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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Yet another unwanted gift


I mentioned on FB yesterday that assembling Thanksgiving Dinner proved a challenge with chemobrain. Quite seriously, it was a joke. It wasn't the whole "having it all finish at the same time" issue so many people have. That has never been an issue for me. I can time things quite well. Yet, the little things just kept slipping my mind or simply never crossed my mind. Quite basic things that should be second nature by this point in my life. For instance, I rinsed the turkey in the sink, went to grab the roasting pan, and realized there was no roasting pan. After I sent my husband to the garage to retrieve the roasting pan, I realized I had bought a disposable one. Then I couldn't remember where it was. Turns out, it was still in the van. I put the table clot on the table without the pad underneath. I forgot to cook the brussels sprouts. I didn't even buy the cauliflower for mashed cauliflower. I never did find the serving platter. I actually spent the better part of a minute staring at the turkey, wondering how to get it out of the roasting pan before I remembered my pointy lifting thingies. I never did manage to get around to locating the electric knife for carving. Good thing teenage boys don't care. At one point, I remember just walking in circles in the kitchen not even knowing what I needed to do.

Until fairly recently, chemobrain was only officially recognized by those who suffer from it. I find it interesting that those who have breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers report the highest incidence and most severe long term problems (probably not counting those with brain cancer). Since 2/3 of those people are women and since men are less likely to complain about something like being unable to do simple tasks like remember their dog's name, I'm sure for years the medical community chalked it up to just another "female complaint." Sexist thought is still highly prevalent in the medical community after all.

However, now there is a growing understanding of chemobrain. And it seems both unfair and otherwise pissy that it can be one of the longest lasting side effects. As if the humiliation of cancer isn't already enough, 30% or more of us get and stay stupid for a year or longer. I'm not sure I can get any more stupid. The one thing I worry the most about my last round of chemo is losing even more cognitive function.

Having a difficult time with names under normal circumstance, I'm absolutely worthless when it comes to names now. There are still students in my classes whose names I don't know. Don't even ask me to tell which Nick is which. On top of that, there are at least two kids in each class who I still can't get a name to face thing going. Even worse, I think, is that even if I can put a face to a name on a sheet of paper, I can never recall the names in class. There's a handful in each class, and that's it. So, I call on those students over and over and over and over. Not a "best practice in teaching," that's for sure.

Short term memory is the absolute worst. For instance, I just looked at this list of symptoms and flipping back to write about it here, I forgot the list. Given what is on the list and given that I experience every single symptom, you'd think I could remember some of them. All I could remember was "forgetfulness," which isn't even on the list!

Tasks do take longer and I find the most basic things mentally exhausting, which contributes to physical fatigue. I totally forget conversations I've had, sometimes within moments of having them. Worse yet is the inability to remember things from the past. It's like my past is being wiped away. As if my brain is a dry erase board that is being wiped clean. I'm totally stymied by simple mental math to the point where my nine year old can not just beat me, but do problems I can't even begin to do. It as if I forget what I'm solving in the middle of the problem. Grading seems hugely insurmountable. I lose my train of thought in the middle of an essay. I forget what I'd intended to say in a comment while writing the comment. By the end of the essay, I can't remember whose essay it is sometimes! It is taking me nearly as long to grade essays as it did when I first started teaching. Spelling has never been my forte, but now, I'm atrocious at it. Words don't look right, my fingers don't move right, and I'm clueless. Sure, I have spell check, but still, I should be able to spell "embarrassed," but I couldn't on the first try earlier today.

This cognitive impairment is clearly affecting my quality of life. There are certain books I'd like to read, but really just can't. I'm not talking anything super-duper challenging here. I'm talking The Time Traveler's Wife. I'm talking Three Cups of Tea. I have difficulty following certain television shows. Again, I don't mean Nova. I'm talking NCIS and Law and Order. I can watch Monk but seem to lose my train of thought with (shit, I've forgotten the name of the show....must go google it)...White Collar. Even worse is my inability to hold a thought in my head. Just now, my husband left to run to WalMart. Right before he announced he was leaving, I had been thinking of something we needed. By the time he left, I'd forgotten. I still can't remember what it was.

One of the areas chemobrain is most obvious is my blog. It's embarrassing how I wander off topic between the title of a post and the end. For evidence, see my most previous entry. What is that mess? I had something all thought out about non-harm and the military, but it disappeared as I started to write and I never was able to get it together again.

So, why is this post titled "Yet Another Unwanted Gift?" I'd almost forgotten. I chose that title because, in my search for silver lining (and I'm damn tired of that search), I suppose I am gaining perspective and understanding for those, especially my students, who struggle cognitively. Once again, I think I had a pretty good handle on that, though. I didn't need to qualify for special ed myself to empathize with my students with learning disabilities.

Meanwhile, I just get dumber by the day.

1 comment:

Theresa Williams said...

Dawn, I remember having that blankness just before and then for about a year after my surgery. Memory loss, difficulty making associations, connections. I'm sure yours is much worse, given the strong chemicals in your system. But I do remember how hard it was to do anything, especially teach. Well, the semester is nearly over, at least. Try to rest. Try.