You May Call it Closet Clutter, I Call it Chemo Clutter
Every spring, I get so excited to clean out the winter clutter. This usually doesn’t take place in my house until May or June, though. The piles that accumulate in my office and my bedroom are…well, embarrassing. But every spring, when the birds are chirping and the flowers blooming, like clockwork, I begin to dig out and organize.
Martha Stewart has a fabulous spring cleaning checklist. Do you think I should let her know that she omitted one important thing on her list: Chemo Clutter? Although I have been cancer-free and chemo-free for four years now, I still suffer from the occasional “forgetfulness.”
Chemo Clutter has many different descriptors: chemo brain, chemo confusion, mind fog. All are terms that describe impairments in cognition resulting (at least in part) from chemo. Fatigue, estrogen deficiency, sleep cycle alterations, and depression are experienced by many chemo patients, and are likely causative factors that can be used to explain chemo brain.
What does this look like, you ask? If you can picture a two year-old scribbling in a coloring book, then you have captured the visual.
And now let me (try to) articulate the component of chemo brain.
Here’s how the banter in my brain sometimes goes when my mind is overloaded with too much stuff:
Did you see that bug fly by?
I could really use a massage.
If you don’t focus, I’m outta here!!!!!!
Outta where? What are you talking about?
This bothersome banter goes on way too much. What’s way too much you ask? Sometimes it goes on ALL. DAY. LONG.
I call this decreased concentration. What would you call it?
Essentially, there is little to no focus whatsoever (I’ve started and restarted THIS post 4 times already…now make that 5.). Sometimes my mind wanders to the most random and seemingly futile places. Tonight, my girlfriend asked me what I was thinking about and the best answer I could give her was “everything and nothing.” Ever tried that? It’s enough to make you feel really cuckoo! Sometimes I consider tabloid magazines to be sophisticated literature that I can barely finish before the next week’s issue is out.
Ok, where was I?
I have always prided myself on my organization skills. I’m the girl who alphabetizes her library. Every lecture I’ve ever given is filed by date. I have been in a long-term relationship with a label maker. The clothes in my closet are hung by style, color and season. Full disclosure here, I know.
Not anymore! Books are stacked high. Haven’t given any lectures. The label maker is dusty (which is akin to sacrilege). And my closet? Piles. Everywhere. Sometimes I have to ask myself if it’s really Chemo Clutter or just laziness.
The thing about disorganization is that it fuels my memory loss and lack of concentration which then fuels more disorganization. Get the picture?
I also have difficulty with my arithmetic skills. Ok, as if mine were not already bad enough. Today as I was working with three second graders, one asked me how much “1+1 equals.” The kicker: I had to THINK ABOUT IT. Process it. Fortunately, he said, “I’m just teasing you.” OMG. This kid thought it was a joke, but I was trying to figure it out. Enough said.
My language skills are also altered. I do wonder if this is permanent. After all, it’s been several years. Here’s what this looks like. Either words don’t exist…literally can’t be fabricated for the life of me. Or the words float around in my brain (like flies) and can’t get out. Either way, I stand across from someone glassy-eyed and unable to speak. I’m always on the verge of drooling.
I used to be a good conversationalist, if I do say so myself. Sometimes, I literally don’t have words. The good news, though, is that I can (and do!) smile, which is a huge bonus. I may look like and feel like an idiot, but I still manage to be happy.
I also experience attentional fatigue which is when the demands for directed attention exceed my capacity to handle them. For example, I start ten things, complete none and forget where I was. All in a 15 minute time period.
Where was I?