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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chemo Fog

It's a wet and dreary day today and I wake to an early nosebleed.

This is probably only the second or third nosebleed I've ever had in my life but it interests me, the things that are going on in my body.

It's just one of the many inconvenient side effects of chemotherapy.

Apart from the nausea, fatigue, hairloss, onset of menopause and discolouring of nails that I've already described, there have been other symptoms.

The most disturbing is an effect that was once ignored but is now widely recognised. It's called 'chemo fog' or more technically Post-Chemoetherapy Cognitive Impairment (PCCI) the long-term symptoms of which, apparently, are almost exclusively seen in patients treated for breast, ovarian, prostate and other cancers of the reproductive system.

Doctors and researchers call chemo brain “mild cognitive impairment.” Most define it as being unable to remember certain things and having trouble finishing tasks or learning new skills.

In other words, my memory is cooked!

Now those who know me well will know that my powers of recollection are unreliable to say the least.

Sure, I can learn off reams of information by rote if pushed but if you ask me what I did with my keys, it's likely you'll find me going round in circles (especially now that I have one breast and am favouring one side).

In fact, my penchant for leaving a trail of forgotten things behind me is legendary, and, sadly, I have passed this unfortunate gene onto my children.

Sunglasses, reading glasses, car keys a nd important documents I touch seem to disappear into the ether and this phenomenon was so endemic once, I convinced myself I was being dogged by a poltergeist.

What else do you do but blame a mischievous sprite when from car to front door, your car keys vanish?

I also keep a small statue to Saint Anthony, the Patron Saint of Lost Things on my desk as divine intervention is often all that is left as yet another valued item mysteriously disappears.

Indeed, my penchant for forgetfulness has often had my husband Al, growling into his morning bowl of muesli and he can barely contain his disdain these days when I claim: "It must have been stolen."

Because, clearly, the many objects I've lost over the years would indicate that I am being stalked by an entire generation of nimble-fingered gypsies (if not Winona Ryder), probably hiding at the bottom of my garden as I speak!

As I've alluded to, I believe this terrible illness that is forgetfulness and constantly losing things is a genetic curse as it seems to run in my family.

In fact, growing up, I have very clear recollections of my mum and dad's regular morning routine: running through the house shouting "Has anyone seen my keys!"

Once my sisters and I were all driving too, it was a little like a nuthouse at home. Five Sri Lankans going apeshit together in search of the elusive, disappearing keys. Very funny.

If breast cancer is caused by the stress of genetic forgetfulness, then I've always been a sitting duck.

But chemotherapy has taken this particular foible of mine to an entirely new dimension.

The quantum of stuff I'm forgetting seems to have exploded. I can't find words. I can't remember appointments.

In the middle of conversations I find my mind drifting off to Planet La-La.

I will start to tell you something and then completely forget what the hell I was going to say.

I have to ask Al to remind me of basic things.

My friends, bless them, have of course, tried to console me with claims that they suffer this too. It's old age! It's been happening for years!

But I don't buy it.

I used to be the one who did not need a diary to remember an engagement.

Today I went to a function at my mum's house to celebrate my Aunty's 76th birthday. I've had to ring three times to confirm I had the date right.

The ironic thing is that of anyone I know, I've taken my brain the least for granted. With a background in aged care, for years I've been saying how one of my deepest fears is that I'll end up with dementia.

I've always valued my mind. Short changed in the looks department, what else is there to feel good about other than maybe knowing the capital of Upper Volta and being able to crack a decent cryptic clue?

Still, knowing about 'chemo fog' is a good thing. Now, when I find I've stuffed up - forgotten something, lost the plot - I have something to blame.

And I guess one good thing is that, with this fog, I can forget some of those things worth forgetting - like blood tests gone bad!

In the meantime, I am grateful to have this blog, and you my readers inspiring me to keep recording this journey because, damn it, by tomorrow it's likely today will be a complete blur.

And next time you find me stumbling over a word or an idea, be a pal will ya, and remind me?


  1. I totally subscribe to the phenomenon of losing important documents and keys! I turn up at exams sans registration documents and I'm always apprhensive of using my debit card because I just don't know how much there could be! Aw shucks Bron - you're not short changed in the looks department =D Your face looks exactly like what your words read. I think you know what I mean =)

  2. i have that fog and haven't had chemo. old age? summer know that about the eftpos machine and crossing your fingers.

  3. Darrlliiiinnnnggg Bronnie. Hand on my heart, and as I have gone through this myself, I can confirm that this condition is also one of the debilitating effects of menopause..............................................................................................sigh. I turn rings around and stockpile my bra with various reminder notes in the course of any given day to get me through. Love you. Lx

  4. You are not alone, my family despair with me too, these days I start a sentence and am unable to recollect the words in order to finish it, I have lost 5 pairs of specs in the last year, had numerous visits to the Audi garage to get more keys, I bring home half my shopping because I forgot my list, and the kids swear that they have already informed me of social arrangements and get cross with me because I am asking them the same questions I asked them the previous day. Anne is getting me onto some luminosity brain training thing. Love and best wishes, Linda C

  5. I was going to say something profound.......but I've forgotten what it was.

  6. Don't worry about it Bron. Sometimes, I'll be writing or talking about something, and completely forget what I've just said.......and sometimes, I'll be writing or talking about something, and completely forget what I've just said.