Tag Archives: Writing 201

Do You Have Chemo Brain?


It has taken some time, but now science and medicine acknowledge that chemo brain is a real side effect of chemotherapy. It can last for a few months or can linger on for years. 
   
Chemo brain is characterized by mental confusion, inability to multi-task, memory problems, the inability to concentrate, and vocabulary problems – either the inability to think of a common word or the inability to say the word aloud and say a different word or words instead.

Chemo brain can be funny at times (particularly to one’s relatives and children) but mostly it is a frustrating and sometimes frightening state of affairs.  I have had chemotherapy twice and have gone through this experience both times. Even 3 years past the second chemo, it still strikes me when I am overly tired or stressed.

I composed a list of chemo brain incidents I personally experienced. If you can relate to these, you have probably experienced chemo brain too!

image

1. You lose your purse, cell phone and
     keys on a regular basis. You’ve been
     known to “misplace” your children
     from time to time but they always
     come back.

2.  You lose your ability to think of
      everyday words. To compensate,
      you speak in awkward descriptive
      sentences like, “can you pass me
      a…a…little round dead cow?” at the
      neighborhood barbecue when you
      want a hamburger.

3.   Your brain finally comes up with
       right word but your mouth
       has a mind of its own with random
       semi-related words coming out at
       unexpected times. Now that you
       have your burger, your brain thinks
       bun but your mouth asks for toast
       to put on your hamburger.
        
   4. You get used to your children
        thinking you are being funny
        while your friends, neighbors, and
        fellow co-workers think you are
        drunk, crazy, or suffering early
        stage dementia whenever you
        open your mouth to speak.

      5. It’s a good day at work when the
           only thing mismatched is your
           socks. Although your employer
           complains, at least they don’t
           know about the time you drove
           halfway to work in your pajamas
           before realizing you weren’t
           appropriately dressed.

       6.  You drive home from work and
             realize you have no memory of
             the ride home.
             

image

       7.  You find yourself at the
             grocery store or mall with no
             idea why you are there or what
             you came to buy.

 .       8.  You can listen to the same old
               gossip time and again as you                           have no memory of hearing
               the story the first time round.

          9.  You are cooking and the
                phone rings. You forget about
                making dinner until the
                smoke detector reminds you.

           10.  You decide to tackle chemo
                   brain head-on by making to-
                   do lists and putting them in
                   safe places. You
                   immediately forget where
                   those safe places are.

      
These are my personal top ten hits of chemo brain. I’m sure there are many more, but frankly I have forgotten them. Please let me know I’m not alone in my daze and confusion. I’d love to hear the funny and not so funny things chemo brain did to you in the comments below.    

image

            

       

Posted from WordPress for Android

Advertisements

Cancer Changes Everything


image

I saw a meme the other day that said something like “cancer can take away my body parts but it can’t touch my mind, my heart, or my soul.” Lovely words, heroic even, if you don’t think about them too closely.  I thought about them very closely and found I disagreed strongly with the message.
One way to interpret this meme is the superficial positive message of, “I am more than my disease. I am still a real person under the scars and the bald head and the chemo sickness. I am still me in my mind, heart, and soul”.

On that level, I can accept the meme’s message. But when I look at the words as they are written, not searching for a positive hidden meaning, I find myself in total disagreement with them.

I don’t think we can compartmentalize our lives that easily. The physical changes impact the mind, the emotions, and the spirit. It is not just the physical changes that lead to mental and emotional distress. The very process of being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease plays havoc with our minds, emotions, and our spirits. We are more than the sum of our physical parts. Our bodies, minds, emotions, and spirits are all intertwined to make up the whole package of our being.  Our bodies don’t exist in some separate dimension away from the mental and emotional parts of our being.  I do not believe that we come out of the other side of a cancer experience the same person we were when we went in.

Dealing first with the physical changes that cancer brings upon us, they have an enormous impact on the mind, the heart (emotions), and the soul (the very core of our being and our belief system). Breast cancer treatment often strips us of our breast(s), our hair, our fertility, and sometimes our ovaries or even our whole reproductive system. Often times treatment pushes a woman into at least temporary menopause. For others, the menopause is early and is permanent. No matter what kind of treatment is involved, there is physical pain and sickness from surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Our whole body image can change dramatically in only a few months time. Suddenly, all the physical attributes of what makes us female are gone. This plays havoc on our self-esteem and self-confidence. Yes breasts can be reconstructed, hair will grow back, fertility may be regained if we are very young and lucky or if we had the foresight to freeze eggs or embryos in advance of chemotherapy or gynecological surgery.

But breast reconstruction often involves multiple surgeries and for some, the end result is disappointing at best. And a reconstructed breast no longer has any feeling in it, no matter how cosmetically wonderful it may look.

Assisted reproduction techniques are not always successful. Chemotherapy can leave behind a permanent legacy of neuropathy (numbness in the hands and feet), hormonal drugs can lead to chronic joint pains, and surgical or chemically induced menopause symptoms can be more severe than natural menopause and are unlikely to be treated with hormonal supplements as these may reignite cancer.

With all these physical “side-effects” of cancer treatment, is it any wonder that many women feel distressed or depressed or highly anxious? When you look in the mirror and don’t even recognize the person you were 6 months earlier, it is bound to affect you mentally and emotionally. If you are in chronic pain and are suffering hot flashes at 30, it tends to change your outlook on life.

As far as cancer not being able to touch your mind,  I have one word for that. Chemobrain. It is real, it affects your memory, your concentration, and your ability to communicate effectively. It can feel as though you have had a mini-stroke as you dig through the filing cabinets of your mind to find that elusive everyday word you have used a million times before. Other times the right word is in your brain but a totally random word comes out of your mouth as if your brain and mouth were no longer connected. Then there is the disconcerting habit of losing things – your purse, your keys, your phone – only to find them right in front of you the whole time. So yes, cancer treatment can take away the mind for many of us, at least temporarily.

image

As far as the heart or the emotions, just the very diagnosis of having a disease that can potentially kill you tends to strike fear and panic into your heart. You wait endlessly for pathology reports and the results of various scans to see if the cancer has spread. You worry about loved ones and how they will cope during treatment, or in the worst case scenario death, particularly if they are young children or aged parents that you normally care for.

Even when the cancer is caught at an early stage and the prognosis is good, most women are still highly anxious about a recurrence or a future diagnosis showing the cancer has spread. Once you have had cancer, you feel your body has betrayed you once and can do so again. Your sense of safety in the world has been irrevocably affected.  You have come face to face with your own mortality, realizing you just might not live to a ripe old age. These factors can bring on depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and in some cases, PTSD. So yes, cancer can and usually does attack the heart (emotions) as well as the body.

Finally, your soul or your very essence of being can be adversely affected as your perspective on life changes. Some of the changes may be for the good in that you start to appreciate the people and things around you more as you feel you came close to losing them. But it can also make you more wary of planning for the future, knowing that cancer could re-enter your life at any time.

You suddenly become aware that many women are dying of this disease, women your age and younger, as well as women whose cancers were also detected early and were given an excellent prognosis.  The world of cancer seems very random, more like a roll of the dice than like the orderly world of the cancer media which says early detection will keep you safe. You may search for ways to put yourself in control of your cancer by completely changing your diet and lifestyle only to hear about organic vegans who ran triathlons and died of cancer anyway. When you realize that the difference between living and dying of this disease seems to be more a matter of luck than anything else, your previously optimistic view of an orderly controlled world is essentially gone for good.

Perhaps I am presenting an overly pessimistic view due to my personal history of having breast cancer 4 times. It is a rarity in the breast cancer world to have cancer strike 4 times and not spread beyond the breast. I am grateful that I have been spared from Stage 4 cancer multiple times, particularly as I also have a BRCA1 mutation to contend with.

But even “good” recurrences like mine come with a huge emotional and spiritual price tag attached. I am constantly looking over my shoulder waiting for cancer to strike again. It is impossible for me to believe that this time I have “beaten” cancer as it keeps coming back for another round. Even if my breast cancer days are over, the BRCA1 mutation means I am susceptible to other forms of cancer that may be waiting in the wings to strike when I least expect it.

I don’t blame cancer for all the problems in my life. But I would be lying if I said that cancer didn’t have a negative impact on all areas of my life. I don’t believe cancer only took physical body parts away from me. It took much more of a toll on my emotions and spirit that I tried my best to cover up for many years. I am still happy with my life but I miss the wide eyed optimist I used to be. I don’t think she is ever coming back again and that makes my mind, heart, and spirit sad.

image

Posted from WordPress for Android

Transracial Adoption: When the Adorable Babies Become Teens


This is a continuation of my earlier story “Adopting After Cancer: A Love Story”. What happens when those cute black babies become black teenagers?

Survivors Blog Here

image

When we first adopted our son as a newborn, complete strangers would come up to us to say he was the cutest baby they had ever seen. Many also choose, without asking permission, to ruffle and feel his hair. This latest throughout his toddlerhood and stopped abruptly when he was in the early school grades.

My daughter came along 16 months after my son, and she also got a lot of attention for her cuteness and later her burgeoning beauty. People often mistook them for twins even though my son was 3 times the size of my daughter due to the difference in age. I sold children’s designer clothes on EBay for a time and my daughter was often my model. People would write to me about my adorable model although they wouldn’t necessarily purchase the clothes.

Children grow up and although I think they are both exceptionally good looking…

View original post 304 more words

2014 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.