12 June 2008


Chemo brain

I've been absent-minded recently, in a different way than when I first got diagnosed with cancer last year. I regularly forget things, or misplace them, in a way I didn't before. Just in the past week, without noticing, I somehow left a tiny SD memory card with some important podcast audio on it sandwiched between a Nintendo Wii disc and the case for a different disc in our den. It took hours to find.

And in the past couple of days, I was searching endlessly throughout our house for my heavy-duty camera tripod, which I bought last spring. It's not small—about a metre long—and made of steel, not to mention being in a big green nylon bag. Not something you'd think would be easy to lose. But it turns out that, after taking it to the Vancouver Sun Run with my band in April, I packed it in the bottom of my drum bag, under a bunch of cymbal and drum stands. I didn't recall that at all, until I had a hunch this afternoon.

It's also not unusual for me to forget something right after planning to do it: taking out the trash, grabbing a book to return it to the library, finishing unloading the dishwasher. You could attribute that to normal aging, but I am only 38. My wife calls it "chemo brain," and noted to me that it (under the name post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment) is a well known condition among chemotherapy patients. Most of the research talks about long-term effects on memory, learning, and coordination after treatment, not problems during it, like mine.

Other memory conditions apparently benefit from mental exercise: solving problems and keeping your mind active. That's something many chemo patients might not do, especially if we feel shitty a lot of the time and (like me) are off work. But I think one thing that might help me keep ahead of chemo brain is the various activities I continue to pursue that require thinking. Things like music, podcasting, photography, even sorting laundry or emptying the dishwasher (when I remember to do that).

At least it's a good excuse to geek out. And a good reason to do chores too.

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It's interesting just how many things can make our brains 'soggy' like that. When I went through menopause and the hormones were jiggling around I seemed to become 'stupid'.

I turned into someone I hardly knew.

For example, I couldn't remember a phone number past the first digit. *Twice* I blew up a two-stroke engine on a weedeater by using only petrol, instead of the appropriate oil and petrol mix. Just dumb, and not 'me' at all.

Luckily, once my hormones settled down, I got my brain back. What a relief!

I hope your 'chemo brain' is temporary too.
Hi Derek, I stumbled onto your blog a while ago and I've enjoyed your writing ever since. I appreciate your honest and thoughtful commentary and I wish you good health.

I recall one of your earlier posts mentioning Nintendo DS (Mario Kart from the back seat!). If you don't already have them, I strongly recommend the Brain Age games for the DS as a fun way to do some mental calisthenics. Our whole family has had fun with them and it was very satisfying to finally get my calculated "brain age" down below my real age. Not to mention that it's the *only* video game where I can beat my kids' scores! (they're 10 and 11). Take care.
We have both Brian Age for the DS and Big Brain Academy for the Wii, though I haven't played them much. Maybe I should!