Life as an Extreme Sport

chemo brain

When you’re in a house with two academics, the stereotype of an absentminded engineer, and my mother, who has always had her own special brand of space case, the question of chemo brain turns in to not wondering if it exists, but wondering if it can affect all of us, even if only one person is getting the chemo. And our conclusion was yes; for Mom, chemo brain might have been caused by the chemo, but for the rest of us, it was the manifestation of the severe stress we (especially my father) were under.

And let me tell you, we did some precious stupid things. I would find keys in the fridge or freezer – both mine and others – and an assortment of items were found frozen over the months. And I, I have always been of the extremely absentminded academic type (something that may surprise those who know me more recently in my role as supremely organized, but that’s just an illusion, trust me); I went from my normal levels of distracted to an entirely new realm I had never imagined, where I would pause mid-activity, trying to remember what I was doing (even though everything was in front of me as a massive clue), I would leave important paperwork sitting outside in the rain, and eventually had to leave detailed notes to myself in order to stay on track.

Of us all, my sister is the only one who seemed only minorly affected – she’d do the same stupid misplace things, and get sillystupid at night. But I suspect her long experience with cancer simply inurred her to what Dad and I were dealing with.

But it turns out that for a long time, what we joked so casually about, all of us having chemo brain, was actually considered an illusion, a fake symptom by women who wanted more attention. This baffles me, not from my normal standpoint of “but the mind and body are one, and if you do something massive to the body, like say flood it with toxins, you can’t honestly expect the mind to escape unscathed, can you?” but from the standpoint of someone who has seen the actual chemical chemo brain effect in her mother, and experienced the stress related version that afflicts caretakers. Having experienced both first-hand, I wonder how doctors ever become so isolated from their patients that they could ever be so dismissive of so obvious a problem.