I used to have a pretty awesome memory. I could tell you the telephone numbers of kids I went to school with 30 years ago, and I never missed a trick with the bazillion excursions, incursions, dress-up days and appointments when my son was in daycare. In fact I became the president of the centre’s management committee on my shining ability to never miss a trick. That and the fact that no-one else nominated. But I digress ….
My husband (let’s call him Dave, because that’s his name) has a self-confessed shithouse memory, so our relationship has always been the perfect yin and yang of me remembering everything and him not having to bother to even try. I made us both look super-organised, with the added bonus of me being able to feel superior about it. Marriage perfection right there.
Then I had chemotherapy. They tell you up front that the drugs they pump into you may leave you with something called Post-Chemotherapy Cognitive Impairment (PCCI), which is better known as chemo brain. Chemo brain affects visual and semantic memory, which basically means that you have difficulty multitasking, comprehending what you read, following the thread of a conversation, and retrieving words. But of course when you are tossing up your options, and they are chemo brain or death, you gladly sign yourself up for chemo brain.
During treatment it doesn’t really matter if you have impaired cognitive function – in fact it’s an advantage as you live through your days in a shrunken world of injections and baldness and fear. But then you come out the other end of treatment, and are launched like a cannonball (literally – see earlier comment about baldness) back into the world. You go back to work, you cook meals and go grocery shopping, pay bills, plan holidays, organise playdates. And you soon realise that the old grey matter, well she ain’t what she used to be. People casually invite you to dinner on the second weekend in May and you say sure, that sounds great whilst you internally struggle to remember what year it is. When you are asked at the bank during a security check for your husband’s date of birth, you stand there blankly, staring awkwardly at the teller whilst you try to calculate backwards from this year based on his age, but then give up when you realise you might be able to work out the year but you haven’t a clue about the day or the month.
My most recent chemo brain moment happened this morning. Last week, I had dutifully contacted the local dealership to organise for my car to have its 80,000km service today. Because I work full-time, the exercise of putting my car in for a service requires a bit of planning as I have to drop the car off before work, borrow a car from the dealership for the day, get to work on time and then at the end of the day do the whole process in reverse, and all before 5pm which is when the dealer shuts up shop. So this morning I dropped my car off, collected my loaner – which had $9995 written in white paint across the windscreen (cos there really is no such thing as a free ride) – and drove to work. I mentally patted myself on the back for arriving at something fairly close to my starting time, made a coffee, and settled in at my desk. At that point I noticed I had a voicemail message: Hello Julie, it’s Carly from the dealership. Umm, your car had its 80,000km service in January, so really there’s not ummm anything we can ummm do to help you today. Feel free to come and pick it up anytime. I swear to God I have no memory, NONE, of taking my car in for a service in January. That, dear reader, is chemo brain right there. Or maybe I should call it by its acronym PCCI – because pissy is how this whole chemo brain situation is making me feel.