See my picture below from the NY Times. “Pills” scrawled in lipstick on my mirror was not a cute styling touch for a photo shoot. I have pill reminders written above every sink in my house, taped to my washing machine, and next to the front door. The heart is a reminder to be kind to myself and not head down the path of feeling like an 85 year old with dementia.
My memory sucks. Is it from treatment, or the compounded stress of having cancer for seven years, or from my medically induced extreme hyperthyroidism? In traveling throughout the U.S. and interviewing 20 and 30 –something cancer patients for my book Everything Changes, one of the greatest comforts was in meeting other young adults who made me feel like less of a freak. Their hot young minds were also like a sieve. They too were unable to retain what they read in books, needed post-it notes to remember they had a job interview, and forgot simple words like the name of their sister.
Having my young mind disintegrate screws with my self-esteem. Getting a master’s degree or my Ph.D seems an impossibility when I can hardly retain the content of a book review from the Sunday Times. Last night the word rabbis leaped out of my mouth instead of rabbits. “There are a ton of rabbis tonight in the alley behind our house.” When I fumble in front of my husband Shannon we roar; when it happens with friends or in professional situations I want to crawl under the table.
My doctors could not have cared less about my memory challenges. Is it because they think I should just be glad to be alive, or because if they don’t have medical nomenclature for “chemo brain” then my experience simply does not exist? If it is the later then perhaps we are finally in luck.
I read today that researchers at the University of Michigan are beginning to study chemo brain in women with breast cancer. They will compare MRIs of three groups of women: those with breast cancer on chemo, those with breast cancer not being treated with chemo, and women without breast cancer. I eagerly await the results of these studies. Perhaps they can publish them on a series of post-it notes.