Why Am I Here?

“Why am I here?”

 You would not believe how many times I say this these days.  No, I don’t mean that I’m getting all philosophical on you.  I’m talking I get somewhere and really don’t know why I’m there.  This happens almost every time I go to the garage.  My garage is where I keep glassware, canning supplies, and other kitchen related items that I don’t have room for in the house.  It’s also the home of our two big freezers.  So I go to the garage at least once a day.  And nearly every time, as soon as I step inside I say, usually out loud, “Why am I here?”  The garage sits about 20 feet from the house, which apparently makes for just long enough of a walk for me to acquire amnesia these days.  The problem is not that the required information doesn’t stick.  Oh, it’s in there, but good luck retrieving it!  Usually, within a minute or so of asking myself why I’m there, and after the application of much concentration, I’m able to remember why I came.  But not always.

 I try to warn people that I don’t remember things, but they don’t seem to get it.  They say things like, “I’m the same way!”  Ha, ha—no, you’re really not.  Thanks to tamoxifen, I just lose information in my brain somewhere.  It’s like my brain is the junk drawer of my body or something.  Sure, what I need is in there somewhere, but I’ve got to mentally dig through a bunch of twine, pencils, scotch tape, and a nut cracker to find it. 

 Two weeks ago I was driving into town to take Mini Me to piano lesson.  In a deviation from the normal routine, I was planning to run by Goodwill before hand and drop off some items.  So, we ride into town, pass the turn to piano, and head for the Goodwill.  Except as we approached the intersection where I’d need to turn, I suddenly did not know what I needed to do.  “Do I need to turn here?  I don’t remember where I’m going. Where am I going? Think, think, stupid brain, where am I going?”  Tick tock tick tock.  Finally, at the last second I remembered, “Oh yeah, Goodwill,” and made the left turn.  Then last weekend, I was getting ready to open a can of tuna.  I carried the tuna over to the drawer where the can opener is kept, but when I got there I just stared at the contents of the drawer.  “What am I looking for?  I need…something.  I must need it out of this drawer since I opened it.  What am I doing?  Uh…opening a can.  And what’s the tool I need for that?  Uh…”   Really, it should not take so much effort to remember that you need a can opener to open the can you are holding in your hand.

 Either of those things ever happened to you?  Probably not, unless you’re on tamoxifen.  They never used to happen to me, either.  Thankfully I have both a sense of humor and a supportive spouse.  A big reason why I‘m able to laugh at these incidents is because I cling to the assumption that once I’m off of tamoxifen, everything will go back to normal.  But it’s not all bad anyway, because like I said I have a supportive spouse.  Hubster has been great about recognizing that the tamoxifen has caused memory recall issues for me.  So, what’s he gonna do, get mad?  No, because I can’t help it, right?  I’m not forgetful because I’m an insensitive and self-absorbed lout who is too wrapped up in herself to remember to pick up Hubster’s toothpaste at Walmart.  Nope, it’s the drug’s fault–I’m handicapped!  And while I would never, ever exploit this, it does offer a certain advantage for those times when I am just an insensitive, self-absorbed lout who got too distracted by a new bottle of nail polish to remember the toothepaste.

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If I Only Had a Brain…I Could Think of a Snappy Title

I just realized that it’s been almost two weeks since the last time I posted.  A reader (Hi Theresa!) emailed me and asked if I was doing okay, and I thought “Well, that’s odd, it hasn’t been that long since I posted.”  Then I checked.  Yikes.  I guess it has been a while.  As usual, part of this is because life keeps rolling on, whether a girl has something to write about or not.  And sometimes I just don’t have much to say.  But it would be dishonest to say that either one of those was the case this time. 

 The truth is, I’ve been struggling.  I think that I have Tamoxifen to thank for this.  But knowing the cause doesn’t necessarily diminish the problem, and for the past week or so I’ve just been in a really crappy state of mind.  I do the things I have to do, but anything above that requires a conscious decision to suck it up and do it whether I want to or not.  Which I don’t.  And you can’t make me.  So there. 

 Now, I don’t want those of you that I’ve been around in the past week to think I was totally trying to fake you out.  I’m still up for joking around and chit-chatting.  But, I just have this underlying dullness of brain and general lethargy going on, and it seems to be getting gradually worse.  I’m starting to think that Tamoxifen is making me depressed.

 I hate to even say that.  It’s sounds so “wah wah wah wah waah”.  And trust me, I’m totally the least sympathetic person you know when it comes to stuff like this, and I’d be the first one to tell me to suck it up.  I think that’s part of why it’s getting to me so much—because it’s making me feel totally not like myself, and I’m about up to here with The Cancer and it’s accompanying meds trying to steal my identity!

 You guys have heard me gripe about the Tamoxifen before.  I believe it’s responsible for the fact that I can’t remember squat.  Chemo made me feel fuzzy headed, but I had about 5 months between chemo and Tamoxifen, and I noticed this persistent short term memory thing after I started the Tamoxifen.  I can handle the memory thing.  It’s kind of amusing to me, and I’ve learned to write most everything down—which works great since I’m a compulsive list maker anyway.  Really.  It bothers Hubster more than it does me.  But it’s discouraging to me that it affects my vocabulary—I’m trying to write, for crying out loud!  How am I ever going to get a book deal if I can’t even beat my 12 year old at Quiddler anymore?

 And this mood thing is really making me fed up, and considering that I have to take Tamoxifen for 5 years I’m beginning to wonder if there will be anything left of me by the time I’m done.  Can any of my cancer girls out there relate?  Do you feel like you’ve got a starving brain sucker on top of your head 24/7?  Have you been through this and can tell me that it’s only temporary?  Or do I need to go see the wizard and ask for a brain?

Another Visit with Dr Beer-Hurray

Picture taken on my previous visit in November.

Picture taken on my previous visit in November.

I had my quarterly appointment with Dr Birhiray last week.  Believe it or not, I actually look forward to this even though the minimum wait time is an hour and I have to be both weighed and have a blood draw.  The blood draw is getting to be progressively more difficult, because I only have one usable side, and that side’s kind of worn out at this point.  Last time, after the arm was a great big FAIL, they actually had to use a little chemo needle in order to draw blood out of my hand.  It was great!  As soon as she finished, I said, “Thank you ma’am, may I have another?”  She told me, no, that I’d have to wait until next time, and I pouted all the way home.  That’s how much fun it was. 

 So, anywho, in spite of all that, I still look forward to my appointments with Dr B.  Part of this is because he’s just plain fun, which is a very good quality for an oncologist, especially for MY oncologist.  And part of it is because he actually reads my blog, and he mentions it every time I visit—so, he’s totally speaking my love language.  Awesome. 

 Occasionally, Dr B has other doctors following him around the office.  I’ve never figured out if they’re full-fledged doctors, or doctors-in-progress, or what exactly it is that they’re doing.  Perhaps they’re learning how to be a good oncologist, in which case they’re in the right place.  At any rate, other than the fact that they get to see my boobs (and really, is there anyone in the medical community who hasn’t seen them at this point anyway?) they don’t really have any bearing on my visit.  This visit was one of those times that Dr B had a tag-along. 

 I don’t remember his name, except that it started with an O….OompaLoompa, Obadiah, something like that.  So, anyway, Dr B comes in and introduces Dr Oklahoma, then proceeds to ask me how I’ve been doing, if I have any questions or concerns, etc.  In the meantime, Dr Okinawa is standing off to the side perusing a stack of papers, which I assumed might have something to do with my medical history.  Finally Dr B says, “We’ve been reading about you.” At which point I look over at Dr Okey-Dokey who is chuckling as he shows me what is actually in his hand—print-outs of my blog.   Since I’m nothing if not narcissistic, that totally works for me, and I decide right then and there that I like this Dr Odometer, even if he is the eleventy-seventh stranger to see my boobs in the past 2 years.

 As it turns out, the post they’ve printed off is not the current one, but the one from January 14th.  I said to Dr Oleo, “That’s not the latest post.  You’ll have to check out the current one later.”  I also told him I’d be blogging about him—so Dr Onomatopoeia, if you’re out there, it was nice meeting you—sorry I don’t remember your name, it’s that memory thing we talked about, you know.  Maybe Dr B needs to put me on Ritalin after all. 

 Then, in one of the most amusing moments of my visit, (second only to the raging fun I had being weighed) Dr B starts talking about my blog and refers to my “cancer journey”.  I bust out laughing, and tell him he needs to read the latest blog post.

******

Some of you may remember the posts from this past July when my nephew’s best friend was killed in a motorcycle accident.  At the time, I wrote two entries chronicling the events of that week.  I’ll be adding the final installment of that story after the first two, dated the same week.  If you care to read it, you’ll find it here.

Boats, Blogs, & Dr Beer-hurray

Had an appointment with Dr Birhiray Tuesday.  No big deal.  Just a check-up.  I always look forward to seeing Dr B, though.  He’s my fav.

While we were waiting to get in to see Dr B, a lady came into the waiting room, and struck up a conversation with me.  She was dressed in a pink sweatshirt, and pink hat, and she carried a pink bag.  It was no great shock, then, when her conversation was all about breast cancer stuff.  “Are you involved with any support groups?” she asked.  I told her that I was not, and added that I wasn’t from Indy, and that I live over by Terre Haute.  I figured that would put a damper on her recruitment efforts.  I was wrong.  “Have you ever heard of the Indy Oars?” she said.  I had not.  She then proceeds to explain to me that they’re a rowing team of BC survivors who row a big pink dragon boat. (Really?  You say a PINK boat?  Well, I never would have guessed.)  “They practice Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays up in Geist—you should check it out.”  I’m thinking, lady, I just told you I live over an hour away.  You know exactly where I’m coming from, because you told me that you’re originally from Terre Haute yourself.  Last time I checked, gas wasn’t free—even for survivors.  In other words: Are you nuts?

Not that I’m hatin’ on the Indy SurviveOars, as they’re actually called.  I think it sounds like fun.  You know, they even have a drummer to keep everybody paddling in unison.  I’m thinking I’d want that job—you know like in Ben Hur?  BATTLE SPEED! Bom–bom, bom–bom, ATTACK SPEED! Bom-bom, bom-bom, RAMMING SPEED! Bom-bom-bom-bom-bom-bom…  What?  You say there’s no ramming in dragon boat racing?  Well…fsssst….I don’t want to do it then.  Here I was thinking it was going to be like a cross between canoeing and demolition derby, in a big pink boat.  Dang it.

But, hey, at least she didn’t flash me.

Eventually I got called back to have my vitals taken.  This includes the requisite blood samples and the dreaded weigh-in.  Happily, Dr Birhiray’s Scales of Doom weighed me at a dainty 8 pounds lighter than my previous visit.  Woo hoo!  Go me!  Of course, my previous visit was 3 months ago, so it’s not like the weight is just flying off of me or anything.  But, I’ll take what I can get.

The first thing Dr B asked me about was my blog.  Seems he’s not the one that’s been googling his name after all, although he said his wife might have done it.  He had not actually been to my newish home here on WordPress, as he noted when Hubster pulled it up on his laptop for Dr B’s perusal.  He got a kick out of the fact that he has his own category, but he quickly clicked from there over to Dr Schmidt’s category to see what I had to say about him.  Yeah, that’s right, while everybody is wasting away out in the waiting area, Dr B is in the exam room with me & Hubster reading my blog and cackling.  I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it either, since I’d spent my time in purgatory, too. 

We did actually talk medical stuff.  Shoot, he even did a full-fledged physical exam which only happens, like once a year.  I told him about the memory loss issue.  Bear in mind that he’s never surprised by anything I say, and he always has an option for dealing with it.  This time, he told me that if the memory loss/lack of focus thing was really bad, it could be treated with Ritalin.  “Ritalin?” I said, and then started laughing.  “No, I’m serious” he said in his Nigerian accent.  “I know, I just think it’s funny.”  And you know, I have been feeling a little ADD.  But in the end, I told him I didn’t think another prescription was necessary.  It’s not like I forget how to get home or anything.  Besides, the stories I have to tell about my little amnesia episodes are pretty great.

And really, Ritalin is a stimulant, so I’m thinking I can self-medicate with caffeine if I need to.  You hear that, Honey?  Those iced caramellas with the whipped cream on top aren’t over-priced luxuries—they’re therapy.

Thanks for the Memories…or not.

(We’d have a Flashback Friday, but I can’t remember anything)

It’s a good thing I have a sense of humor about this whole short term memory loss thing. 

Chemo kind of scrambled my brain, but it was getting better until I started taking Tamoxifen.  I don’t know that cognitive issues are part of the official list of side effects, but ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that they should be.  And I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how researchers have been using estrogen to combat memory loss in menopausal women.  Tamoxifen is a freakish drug that acts like estrogen in some parts of the body, and acts against it in others.  Now, I’m no fancy-pants researcher, but I’m thinking that Tamoxifen’s effect on my body’s estrogen could be to blame for this lack of memory deal.

Of course, you may be thinking, “Moody, what do you mean by memory loss?  I forget things all the time.”  Let me tell you a story that illustrates precisely what I mean. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was at homeschool co-op.  I’d had to run out and get something for Mini-Me’s class project, and also some snacks for the science fair.  After I got back, I realized that I’d forgotten to get ice.  (No, that’s not the story) I didn’t want to run back out, and I asked another mom (Tonya) if she’d mind picking up ice.  She was needing to run an errand anyway, so she said, “Sure.”  Fast forward about an hour or so.  Susie says to me, “It’s getting close to lunch.  When was Tonya supposed to be back with the ice?”  I said, “Well, she had another errand to run, but she said she’d be back before lunch time.”  Ten minutes pass and Susie and I are walking down the hallway, chatting.  All of a sudden, I see flashing across my memory, Tonya handing me the ice and me putting it in the freezer.  Yeah, that’s right, Tonya had already been back.  I nearly fell over laughing.  “Susie—I already have the ice!”  <insert hysterical laughter>  “What?”  <more laughter> “I already HAVE the ice!  Tonya brought it to me and I put it in the freezer!  I totally forgot when you asked me!”  

Wow.

The other thing I’ve noticed is a lack of focus.  Like, Hubster will be talking to me and all of a sudden I find myself thinking about something completely unrelated to what he’s talking about.  Then, I realize I’m supposed to be listening, and I try to focus, but within 2 minutes, it happens again. Usually at this point I giggle at how ridiculous this all is, and Hubster just gives me a knowing look, and then answers all the questions I have about what I didn’t hear him say. Fortunately, Hubster has been pretty good about rolling with it, although he did tell someone the other day (I can’t remember who—imagine that) that I’m not the woman he married brainwise.

But he’s really been amazingly patient with my inability to retain information.  I mean, I think it’s funny, but I’m pretty sure if the tables were turned and he was the one who couldn’t listen for more than 30 seconds, or told me the same things over and over, it wouldn’t be funny anymore.  I’d be like, “How convenient for you that you can’t “remember” anything I say!  Are you sure you even “remember” who I am?!” 

(You know, there really needs to be separate punctuation for designating something in “finger quotes”, because that’s what I was going for in the above sentences.)

Playing Hooky

At the end of last week, I spent probably 45 minutes or so typing up a blog entry.  I mentioned a while back that I have the slowest internet connection ever.  Well, not only do I have Flintstone’s Internet, but I also get my electricity from Flinstone’s Power and Light.  Apparently, just as I was just putting the finishing touches on my masterpiece, the wooly mammoth who runs on the treadmill to generate our electricity decided to take a break.  *poof*  The power went off. 

Now, this isn’t particularly rare.  We have random power outages all year long.  Sometimes it’s because some unlucky critter decided to get up close and personal with the local transformer.  Or, when the moon is full and the Pabst Blue Ribbon is aplenty, it might be because some hilljacks decided to shoot up the substation down the road from here.

But arrrgh!  Why does it always have to happen when I’m writing?

Then the power came back on.  Anxious to find out whether or not the auto recovery feature had done its job, I powered up.  But before the machine could completely reboot….*poof* the power was gone again.

Arrrgh!

I gave up and went downstairs.  Eventually, the electricity came back on for good.  I fired up the computer.  My blog entry was nowhere to be found.  Thanks to chemo brain and tamoxifen, I no longer have the ability to recall what I’ve written.  Used to be I could remember anything I’d written, nearly verbatim.  Now I can remember the general idea and maybe a particularly pithy phrase or two, but the rest is gone. 

And so, I did what any mature blogger would do.  I pouted.  Okay, not really, but what I did do was walk away from the desk instead of trying to recreate what I’d lost.  And I’ve been playing hooky ever since.  But of course, no one visits my blog if there isn’t anything new, so I figured I’d better get off my butt and write something.

In the coming days, I’ll tell you how I’ve been spending my time, including taking The Foob mushroom hunting, and Mini Me’s first soccer game.  Stay tuned…

Welcome to My New Home

I keep getting compliments on my hair. And people keeping saying, “It’s coming in curly!” Yes, that’s because I have naturally curly hair. Sometimes I think I must have been darn forgettable prior to chemo because no one seems to remember what I looked like. Not only are people incredulous that my hair is coming in curly, but they actually tell me, “I thought your hair used to be straight.” A couple of weeks ago I asked Angie, “Hey, did I exist before I was bald?” You know, chemo has really jacked up my short term memory (more on that later…unless I forget to write about it) but people, even *I* remember what my hair looked like!  Sheesh! Of course, this is at least partly rooted in the belief that when people do chemo their hair comes back in different. Personally, I think this is a bunch of baloney. When you hair is a half inch long, any amount of wave it has will make it seem curlier than when it was longer and stretched out by its own weight. And if you used to color your hair, then of course your new sprouts won’t be the same color. Sometimes people say it comes back I thicker, but really, how would you know? You just spent the last 6 months bald!   

Last week I had my stitches removed, and met with Dr Birhiray. The last time I saw him was after the Tribune Star interview, but prior to the article actually being published.  I’d told him about it, and he asked me to bring him a copy next time. So, I took a copy when I went for my check-up. Dr B insisted that I autograph it, as if I am really some sort of celebrity. He’s probably got it listed on eBay for 99 cents right now with 2 minutes to go and no takers.   

I also griped to Dr B about not losing any weight. After weeks of working out, I weighed in one measly pound lighter. Of course, it doesn’t really help that my appointments are always right after lunch. And since we were running behind, lunch consisted of Steak N Shake. So there I was, griping that he’s making me fat with all this Tamoxifen, while the smell of cheese fries still yet lingered around me like a deep friend aura. But the way I see it, I’d have had those cheese fries if I weren’t working out, so the fact that I have been working out consistently should definitely overcome one meal at Steak N Shake.  I should still be ahead of the game. And I should be ahead by more than one stinkin’ pound!  

About that memory loss thing…you’ll be amused to know that I did indeed forget to write about it. It was only when I went back and read through what I’d written that I said, “Oh yeah!  Memory loss!” Welcome to life with me, post-chemo version. While it can be frustrating, it’s actually kind of amusing to me because it’s just so ridiculous. My long-suffering hubby can attest to the resemblance I bear these days to Dory from Finding Nemo. The only thing that has kept him from losing his mind is that he knows me well enough to finish most sentences for me. Still, that doesn’t help when he asks me to do something and I say, “Okay” and then immediately forget.  I guess it’s a good thing he loves me. 

There are some folks who will say, “You can’t claim chemo brain anymore.” Oh yeah?  Come hang out with me for a couple of hours and see if you still feel the same way. Ask any of my friends how many times I say things like, “Did I already tell you this?” Sure, it’s not like the very slow mental processing I had going on while I was actually doing chemo, but neither is it normal brain function.  At least 70% percent of the time I can’t think of the words I need to complete an intelligent sentence. My conversations are peppered these days with thingamajigs, doojiggers, and watchacallits. The names of people either completely escape me, or are crossed up with someone else. For example, the other day I commented to Mini Me, “Man, Emeril’s trying to kill me!” She said, “Emeril’s trying to kill you?” I just busted out laughing. I was actually not talking about Emeril at all. Instead, I was talking about Gilad, the exercise guru, whose dvd I’d done the previous day.  How on Earth I crossed up those two, I’ll never know. Mini Me astutely observed that indeed Emeril is the very opposite of Gilad.   

Clearly the synapses are not firing correctly.