Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Fog That's Relentless (From Ann Gregory)

Reposted with permission. See "Ann's Fight: Documenting Ann Gregory's fight with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, at http://anngregory.blogspot.com/

When I last saw my post-transplant nurse, Karen, for a biannual followup, she took me through the paces and mentioned a new program being developed in conjunction with the neuropsychology brain trust at MD Anderson. I filed the information away, thinking that I probably wouldn't need to take advantage of it since I was coping with my chemo brain just fine.

Yesterday, I had to admit to myself that things weren't altogether copacetic. It took me over three hours to make dinner. You may wonder what the one thing has to do with the other and what amazing concoction I was attempting. Quiche and sweet potato soup. Eggs and soup. Three hours of activity, none of which was passive.

Chemo brain is something that I've been struggling with for months now. People may smile and joke and say things like, "Blame it on the chemo brain," or "I must have chemo brain by proxy." I can't even smile about it anymore.

It took me three hours to break eggs, peel vegetables, and get things into the oven. When I discussed the situation with my husband, Chris, he did his best to reassure me that I'm still the same person I've always been and that I shouldn't be so hard on myself. This is one of the million reasons I love my guy. He was worried that I was beating myself up for not being able to do things that were once second nature.

Trust me, I know I'm still the same Ann. All of my inherent Ann-ness is intact. My personality hasn't really shifted. It's my ability to think that has me confounded.

We've had the chemo brain discussion more than once and I ultimately had to use the one phrase that makes me insane with irritation to end the confusion: You can't understand. I hate this phrase. For me, hearing this leads me to think that a person is copping out of a debate or that I'm failing to adequately explain something.

Imagine walking around in a gelatinous fog 24/7. Now multiply that by 100. I feel like my head is filled with cotton batting. I can't process long tracts of text in a single sitting. It takes me ages to read a single magazine article and I don't always understand what I've read. When I'm trying to hold a conversation, it's not unusual for me to just stop talking mid-sentence without having finished the thought. I substitute words that mean one thing, but sound similar to another. I don't mean homophones, either. Yesterday, I said Scot, when I meant to say stop. I heard stop in my head. I'd intended to say stop. I said Scot instead. Things like that happen with great frequency on a daily basis.

Chris and close friends that I speak to regularly anticipate it happening. They let it pass without comment, which I greatly appreciate. I usually keep my cool and correct myself, or at least slow down long enough to make fewer mistakes.

I can plan things out and make lists to help me keep on track. For instance, I planned dinner yesterday. I had all of my bowls lined up, the spices were all measured, and all of the vegetables I would need were on the counter within easy reach and the utensils were at their stations. It does take me a little longer than most people to get things done because I don't move as quickly as I once did. Every action requires thought. That's not why it took me 3 hours to make a quiche and a pot of soup. It should have taken me an hour, tops.

It took 3 hours because I was trying to multi-task. Rather than cook a quiche, then make soup, I was trying to do both at once so they'd be ready at the same time. It doesn't sound complicated and I'm sure there are some of you who are wondering why I'm droning on at length about it. It's because it's not complicated and therein lies my frustration.

This was the final straw in a long line of similar events. I can no longer do things in a linear progression. What makes perfect sense one minute becomes a complete quagmire the next. I'm not alone in this. I've spoken to other patients who've related similar anecdotes. Mention chemo brain and we all sport similar looks of resigned understanding.

This makes me very worried regarding taking classes at LSU in order to finish the CM degree. I refuse to let it deter me, but I don't know how to make it stop frustrating me. I accept the fact that I need to learn a new way to learn and that things will no longer come easily to me. I just don't like it.

Tomorrow, I'll contact Karen, about setting me up with the neuropsychologists. I may be able to get in to see them during my next checkup in three months. Until then, I'll keep cruising along.

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