One of the side effects of chemotherapy is something called “chemo brain.” This particular malady is not really recognized as an official side effect, because there could be many reasons for the brain fog that accompanies this cancer treatment.
For one, chemo brain might not actually be a thing. Our bodies are equipped with something known as the blood/brain barrier. It basically prevents things like chemo from messing with our brain function. This blood/brain barrier is not infallible, which is why conditions such as chemo brain can occur. But for the most part, the blood/brain barrier works just spiffy.
(Unfortunately for brain cancer patients, this barrier causes significant problems, because the chemo is less effective in fighting the tumors. A friend of mine has a daughter currently going through this, and it’s a tough road. If you are a praying person, please pray for Kaitlin. She is a young wife and mother currently in the fight of her life.)
The last go around on the poison I.V. did bring about a significant amount of brain fog for me, but I’m not sure it was caused by the chemo. I think the term for my particular version of chemo brain could be better described as “distracted brain.”
Now look, distracted brain is not something new for me. I’m a bit ADD, and getting distracted by something is sort of normal. I’m not the greatest listener in the best of times. Just ask my wife. Holly tells me stuff that I promptly forget in a staggeringly short amount of time. I’m distracted, I don’t listen as well as I should, and all of the sudden I’m heading back to the grocery store to purchase something that I’ll probably have a hard time finding.
So, even in the best of times, when I’m not undergoing treatments that severely alter my cognitive abilities, my brain ain’t the greatest at concentrating on the things that I consider mundane. Like a grocery list. Or weekend plans. Or the Democratic National Convention.
I think my particular version of chemo brain really has little to do with the chemicals swimming around in my bloodstream. I think it has more to do with my brain being even more distracted than usual.
I think most cancer survivors can agree that cancer, once it enters your life, is a BIG distraction. If you let it, it can consume your thoughts. From the doc appointments, to the bills, to feeling like crap, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else. Not to mention the fact that your cancer diagnosis may have severely shortened your life expectancy.
I have to admit, that last one, life expectancy, distracts me more than I would like. I consider myself a Christian, and I have faith that my afterlife is assured, but my faith isn’t always strong. It’s a bit freaky thinking about death and dying, so I try not to let it dominate my thoughts. I try to live for the here and now.
And, the funny thing is, the here and now is where I get the most distracted. Lately, I find myself being amazed by the simple beauty of life in this world. My dog Zoey and I walk everyday, and usually I’m a walker that just keeps moving forward, a throwback to my running days of just trying to exercise to get the job done. But not anymore.
I find myself marveling at the beauty of flowers along the path. A little breeze on a hot day will make me stop and breathe in the sweetness of cooler air. Summertime brings with it cumulus cloud formations that pile up like floating ice cream sundaes on the horizon, and I just stop and stare, amazed at the world God created.
I also have become more chatty on my walks, giving out “Good mornings” like I’m some sort of good natured friendly person, which I most assuredly am not. The other day I had a conversation with a city worker about the cool machine they use to knock down brush. What a bad ass piece of equipment.
Talking to random city workers is something I normally don’t do. Neither is staring at clouds. Or smelling flowers. But the one thing that a terminal cancer diagnosis can do is make you realize that this life on Earth thing is pretty great, even when bills pile up, when sickness debilitates, and when things get pretty bleak. My nausea is sometimes instantly forgotten watching Zoey fly into a lake chasing a ball.
My distracted brain also sometimes marvels at the friends and family in my life that continue to support me. A quick text, a call, or a visit makes me realize how lucky I am to have people that love me and care about me in my life. To me, Holly has never been more beautiful. I’ve never been more proud of my sons and my daughter in law. The people in my life have never been more appreciated. And I’m not exactly what you would call a “people person.”
So, if you’re telling me something and I seem like I’m not really listening, be aware I’m probably distracted by the clouds in the distance, or the machine that’s crushing brush, or the fact that I’m totally in love with the fact that you’re talking to me, never mind what you’re saying.
I’m distracted by the beauty of life right now. And that’s not a bad thing.
Thanks for reading.