Holy moly. When I was dosed with my first round of chemo, I had no idea what to expect. I would closely equate it with getting hit by a truck. It was misery filled with nausea and exhaustion. But I was also completely blindsided by something else that I did not expect or even know about – chemo brain.
On my first “off week” meaning no chemo that week, when I started to come back to life a bit, I was hit mentally by something else. Walking into Jason’s (home) office I burst into tears, “Oh my God, chemo is killing my brain!” – I had a full blow meltdown. Being one who (may or may not, on occasion) immediately jump to the worst case scenario, I was freaking out. I was having trouble remembering things, difficulty thinking through things and every thought seemed hazy. Like the thoughts were all still there, but they had a heavy blanket over them. I was no longer able to think quickly, about anything. Any thoughts of continuing to work were vanquished by the week of nausea and fatigue followed by my inability to think through details on any level.
I could still carry on conversations it was just more difficult. Jason, being my research analyst, came back to me with some info. It’s called chemo fog or chemo brain and it is very common and very real. It does go away after treatment, most times. But it can take awhile – up to two years. What?! Two years! (Insert some deep belly meditative breathing here). We talked to my oncologist about it and she was very reassuring that it will go away, especially if you are tuned in to it and working on things. But there are some adaptive things I can do to help.
This was the moment, when even though the chemo fog you learn more about yourself. I realized that I prided myself on my ability to process, have a quick wit, generate new and inventive ideas, and have complete creative control over my own mind. But things were a little different now, and I quickly realized that I needed to accept it. My thoughts were still there, there was just a fuzzy wall that they were a little slower to pass through. I could still have conversations with friends. But I needed to let go. Let go of that control I desperately wanted to have. Once I did just that and quit worrying about my brain, the conversations flowed and the worry eased.
Yes, I will forget things mid-conversation with much more frequency than in the past. Wait, what was I saying? ;) I have to take notes, because once I forget something, it’s probably not coming back into my memory unless someone reminds me or it’s written down. And getting a good nights sleep is essential, not only for my body but for my mind. If I don’t, I notice a huge difference in my cognitive abilities.
Before cancer my life had gotten too busy. Work was engulfing and it was too much. I was stressed and needed to slow a little. Or a lot. This forced me to do so and I’m grateful. Grateful for the lesson learned on letting go and slowing down.