The struggle is real
May 3, 2015 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Having survived Ewing's Sarcoma at 17 after going through an extreme chemo regiment I really fucking love pancakes.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 12:30 PM on May 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

Yeah, chemo fog is absolutely a real thing. I survived testicular cancer two years ago and I distinctly remember not being able to concentrate on anything for any stretch of time.
posted by zrail at 1:13 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hey zrail, I'm 6.5 years out from my bout with testicular cancer. I definitely could not concentrate, but I always though it was from the severe lack of energy from crashing blood counts, not anything more sinister. Felt like a bad hangover that lasted 9 weeks.
posted by Existential Dread at 1:40 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

That it took this long to clearly identify chemo brain is part of the reality that if it doesn't save a life or make a penis hard, modern medicine has a hard time paying attention to it.
posted by effugas at 3:37 PM on May 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

My boss was diagnosed with cancer in August and started chemo the next day. He's still doing the treatment, although he's now down to once a week instead of twice a week. It has been such a difficult year at work. He didn't want to take leave and wanted to try to work through it -- but he has basically produced nothing since starting the treatment. The works still has to get done, though, so I've been doing it. I feel really bad for him, because I think he doesn't realize how cognitively impaired he really is right now. I think he thinks he's been working all this time.

It's been a rough year. Roughest for him, of course, but also rough for those of us who are having to pick up the pieces.

/saves the rest for therapy
posted by mudpuppie at 3:53 PM on May 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'd be surprised if he doesn't know, mudpuppie. He probably just wants to keep to his normal routine as much as possible - that's what doctors tell us to do, and it really does help to try to maintain some sense of normalcy through a terrifying and terrible time.

I'm two-thirds through chemo right now and have, among other things, paid my HOA dues online using a bank account that doesn't exist, ordered contacts using the incorrect zip code (despite having lived in my house for almost ten years), and been unable to remember the name of the dishwasher. Fortunately I'm the executive assistant to a CEO who treats me like family, and when I say to my boss, "I need to work on this on Monday when my brain is a bit clearer," he laughs and says that's fine. I have a lot of empathy for people in a higher stress work situation trying to deal with this cognitive stuff on top of all the other physical and emotional bullshit. Cancer sucks.
posted by something something at 4:12 PM on May 3, 2015 [8 favorites]

> Among other things I have (bunch of foggy things)

My iPhone 4 button failed a few weeks into treatment and so my wife drove us to the AT&T store to get a new iPhone 5. My recollection of the event is that I was confused but smooth, but she tells me I attempted to crack a joke at the salesperson and then couldn't remember the punchline and then awkwardly trailed off.

My doctor also said I should try to maintain a normal routine as much as possible, so I tried to work the whole time. Pretty sure I wasn't actually doing anything by my third round except maybe checking email, but my employer was extremely gracious about the whole thing.
posted by zrail at 4:43 PM on May 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

They need to do a study on how many once normal people go completely off the rails during chemo.
I had that happen with someone I knew.
The mental fog is real, and I think outright psychiatric breakdown can happen when people are scared enough and sick enough.
There really needs to be even more studies and maybe programs to help people get through this.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:43 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

First reaction: You've been told you have cancer. You may or may not die soon. Dieing is possibly delayed by pumping you full of toxic chemicals. That will hopefully kill the cancer while not doing too much damage to the rest of your body (which will be damaged, that is the only certainty). And you will feel sick, very sick, from all this toxic waste in your body. And lose your hair. And probably your sex drive.
And experiencing all that, you are unable to concentrate? This is my surprised face...

Second reaction: More research into cancer therapies is good...

Third reaction: Remembering this little tidbit I recently heard on the radio that essentially no new cancer treatment was found in the last 30 years or so, and all we've been doing since then is tweaking the known ones, with less than stunning results (i.e. basically the same mortality rates as before)...
posted by sour cream at 8:17 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

This was early on in my chemo treatment: While I was driving down the road to visit a friend in a distant city, I scratched my head. I brought my hand away filled with hair. I remembered that my hair would probably fall out soon. I let the hair go out the window and continued on. The fog part is what I remember best about the next eight months. In retrospect, time flies. I don't believe I looked at it that way at the time, though.
posted by mule98J at 9:28 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

That it took this long to clearly identify chemo brain is part of the reality that if it doesn't save a life or make a penis hard, modern medicine has a hard time paying attention to it.

I never understood comments such as these. Both Rogaine and Viagra, for example, which many see as "quality of life" drugs, weren't developed for those purposes (treating hair loss and erectile dysfunction, respectively). Those uses are actually side effects that were noticed during clinical trials. Originally, both drugs were created to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) - a condition that neither "saves a life" nor "makes a penis hard".

Contrary to the snark, modern science pays attention to a lot of things. And, in order to find out anything close to facts requires meticulous study, data gathering, and experimentation. All this takes effort, money, and time. I'm sure "chemo brain" was long suspected but I'm not surprised that a full-fledged study was not done until now.
posted by enamon at 10:12 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

It is interesting, though, that doctors sometimes do take some convincing to believe that whatever the patient is experiencing is related to treatment. Since I started chemo I have a dry bloody nose 100% of the time and when I first mentioned it, my otherwise excellent oncologist said, "well, that's probably not from the chemo." What? Of course it is. I've never had a dry bloody nose in my life until they started pumping me full of these drugs, and the internet is full of people on my regimen talking about having this same experience. So I can see how chemo brain could have been written off for a long time as being related to emotional distress.
posted by something something at 10:31 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

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