Thursday, May 19, 2011

Memory. It's a wonderful thing.

There is a strong relationship between chemotherapy and short-term memory loss. The term 'chemo brain' is already part of common lingo. An article in the New York Times from April 29, 2007 discussed the reality of chemo brain. The article said that: "Virtually all cancer survivors who have had toxic treatments like chemotherapy experience short-term memory loss and difficulty concentrating during and shortly afterward, experts say."

Fortunately, the words "during and shortly afterward" indicate that the problem could be resolved in a short period for most people.

In the meantime, memory loss is becoming all too frequent in the life of this breast cancer survivor. For the joy of sharing, let me provide some examples. I have no shame.

First sign of memory loss appears to be leaving the car door open. Yesterday, I left my passenger side door wide open in a public parking lot while I went into work, after opening it to retrieve files. Not unlocked, wide open. Somehow between the act of opening the passenger side door, grabbing the files, and walking to my office, I forgot to turn around and push the door closed. I discovered the open door three hours later as I went out to lunch.

Two weeks ago, I left my driver's side door wide open when I went into the Thruway Supermarket in a dicey neighborhood. Again, not unlocked, but wide open, inviting the world in. My stomach dropped when I came back out with a cartload of groceries. I thought someone had broken in, certainly intending to steal my overpriced racing bike, which was laying unlocked on the folded back seats, beckoning thieves for a free ride. My stomach dropped again when I saw the bicycle laying on the seats, untouched, as the reality of situation hit me. Apparently, the thrill of purchasing groceries caused some cerebral interruption.

Losing things also seems like a clear example of memory loss. I have no memory of placing my brother's check (we were splitting a gift) or my ipod in my suit jacket. Yet they were hopelessly lost for a week, leading me to scour ebay for the cost of another ipod and suggesting to my brother that he cancel the check. Fortunately before any steps toward replacement were taken, both the check and the ipod tumbled out of the pocket while I was getting dressed for work. Did I even wear that jacket last week? I have no idea.

These lapses of memory and judgment, and possibly good solid common sense, are, alarming. I feel like an Alzheimer's victim who is constantly surprised to come across evidence of having engaged in erratic behavior.

Apparently, short-term memory loss that many people seem to suffer could be attributed both to high dose chemotherapy and to estrogen loss from premature menopause or estrogen suppressors that breast cancer patients often take after chemotherapy ends. Either way, it is a phenomena that is reportedly universal. It is worth looking into a little further and asking the oncologist how to prevent or deal with weekly memory lapses. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting to ask her.

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