One of the more pernicious effects of long-term chemotherapy (30 sessions over the past 37 months) is memory loss.
I don’t notice it much in my day-to-day life. My memory for general knowledge, my vocabulary, and so forth are close to the same as ever, when I’m not laboring under the direct influence of the chemo drugs. But my memory for people and events…? Not so much. That set of issues doesn’t come up very often, especially when I’m living as a chemically-induced introvert, but as I was so rudely reminded yesterday, it is real.
A small example of this is that I used to say to people at Cons, “Unless we’ve had dinner or had sex, I may not remember meeting you.” Then last year at Confusion, I turned to Brent Weeks, who lives here in the Portland area, and whom I have spent time with, and said, “Have we met?” Which was enormously embarrassing, though he was quite gracious about it.
Yesterday, I ran into a substantial example. At a family gathering, my (step)mother mentioned that I had bought her an electric can opener one time when she had broken her wrist and I was helping her take care of my parents’ beach house. Not only did I not remember buying her a can opener, I could not even remember her ever having broken her wrist, or me spending time helping her.
Which suddenly made my head a pretty damned frightening place.
The problem is, I don’t realize I don’t remember stuff. Those missing memories of people and events don’t leave an obvious gap inside my own head. It’s not like a missing tooth, or being unable to recall a word. (Though it did take me two weeks recently to remember Caitlin Kittredge‘s name, which was kind of obvious, as I was discussing her with Lisa Costello.) My self-awareness is missing important flaws in my own cognitive processes. That is frightening.
I am rather afraid this is a permanent effect. Another damned thing cancer has stolen from me. At least it’s not inserting hallucinations or false memories — I can trust the things I do remember, at least those events which occurred when I wasn’t drugged out of my mind by chemo. But to not know the life events of the people you love? To not remember the people you know?
What does that make me?
I can’t really answer that question, except to say it decidedly makes me not myself. As time goes by, I am become cancer, more and more.
And I hate this.