You Know You Have Chemo Brain When…

You know you have “chemo brain” when…

– You can’t find your phone to send a text and realize you are talking on it.

– You can’t remember if you took your pre-chemo pill a minute after you took it, or think you took it.

– Your daughter tells you it’s a green light, “go mom”, she says as she rolls her eyes at you at every intersection.

– You forget to turn off the burner and find yourself scrubbing yet another burnt pan.

– You forget the lyrics to a song you wrote.

– You can’t decide between kale salad and lentil salad so you eat a waffle.

– You forget to put sunscreen on your bald head.

– You go upstairs to grab something and you come down empty handed because you forgot why you went upstairs in the first place.

– You put the ice cream in the refrigerator.  Oh, wait, that was you, mom! Or was it?

“Chemo brain” or “chemo fog” as some people call it, originally thought to be a myth, made up by weary, pooped out, anxious cancer patients is not just an excuse for the dumb things we already do.  It is for real.

You can take it from me or a new Japanese study.  According to the study, “cancer patients who are treated with both surgery and chemotherapy may suffer from brain shrinkage that can affect memory and cognition.  Researchers found that the patients whose scans had been taken a year after surgery had smaller gray and white brain matter in areas of the brain that are involved in cognition and memory — the prefrontal, parahippocampal, cingulated gyrus and precuneus regions — compared to the control patients who had never undergone chemotherapy.”

The good news:  It is reversible. 

The bad news:  It takes up to three years for the effect of chemo on our brain structure to reverse itself.

The good news:  It is reversible.  

Unfortunately, there are some chemo side effects like peripheral neuropathy that are not reversible.  Chemo induced neuropathy symptoms include:

– Numbness, tingling (feeling of pins and needles) and burning of hands and/or feet

 – Numbness around mouth

 – Constipation

– Loss of sensation of touch

– Loss of positional sense (knowing where a body part is without looking at it) – If I got a dollar for every time I bumped my head these days I would be rich.

– Weakness and leg cramping

– Difficulty picking things up or buttoning clothes

The bad news:  I am experiencing every one of these blasted symptoms.  It seems to be worse right now than ever.  And to top it off, I am going to have to go buy my first f$%@ pack of Depends.  Yes, incontinence has plagued me these last 24 hours.  Just shoot me.

The good news:  Because the detrimental side effects of neuropathy outweigh the benefits of a 6th chemo treatment, my oncologist recommends that I do not go ahead with my last round of chemo.  In other words, I am done with chemo.  Yay! Woohoo!  Yippee!

It has been a grueling few months and I am so glad to be over it.  But, not so fast Deanne.  You are not done yet.  Besides chemo brain, neuropathy, and Depends, my immune system is shot which resulted in a horrible case of food poisoning that hit me hard after taking Riley out to dinner for his 18th birthday this week.  Not to mention, I have two more surgeries ahead of me, seven more months of Herceptin and five years of Tamoxifin (which I am not yet sold on this concept).  All of this just to kick some cancer ass.  Wow, Cancer is one tough Mother F%@#$.

The bad news:  It is a long road to recovery. 

The Good news:  There is a road to recovery and I am on it.

The road is difficult.  I admit it.  It is like driving on a curvy two lane highway up in the mountains in the middle of winter on a cold icy road in super dense fog in the dark of the night and all you can see is the hood of your car.  But I know if I keep my eyes on the road, hold on tight to the wheel, and maintain my momentum, the fog will lift, the sun will rise and I will see the light. 

Kevin’s boss, Julia, sent me a card attached to a gorgeous bouquet of flowers yesterday.  She said, “It is time to celebrate!” You are absolutely right Julia, it is time to celebrate.  Fog or no fog, every day I am alive is a celebration.

12 Responses to “You Know You Have Chemo Brain When…”

  1. Raundi Says:

    I will celebrate you every chance I get. I love your brain, chemo or not. If I become a Zombie, I would eat your beautiful brain first,

  2. Bridget Says:

    I love reading your blogs. You are a fabulous writer! Your blogs are like a thrilling roller coaster ride of emotions every time I read them — hooray…bummer…hooray! I love how you always find the “good” in life. You are the kind of person people want to be with because your glass is half full. I love that!

    Congrats on the chemo ending! Baby steps, girlfriend.

  3. Bridget Says:

    P.S. – I have chemo brain without the chemo these days. Dang hormones…

  4. Deanne Says:

    Thank you Bridget! My blogs just emulate my life, thus the roller coaster ride. Looking forward to some smooth siling some day but it does make for good writing material.

    I am so happy to hear from you. I hope to visit Phoenix later this summer. I will let you know. I would love to see you.

    Lots of Love girlfriend! Deanne

    P.S. Yes, I know, chemo brain is rampant among most of my girlfriends. You are not alone.

    Raundi, I would eat your beautiful brain too!!!

  5. Stacy Says:

    I am sorry you are having all those crappy side effects! BUT at least you are here to have them! And I have to tell you even though you already know this – that I have much of the same fog that you have – and I attribute it to…what is the word? Perimenopause? Or was it perialcoholism? Not sure but I know I am peri something!

    Let us know if you come out this summer! Louis is off to Orlando for THREE weeks to work at Ritz Carlton! Yikes! But we are flying out to see him at the end of it! YAY!

    Happy NO MORE CHEMO! Do you get the port out soon or need to keep it in for herceptin?

  6. Mom Says:

    Oh my gosh I have so much to say I don’t know where to begin. Stacey, I also want to know if the port comes out-I forgot to ask Deanne. Deanne the neuropathy WILL go away, I DEMAND it so. Food poisoning, yuk, I have been there. It’s worse then morning sickness. Wearing Depends is also yucky and I am sure that will go away.. I can’t tell you how many time I run to the bathroom, don’t breath, don’t laugh and don’t stop for anyone. But I am at an age to expect that -darn- and you are not.
    My friend Sally said after all the chemo and the affects of chemo were over she has never felt better.
    It’s been a couple of years for her, so hold on for the roller coaster ride and I KNOW you will come out the other side better than ever (if that’s possible) I so admire and love you darling, you are an inspiration to so many people, especially your Mother.

  7. Deanne Says:

    The port stays until I am done with the herceptin. I have an appointment with my doc this Wednesday to find out more about these up and coming months and to talk her out of Tomaxifin and into Bioidentical Hormones. Wish me luck!

    I love you guys. All of your kind words and support truly help me navigate through the fog.

  8. Cathy Says:

    I’m sooo glad you’re done with the chemo, and kind of pissed at the world that you had to suffer any side effects at all, let alone neuropathy. I’m glad you have such an amazingly positive attitude. I’m with your mom; the neuropathy WILL go away. mostly. I know it will, because this is YOU we are talking about.

    Oh, and Deanne, you are a beautiful writer! I love your descriptions of chemo brain. I think eating a frozen waffle is a brilliant solution to the kale vs. lentil salad debate.

    So now that you are done with chemo, does that mean you get to do things that boost your immune system that you had to avoid before?

  9. Kelly Says:

    This small part of the Burkhardt family is so excited for you. Somehow we just know that this is just the start of more wonderful news on your recovery road.

    Can’t wait for you to get back to Phoenix so we can get our hugs in person. Until then – imagine yourself hugged in one great big group hug by the 3 of us! XO XO XO

    And keep writing – we will keep reading and cheering you all on.

  10. RosaMaria Cordova Says:

    You are an amazing lady!!
    I love reading your blogs. I am thinking of you, always . . . .



  11. clare Says:

    Deanne, you laugh at it all and you make us laugh by the way you recount it all but I think you still need a bunch of us to do your wailing like those funeral processions with professional wailers. Just because you can make it sound funny doesn’t mean it is fun and I feel the need to wail on your behalf. Not having neuropathy but having had severe Bell’s Palsy with total paralysis for 6 months I can reassure you that the function does recover and even with a prolapsed bladder postpartum (a total blast!) recovery takes place. I would get as much muscle stimulation therapy as you can. By the way, you also have readers in England, now.

  12. Angela Says:

    I love your posts Deanne! So raw and touching. I send you my love and support and I give you permission to not buy into the “not reversible” consciousness. You and your body are amazing!

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