The "Hotel Melanoma" moniker is a metaphor for living with my particular brand of cancer. Except for those lucky few of us deemed "cured", all we cancer survivors are guests of one of the many, many branded hotels in the "Hotel Carcinoma" chain. We can check out any time we like, but we can never leave. Meanwhile, let's be livin' it up; and please support cancer education, prevention, and treatment research.

Tutu Brothers

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Chemo Brain Drain

Now here’s a touchy subject. If you’ve ever felt like your brain was stolen during chemotherapy, trust me you’re not alone. If you don’t believe me, just check out the posts on any melanoma discussion board hosted by one of the melanoma nonprofits.

Although my wife may post a rebuttal comment if she ever reads this post, I think my brain function is much improved compared to the weeks and months immediately following my biochemotherapy treatments. I can now remember my debit card PIN and cell phone number. On the other hand, I still do a lot of nonsensical things like put stuff and look for stuff in some very unlikely places. For example, I’ve never intentionally stored scotch in the refrigerator but I’ve often opened the refrigerator door expecting to find it in there and instead found a carton of melted Ben & Jerry’s (which, by the way, still tastes just fine!). And perhaps it’s just a bit of adult “attention deficit disorder”, but my short term memory, reading retention, and powers of concentration seem diminished. Consequently, “multi-tasking” (with the notable exception of channel surfing between sporting events) has proven to be a really bad idea.

But here’s the scoop. I had a long and informative discussion about the subject with a neurologist/neuro-oncologist whom I was seeing for other reasons, and learned the following. One, chemo brain is for real and you’re not making it up. It just can’t be proven or measured because nobody did any pre-chemo baseline brain function testing on you. And even if they had, the testing environment wouldn’t have matched the “real world” circumstances of multi-tasking under fire where your issues show up. Two, chemo brain is greatly underreported by patients and their families, in part because it’s only an issue for a healthy survivor who’s now trying to put his or her pre-cancer life back together. If I hadn’t been successfully treated and was instead fighting for my life in clinical trial 3.0 then I’d hardly be concerned about forgetting passwords and such. Three, oh by the way, the human brain wasn’t designed and hardwired for multi-tasking and we all vastly overrate our abilities to pull it off effectively. So don’t try to do that and instead focus on one task at a time. Four, we could prescribe an ADD drug like Ritalin for you, which would make nearly everybody believe they suddenly got smarter. But you wouldn’t like it because you aren’t a fifteen-year-old kid and walking about in a manic buzz probably isn’t your idea of a good time. So, just roll with it and be thankful you’re still walking around.

That’s my story, but I’m not necessarily sticking to it. If a potential employer or the like should ever read this blog I’ll deny any knowledge of this post and claim my golden retriever borrowed my blogsite password (which I’ve of course written down somewhere if I can only remember where that is) and wrote the foregoing as an autobiographical piece.

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