In 2014, I agreed to undergo chemotherapy using a drug known as docetaxel (also called Taxotere) to try and extend my life.
It had been used by women battling metastatic breast cancer for 30 +/- years and had recently been opened up to men with severe prostate cancer. They were very clear with me about the potential side effects of this drug which included fluid retention with weight gain, swelling of the ankles or abdominal area, peripheral neuropathy (which I still suffer and struggle with daily and is why I take RX painkillers), nausea, diarrhea, mouth sores, hair loss, fatigue and weakness (which I still struggle with) infection and numerous others. I didn’t get the mouth sores. The one they didn’t really talk about was what’s known as Chemo Brain.
The term Chemo Brain describes thinking and memory problems that can occur after chemotherapy.
Some of the things those of us dealing with it experience are:
- Forgetting things that we usually have no trouble recalling (memory lapses)
- Trouble concentrating (we can’t focus on what we’re doing, have a short attention span, we may “space out”)
- Trouble remembering details like names, dates, and sometimes larger events
- Trouble multi-tasking, like answering the phone while cooking, without losing track of one task (they’re less able to do more than one thing at a time). My multitasking (which I was a MASTER at) has gone to shit.
- Taking longer to finish things (disorganized, slower thinking and processing)
- Trouble remembering common words (unable to find the right words to finish a sentence)
I was having lunch with my brother recently and I couldn’t remember a word I knew so well. He ascribed it to getting older and told me it just gets worse. He’s 73 and I’m 55. This isn’t due to age, it’s due to poison I allowed to be given to me intravenously and the damage it caused my body and brain.
The cognitive problems I have now didn’t exist 3 years ago. Sure I might have blanked on a date, word or thought from time to time, but I could write, grasp my vocabulary and multitask like no one’s business! There is a distinct difference now.
So, take away from this 2 things: 1) if you are considering chemo to battle your cancer, realize that it will likely be a life altering treatment and 2) if I forget your name, a date, a word or if I tell you I need to focus on this one thing I’m doing, I apologize but it’s the reality of my life now.