A misplaced TV remote in the fridge door

Chemo Brain Chronicles

Last updated: October 2021

When I was first diagnosed, I kept hearing buzz words like “chemo brain” and brain fog, but I didn’t really think anything about it until I experienced it. My husband started finding things like car keys in the kitchen drawer with the knives and forks and his new body wash recently picked up on a grocery order in the refrigerator in the door with the thousand islands and the likely expired blue cheese. Then things started happening where I would offer to help someone do something like take them to their doctor’s appointment for their surgery follow-up and then not show up because I didn’t have a flashing neon sign with a fire alarm on it to remind me.

There is more, plenty more...

Need I go on? There’s more! There’s plenty more. If you know, you absolutely know, and we share in this. I decided that I was going to get myself organized. I mean I don’t have that much to remember. Surely, I can remember simple errands and normal day-to-day activities. Nope! I can’t. So, I went online and grabbed a calendar. I said to myself—this will help. I will put appointments and errands and meetings and all the things on this calendar and then I won’t forget things.

I will check it each day. I will update things as they come up. It will be like when I worked full time, but instead just my personal life. This will work. I had the cute little stickers and everything. Well, guess who lost their calendar? Yep! This one right here. Must have laid it down at one of my appointments, errands, or meetings and walked off without it. I thought carrying it in would make me write down my next appointment right then and there. To be honest, I don’t know where the thing went.

Back to the drawing board, I go. I then decided that I will just use my cell phone calendar. I can set alarms there and then I can set things to notify me hours or days before and then again, the day of. This will work. I always have my phone anyway. This just makes sense. Nope! It didn’t work either. I am not sure why. It’s so easy just to add something to the calendar. I chose to write things down on paper to later throw away.

Four years later

Four years later, I am still dumb as a brick, unorganized, putting stuff where it doesn’t belong, struggling to stay focused on simple tasks, takes me two days to do something that should only take a few hours. Following a recipe even seems hard some days—like the actual reading of it.

I made a casserole where the recipe said to sauté the veggies prior to putting them in the actual casserole and I somehow skipped right over the top of that and chopped all the veggies and slung them in the pan like I was Emeril Lagasse, slung the casserole in the oven and then got mad when my husband asked why it was so crunchy. Has anyone ever had raw potatoes in what was supposed to be a homemade chicken pot pie? Those aren’t water chestnuts for sure. And to make matters worse—I packaged up some to give to my father-in-law. I consider myself a decent cook. This day was a failure. I should have just worn the cancer card this day because I was struggling.

Some days I literally can’t function, and I struggle through the fog and murky water, but I just can’t seem to get it together. Brain fog mixed with OCD and ADD is quite a cocktail. I have this great desire to do good things and to be productive, but when I finally get going, the day is almost over. Then nighttime comes and I feel defeated because I didn’t accomplish one thing.

My days before chemo brain

I remember the days that I worked full time as a college administrator and all the tasks that I had to balance each and every day. There was computer work to do, phones ringing, people to see, meetings to go to, conferences to attend all the while the work piled up day after day. I kept lists and marked them off. The satisfaction of marking things off my list was so rewarding. I couldn’t do that now. I can’t even remember to make the list. I can’t even imagine all things that I wouldn’t get done and how many people would be so angry with me. It’s often difficult to think about how busy I was and never missed a beat. Sure, there were days that I was exhausted, but I kept going because it was my job.

Where I am today

Today, I keep going when days are difficult on cancer journey because THAT’S MY JOB now. Unfortunately, this is a job we were drafted into that we never get to take leave from or request a personal day. Sometimes, however; we do get a promotion and that comes in the form of more runway even though those medications steal our brain clarity and ability to focus. We find ways to figure it out and when we don’t, we try again tomorrow.

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