[To be clear, I want to assure you that I don't intend to turn Time Goes By into a cancer blog - I have plenty of other interests in regard to aging.
But for the two weeks I was stuck on that prehistoric laptop with the speed of a slug, I could not bear to spend more than an hour at a time on it so it was less irritating and easier to write from current experience than about anything that needs backgrounding and research.
At last, on Saturday afternoon, my computer was returned to me in pristine condition, all my files intact and with normal computer speed restored, thanks to an ace tech guru a friend found for me.
I'm now in the process of putting my files in order, catching up on the real work of Time Goes By and I expect to be back to full production by the end of this week.
Meanwhile, I know that during the computer hoo-haw, I missed answering a lot of reader email and lost some of it due to the hinky email program I had to use. So if you were expecting a reply and didn't get one, my apologies.]
For three or four or five weeks after my cancer surgery in June, I was stuck with what hospital personnel called “anesthesia brain” which can apply after especially long surgery – mine was 12 hours. It was frustrating.
Just putting simple sentences together took more effort that I often had. There was a small hiccup of time between someone saying something to me and my understanding of it. And ordinary kinds of focus were almost impossible, in general and particularly on reading as I inexplicably lost interest after a sentence or two.
After that first month, the fog lifted rather swiftly over one weekend and until recently, I didn't notice any of those symptoms again.
Now, apparently, I have intermittent “chemo brain” which is defined differently in different medical circles. One of the nurses at my chemo clinic seemed thoroughly familiar with the phenomenon and implied that it does not necessarily disappear when chemotherapy treatments are done. Oh joy.The Mayo Clinic, on the other hand, reports that little is known about chemo brain and seems to say that it occurs in cancer survivors, which I am not (yet).
”Chemo brain is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment. Chemo brain can also be called chemo fog, chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment or cognitive dysfunction.
“Though chemo brain is a widely used term, it's misleading. It's unlikely that chemotherapy is the sole cause of concentration and memory problems in cancer survivors. Researchers are working to understand the memory changes that people with cancer experience.”
In my case, it appears during the three weeks I am “on chemo” when I can tell my thinking gets fuzzy, although it is not as debilitating as it was after my surgery. On the week off from chemo the brain fog gradually lifts and then I start the routine over again.
There is no byline to the Mayo Clinic story, just “Mayo Clinic Staff” which can mean anything and anyone so there is no way to make a judgment about it. There are a lot of unanswered questions in the realm of cancer.
”...you are teaching me to be brave as you are so brave to meet each day.”
Barbara is far from the first or only reader, in these months since I was diagnosed, to mention how brave I am. It is not possible for me to express how much your repeated encouragement, love, concern and caring means to me as I tackle this new and unexpected journey.
But brave? We've discussed what it is or is not in these pages in the past and it was clear then that there are many definitions.
This time I am not so interested in what it is in the dictionary or philosophical senses. I care more about why (however many are the ways I might personally define bravery) I don't believe the word, the idea, the intention apply in my current situation.
Was it brave to undergo a 12-hour surgery that has required months of recovery to feel almost normal again? When I asked the surgeon what would happen if I refused such a dreadful-sounding intrusion of my body, he said I would be dead by the end of the year.
That's not bravery, that's survival, the inbred imperative of all animals to avoid death at nearly all cost.
Some readers have attached the notion of bravery to my willingness to write about my cancer experience. Well, here's one secret about that: whatever I said at the top of this post about other interests in life, cancer does tend to take up a lot of space in one's mind often leaving little room for much else so you get these missives.
I write as much to winnow out some meaning and understanding for myself while trying to find some universal significance for readers. That is not bravery and it embarrasses me to be included in the category.
I'm a fairly simplistic thinker and the first thing that comes to mind about bravery is, for example, the soldier who rushes into a hail of bullets to save his buddy – the kind of person to whom we award the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Or, that person who stood in front of a convoy of government tanks in Tienamen Square during the protests of 1989.
Or a parent who runs into a burning building to rescue their child. You know what I mean, and I say that even understanding other, less dramatic but equally stunning forms of bravery.
What I have chosen to do in this circumstance, as I see it, is to endure. To persist. To persevere. For as long as that may be possible.
And if you don't count the annoyances I have given full voice to here, it's not really a big deal what I'm doing because, as I often ask myself (more rhetorically now than otherwise) is what else am I going to do? What else is there to do?
The only answer I have is: just what I'm doing. Just what I did before this with the addition of those damned annoyances.
Oh my, this got much longer than I intended. See what happens when you give me back my working computer. I'll stop now.