Chemo brain is a real thing.
It’s 3:40 and I have an appointment at 4, and it’s going to take me at least twenty minutes to drive there in traffic this time of day. I grab my Louie bag. Toss in a bottle of water, my wallet and my makeup bag as I run out the door and hop into my car. Turn the car on. Put the car in reverse. Go to grab my phone to look up directions to my appointment. FUCK. I left my phone on the kitchen counter. Park car. Turn off engine. Run into the house like a crazy woman with a swarm of bees chasing her.
Just a normal moment in my life. This type of stuff happens every day. I. Forget. Everything. I would forget my own birthday if I didn’t have to write it on doctor forms all the time.
I’m not going to just any appointment either, I’m going to see a psychiatrist. Because I literally can’t deal with this sorry excuse for a brain anymore. I give up. I gave up. I tried for about 9 months to tell myself that chemo brain wasn’t that bad and that it didn’t affect me. In those months, I forgot birthdays. I forgot important doctor appointments. I forgot which airport I was flying out of. I forgot to pay a hospital bill. I forgot to call people back. I went to the grocery store to buy coffee and I came back with a cart full of food except for the coffee.
The last straw came when I started to notice that my forgetfulness could sometimes hurt other people. I was a half assed friend and person in general and I’ve never been that way until now. I knew it wasn’t who I was. My brain was like a generator being powered by a single potato.
I keep saying that I was going to see a psychiatrist for a few months, and again, I kept forgetting to make an appointment. Or I’d yield an anemic attempt to look up a local psychiatrist and get frustrated and give up. I tried taking “brain pills” like focus factor. I tried green tea, green caffeine, normal caffeine, gingko biloba, B vitamins, unicorn tears, vampire glitter, etc.
I was still driving the struggle bus all the way to struggle city. Sippin’ on that struggle sizzurp.
(sorry, you get the point)
But I finally got an appointment (which was not covered by insurance of course) and saw a psychiatrist. I am not a huge cheerleader for ADHD drugs like Adderall and Vyvanse but I knew I needed something. I was so frustrated. I knew I needed something to help me focus.
I met with the psychiatrist. I had never been to one before this moment in my life. It was literally verbatim like the movies. I was kinda excited! He had a mahogany paneled office with a large full-wall bookshelf stocked with leather-bound books, encyclopedias and old airplane figurines. He had a large leather couch and one of those chase lounge/bed thingys that you’re supposed to lay down on and cry and tell your life story. So chic! His desk was a huge solid mahogany one like the Prezzy has in his oval office. He didn’t have a computer or a laptop or even a phone on his desk. He had a pad of blank unlined paper…and …. get this… a fountain pen and an ink well. He dipped his pen in the ink and started writing his notes in cursive on blank paper. Fancy as fuck huh. He was old school. (he was also just plain old — he has been in practice for 57 years)
After I told him my life story and history, he said that it appeared like I had the inattentive type of ADHD. He thinks I probably had always had it, but that chemo had just exacerbated the symptoms. I figured that much. Growing up my friends didn’t exactly call me “Snoozin” for my sharp attention span. I had always been the type who quietly listened to other people speaking as I daydreamed about something else and their words fluttered in one ear and out the next.
Friend: Beep Boop Bap Zing Ping Pong Potato Tomato
Me: Wait did you just say you’re allergic to broccoli?
Friend: ……. What? No I said my son just stared playing hockey. And his allergies are terrible.
My brain: [ ting-tong-ching-chong fa lalalala ]
Me: Oh yeah ha-ha I was just kidding… Hockey, sounds neat-o. **insert awkward smile emoji**
Inattentive ADHD is descried as having at least 6 of these symptoms:
• Not paying attention to detail
• Making careless mistakes
• Failing to pay attention and keep on task
• Not listening
• Being unable to follow or understand instructions
• Avoiding tasks that involve effort
• Being distracted
• Being forgetful
• Losing things that are needed to complete tasks
So I left Doctor McFancy’s office with a written prescription for Adderall time release. Has it been working? Yes! Do I feel different? YES! Doesn’t Adderall make you feel jittery or hyper? No, not if it’s prescribed correctly and it’s working the way it should be. I feel great. It doesn’t keep me up all night. I take it when I wake up and it starts wearing down at around dinner time. Will Adderall work for everyone? I have no idea, I’m not a doctor although I’d like to have a doctor’s salary.
So it’s Monday and I’m just starting my second week on it. No complications or side effects so far. I’ll let you all know how it works long-term. There are no known side effects or interactions with Tamoxifen or any increased breast cancer risk.
I feel like I am normal. I am no longer a lazy slug with a potato-powered brain!
I want to note that medication may not be the best solution for everyone experiencing chemo brain. Certain chemotherapy drugs are also shown to have more damaging effects on cognitive function than others, as are certain hormone therapy drugs. Chemotherapy given in higher, more concentrated dosages (which is what I got) also has shown to have worse long term effects on cognitive functioning.
Hopefully, in my lifetime, we will see the day when chemotherapy is an outdated treatment. Although it does save lives, chemotherapy’s negative affects are garnering more attention and causing people to turn away and seek alternative therapy.
It’s just an endless cycle of pharmaceutical drugs. Doctors administer outrageously expensive chemotherapy medicine to kill cancer. Patient needs more pharmaceutical drugs to cope with chemo. Nausea drugs. Anxiety medicine. Pain pills. And then the long-term effects present a need for more expensive drugs to treat lymphedema, chronic pain, chemo brain, etc. Doctor visits, private psychiatrist sessions, surgery, hospital stays, physical therapy, expensive lab tests and scans.
Money, money, money.
I don’t know. If you regularly read my blog, you know that I’m usually very optimistic. But I do sort of feel a little bit defeated because I had to turn to another chemical to make myself feel normal again. It seems to have solved my problem for the time being, though. So for that, I am grateful. It just makes me think, what the fuck is taking so long with this cancer cure? If nobody profited off of all this medicine and treatment, would we have found a cure sooner?
Deep thoughts. Thank you Adderall, I guess.
For more information on symptoms of chemo brain click here: