Monday, April 30, 2007

I Have Chemo Brain. What's Your Excuse?


For years, chemo patients have been told that "chemo brain," the phenomenon of chemo-induced fuzzy thinking, was "all in their heads."

Sunday's NY Times Article, Chemotherapy Fog Is No Longer Ignored as Illusion, debunked the "chemo brain, schemo brain" myth while clearly striking a chord in the chemo community. It became the number one most emailed article as, no doubt, cancer patients and survivors forwarded it to family and friends with a note that read, "SEE, I TOLD YOU SO!"

The article cites examples from a breast cancer discussion board thread, "Where's my remote?" In addition to misplacing the remote, women 'fess up to losing credit and ATM cards, digital cameras, sunglasses and even an artificial breast. Attempts at double tasking fail miserably. One woman shares a story about coming home from work and finding the iron in the freezer and the melted Baskin Robbins container in the cabinet. Another woman reminisces about pouring gravy into the water glasses at a dinner party. God forbid that the doorbell should ring while a chemo head is on the phone.

But what happens when you have the symptoms of "chemo brain" before a drop of the cancer-killing stuff courses through your veins?

I have been known to leave my ATM card in the Wells Fargo drive-through machine more than once. A quarter of a century ago, a week before George and I decided to run off and get married in Hawaii, I wore my slippers to work. I also drove my car to the local mini mart and then walked home, forgetting my car in the parking lot.

I actually seem to be doing better on chemo because I've become a slothful single tasker. In the old days, I would have dismissed myself as a "plodder," one of the worst pejoratives I could have used. My double tasking attempts are now limited to talking while driving the car, and that, as in pre-chemo days, continues to go poorly.

What about you? Are you ever guilty of "chemo brain" without the chemo? I've told all (well, at least some); now it's YOUR turn.

26 comments:

Paula Johnson said...

I once had Friday on a Thursday. I had a bunch of tasks and errands in my calendar, although the only "appointment" was to drop the dogs at the groomers at 9 a.m.

I got a lot done that day, and not one person questioned me when I said "have a nice weekend!" At 5 p.m., I picked up the dogs and groomer mentioned that my appointment wasn't until the next day.

I ended up with an accidental three-day weekend. Not such a bad outcome!

JN said...

I have meno-brain. In the last 2 weeks I have misplaced a file folder of articles that represented 3-4 hours worth of work that I had to redo; could not find a computer file I could swear I saved, another 2 hours of work to redo; misplaced a DVD on yoga anataomy that I had borrowed from a friend and finally had time to dip into, only to be unable to find it; and locked my entire purse (including keys!) in the trunk of my car while removing my yoga mats and gear for a class.

Karen said...

I just (today) emailed Rose to ask her what operas she wanted to see next season, and she reminded me that we'd already decided weeks ago.

My worst lapse was showing up a week early for a wedding in New York (I was living in Connecticut at the time, so it wasn't as bad as it would be if it happened today). That was decades ago, when I was 23, and had no excuse. It was the weekend Secretariat won the Belmont, so at least I got to watch that historic event with a gang of friends (I showed up at the apartment of three of my college roommates, who were all going to attend the wedding too).

Second after the wedding fiasco was about 19 years ago. Eric was 2. I put him in his car and forgot to buckle the seat in. As soon as I turned out of the driveway, the seat slid to the end of the seat, and Eric squealed with delight at his first roller coaster ride!!

Third is the time I locked my keys in the car when Natalie was a baby in her infant seat. Fortunately, she was asleep, and didn't wake up until the AAA guy came and unlocked the door.

It's amazing I never forgot to pick up the kids from school or some other place. Though I did sometimes forget changes in schedules and show up when it wasn't my pickup day.

Today, like you, I find it hard to drive and talk. If I'm talking to someone when I drive, I pass up a vital turn, or sometimes my destination, about 20% of the time. Knowing this, and to save innocent victims, I try not to drive and talk on the cell phone at the same time. (I can't refuse to talk to auto companions who are physically present in the car with me. That would be rude -- and no fun.)

Susan Carrier said...

Great stories, but surely this is not a female phenomenon. Guy pals, let's hear from you too.

Piper Robert said...

Should I tell everyone why Grandma gave you a spanking? It follows this thread. It's really hilarious, but you make the call.

Better yet, take a poll.

Did you rest today? Love ya.

Lilli said...

For the record, I always believed in chemo brain. If enough people who actually experienced this phenomenon say it's true, then that's good enough for me whether scientists think so or not.

I have low-blood sugar brain. That's my excuse. Friday afternoon I had to interrupt a client meeting to go to the vending machine because I couldn't keep track of her questions.

And even on a good day when I'm well-fed I have a hard time talking and driving. So if I don't answer when you call, I may be driving. And if you're sharing the road with me, that's a good thing.

Hopefully, chemo brain does not make you a snarling attack dog like my blood sugar problem. But you're much nicer than me to begin with. :)

BTW, your list of scaled back activities had me exhausted just reading it!

Susan Carrier said...

Robert, Is there no end to the embarrassment? :)

Hey, what about a chemo brain story from YOU.

Piper Robert said...

Sorry, Sis, no stories about me. I was the one usually unlocking car doors, digging the income tax refund check out of the garbage can, cleaning up the lemonade because the lid wasn't tight. Asking: Where's Emily? Why is there no screen in the screen door? Where's the rest of the groceries? Why are my t-shirts pink? You're where? and last but not least......Why is there a police car pulling into our drive way?

Susan Carrier said...

Police car?!?

Susan Carrier said...

Clearly there are numerous categories besides chemo brain. There's meno brain, low-blood-sugar brain, multi-tasking-mother brain, and then there's the flake. Robert's last post is about a former flake in his life.

Piper Robert said...

Flake brain! Awesome! LOL You've coined several phrases on this blog. Love ya!

Karen said...

What is meno brain?

Karen said...

Oh, silly me. I just got it. Menopause brain. I have post-menopause brain. It's like menopause brain, but the pauses are longer.

Karen said...

Meno brain is worst in the early stages of the disease, when you're still getting your periods. Then, once a month, you get meanie-mo brain.

Piper Robert said...

Ditto, what is it?

Karen said...

I guess I didn't send my last posts on this subhect properly. Here they are again:

Silly me. I just figured it out. Meno brain is menopause brain. I have post menopause brain. It's like meno brain, only the pauses are longer. Now I walk in a room and it doesn't occur to me, until about an hour later, that I had a reason. It takes another hour to remember what the reason was.

A variation on meno brain occurs in the early stages of menopause, on those irregular occasions when you still get your period: it's called meanie-mo brain, and it happens even if you weren't a nasty PMS type ever before.

Marco said...

Is there such a thing as Kinder Brain? We once had to collect the kids at school just before we drove off for a camping trip, and as I fired up the vehicle and drove off, the wife asked "Where's Ryan?". Hey, it's an honest mistake! The truck seemded like it had enough kids in it at the time. I had to go back and get him out of class - oops!

Anonymous said...

I left the keys in the car, with the car running...TWICE in two weeks! Does that count?

Lisa C.

Piper Robert said...

I don't have any of the brain stuff going on, but I have had a case of the "teary eyes". You have always been the perfect sister. When I think of all the wonderful things you have done for me, I get teary eyes. Bobby and Emily have the world's greatest Aunt and you have been so generous to them. At Emily's wedding, you were such a gracious host at the luncheon. That meant so much to me when you, George and Cindy visited Bobby at Caldwell. At Mom's home going, you were the one keeping everyone strong and going the extra mile to make sure we all made it to Pittsburgh. Yep, you are strong, and we all know you're intelligent and witty, but you're finest trait is your compassion and kindness. Love ya!

Diane Fisher said...

I'm sure chemo-brain is totally real. So is "radiation-brain" for those whose cancer requires that treatment. I was with my then-27-year-old son when he was undergoing radiation treatments for testicular cancer. (He's 38 now and fine, thank you!) For a few hours after each treatment, he was OK physically, but could not make even the smallest decision, such as which way to turn when walking up to an intersection or what to do next or what to order for lunch. Then he'd go back to work! I'm glad he was working on blimps back then. Now he works on Airbus 330s!

As for myself, my excuse is that I'm just getting old.

Emily M. said...

I can never find my keys or cell phone! Last night we found the car keys in our bathroom. I believe my excuse was prego-brain for 9 mos. and now New Mommy brain (no sleep!) I'm quickly running out of excuses.

Dad-I vote you share the story of the Grandma spanking!!!!

Piper Robert said...

Spanking story...

2 in favor

0 against

Whoooops! Sorry Sue, this is your blog.

Susan Carrier said...

I've really enjoyed this thread.

Robert, you can regale us with the spanking story at Thanksgiving! : )

Piper Robert said...

More than ever, I am looking forward to Thanksgiving. Love ya!

Piper Robert said...

Sue, I thought you would enjoy this article. Her writing style is reminiscent of yours.

http://lifestyle.msn.com/familyandparenting/babyandpregnancy/articlebc.aspx?cp-documentid=1363083>1=10014

Suzy Keleher said...

Well, just to add to the kinds of brains...I get clumsy brain. Usually, of my three kids it was my dear son, Joseph, now 19, who took the brunt of it. it goes like this. mother of three trying to have some fun times with the 3 kids while completeng school work and errands, stops for lunch at the deli. We get the works: meatball sandwhiches, Itallian meat sandwhiches and Cokes the size of Mount Everest. I walk to the counter to pick up the order, one kid grabs the sandwhiches and I carry the tray of tall plastic drink cups full of ice and soda. I carefully set one soda onto the table...the tray is now teetering and Topples over onto Joseph's head! mass amounts of cold sticky soda are now soaking his clothes, hair, face and even shoes! He sits still as ever and does not even move! I felt horrible, of course! The even funnier part of this is that this same thing happened at leaset one more time! to HIM! To make it even more funny...Joseph holds cleanliness high in his value system, festidious in his person, clothing and room. When he was a little boy. He spilled a little water on heis shirt in a restaraunt that we were all together having a family dinner. Next thing I know, Joe had taken all his clothes off, stark naked! We asked him why he did that nad he said his shirt was wet! I'm glad he got over that when he was older! i just wish i was not so clumsy. peri meno brain: several u-turns when on any driving errands around my town! Love you! Love, Suze