I like to think that before I got lymphoma and started chemotherapy, I was a quick-thinking, clear-minded individual with a pretty sharp memory.

By: Robin Harry

It’s chemo and the brain, it’s chemo and the brain,
I used to be a genius, but now I’m insane,
My memories make no sense,
My head feels really dense,
It’s crazy, it’s chemo and the brain, brain, brain, brain…

I like to think that before I got lymphoma and started chemotherapy, I was a quick-thinking, clear-minded individual with a pretty sharp memory.  I was always bad with remembering people’s names and finding specific words in a conversation, but I would never forget something that needed to be done (prospective memory), and I certainly wouldn’t forget entire conversations (episodic memory). Even more importantly, my brain never made stuff up!! (false memory).  But lately I’ve been having trouble with all these things and having a really hard time concentrating and multitasking (working memory).  It’s fascinating and unnerving all at once.

I first really started noticing the effects of chemo on my brain several weeks ago at work. One of my colleagues was giving a quick seminar on mild cognitive impairment. I remember having to re-read one slide about 5 times while it was up there, and essentially having to shut every voice in the room out just so I could concentrate enough to grasp the content.  The bad thing about it?  The slide was on assessments that I had been doing for the last 7 years in my career as a psychometrist.  That shouldn’t have been hard for me to grasp at all!! Oh the irony…having cognitive difficulties while working at a cognitive neurology research unit, during an info session on mild cognitive impairment?!

Concentration requires much more effort.  I went out to dinner with a couple friends a few nights ago, and had to study the menu like it was a text book.  I can’t watch TV shows that are more than half an hour long without pausing for a break, and rewinding long-winded conversations on screen so I can follow along. Even talking with my friends requires effort – I have to really focus on listening to keep up.

My memory’s a bit off too. A couple weeks ago, one of my coworkers sent me a text message to ask me if I needed a ride to work.  I would have sworn on Charlton Heston’s grave that I replied and that we had an actual conversation.  Nope – next morning I looked at my chat logs to realize I never sent him a response.  That same day, my other colleague had to remind me of a conversation I had with her about a later appointment that day – both the appointment and the conversation completely forgotten. Just today, my mom and I McGyvered my window to fit the AC for the day.  I had two rolls of duct tape (I wasn’t kidding with the McGyvering), and when one of them finished, it took me 15 minutes to remember where I put the other one.  Only to find it on the very window ledge that we were working on.

It’s hard to explain. When I’m trying to concentrate it really does feel like there’s a fog hanging around my head that makes it harder to keep all the pieces in view. It’s a lot more work to maintain information. When I’m trying to remember something, that feels like I’m just staring at a blank sheet of paper in my head.  I kinda do feel like Pinky from Pinky and the Brain – I’m probably just as likely to come up with some nonsense non-sequitur these days…

“Are you pondering what I’m pondering?”
“Sure Brain, but if they can bring Arrested Development back, surely there’s hope for Firefly?”

Chemo and the brain, brain, brain, brain…narf…