during commercial breaks.

Chemo brain sure can make you do strange things!


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