Thursday, July 21, 2011

VODKA TONIC, PLEASE

This chemobrain stuff, more technically called neurocognitive impairment or something with far too many syllables is no joke.   Learning to incorporate humor into the new normal, I have discovered, is the best thing I can do.   Fighting myself when I’m having a bad concentration day is a giant waste of time and a very poor reason to feed myself a hefty dose of stress and anxiety.  The gift I get from a fight inside my head is that I am providing more fuel for my “cognitive” issues.  So, the trick for the day is to accept something I CAN do and Do It.  

One needs job flexibility for this “work around” solution, an understanding employer or insistence to be accommodated under the Americans With Disabilities Act.  I work with my husband.  My work does have deadlines and there are plenty of times an issue arises that takes priority over whatever I am doing.  I struggle.  Not pointing fingers in any one direction, but what people can’t see, they tend to discount as a convenient excuse.

I don’t understand exactly what happened, when it happened or how it snuck up on me. I do, however, remember the precise moment …. the first time something happened.  The entire scene is crystal clear and I especially recall walking away thinking “THAT was weird.”  I had eight rounds of chemo, CMF to be specific.  CMF is used to treat breast cancer, and contains the drugs cyclophosphamide (brand name Cytoxan), methotrexate (brand name Mexate or Folex) and 5-fluorouracil (brand names 5-FU and Adrucil)Thanks to Livestrong for the cut and paste opportunity.

I was in the gray part of my life in between BC and AD, and for the record, the gray part wasn’t much fun at all.  The episode that I now know was my first step into the brain maze occurred between the second and third rounds of chemo. I was at a party and wanted to treat myself to a cocktail.  (Cleared with oncology, just sayin…….)  As I stood before the bartender, and it’s amazing to me, given these brain issues that I recall this with such clarity…..  “I’d like a vodka and……”  There it was, the unfinished sentence hanging in the air. 

Dead silence as the bartender just stared at me… waiting waiting waiting.  My first bout of mental gymnastics…..“club, no….. ginger ale…no….. not club, not ginger…. ummmm, wait, I know what I want, it’s clear, has bubbles… club?  NO, damnit, you just said that, it’s not club!”  Close to a minute went by as my eyes scanned the bar and my brain begged for a clue.  Stand in front of a mirror with a stopwatch and replay that little scene so you can truly understand how  L O N G sixty seconds can be when a stranger who is being paid to take care of about 80 guests is watching and waiting, with pleading eyes, I might add.  Finally, I blurted out enthusiastically….. “tonic…. I’d like a vodka tonic, please.”   Whew.  That was exhausting.

Do you remember that scene in My Cousin Vinny?  Actually, a better question… did you see “My Cousin Vinny?”  Marissa Tomei responds to Joe Pesci’s question about his hunting attire by going into a visual explanation of a doe eyed little deer, putting its lips to the water in the clear, cool brook and then BAM.  That’s one way I can attempt to explain how life was moving along, completely normally, so I thought….. when BAM, one day, I am surrounded by utter chaos. 

I feel as though my feet are in quicksand and I am sinking fast. And some days, I am Rocky, dancing in jubilation on the top of the steps. I can function again.  When the "out of shape Rocky who is in clear agony as he is struggling to reach the top" days started to occur with greater frequency, the Something Is Not Right became a blip on my radar screen. Still, I pushed a bit harder.  Worked longer days. Popped in and out of my office through the entire weekend.  And the work continued to pile up.

I lost complete interest in my Italian language cd's. I played them in the car for close to a year.  A trip to small town Italy to visit family prompted my desire to learn to communicate in the language of my great-grandparents.  What was once fun was turning me into a distracted driver.  The frustration was maddening. Sudoko?  Loved those too, but I may have hurled the book when I realized that besides being unsolvable, I was just staring at the grid and couldn’t figure out where to even begin to pick this thing apart.  I blamed my inability to read that pile of novels I accumulated on my book selection. I don’t like the author's style of writing, the subject isn’t interesting. Good thing both iBooks and Kindle allow me to download samples on my iPad before purchasing.  It’s saved me a ton of money.

Recently, I finally came to an important realization:

It’s Not About The Book

2 comments:

  1. Hi AnneMarie, I love how you describe trying to order a drink and then blanking on "vodka tonic." I suspect that you and I have lots of stories in common! But it also sounds like you have some pretty good days too, right?

    A friend of mine who also struggles with brain fog gave me the best advice. He said that if he can remember his social security number when he wakes up in the morning, then he can plan on having a good day. But if he can't remember it, then he knows not to make any major decisions that day. I thought that was pretty good...

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  2. Idelle,

    I love that social security # advice as a benchmark for major decision making ability! I do have great days but unfortunately, I can't seem to gain control over certain things (like keeping my bills paid on time).....

    I **suspect** it's due to the fact that I had a "backlog" of detailed paperwork that I am still trying to transition from. Best way I can explain is that I started this mess with a pile of nonsense that I have been slowly chipping away at..... the issue is if I string together too many lousy days, the "pile" grows....

    Does that even make sense??? I'm seriously thinking I need to get an assistant in here to get me all back on track.... sort of like I'm starting with a clean slate. I think the stress of knowing I have the backlog is adding to the inability to concentrate.

    thanks for popping over, Idelle...

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