[cancer] There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza

Over the past couple of weeks, Lisa Costello and I have watched the first two Bourne movies together. They are particular favorites of hers, and I like action movies and thrillers just fine. I was pretty sure I’d previously seen The Bourne Identityimdb ], and couldn’t recollect if I’d seen The Bourne Supremacyimdb ]. Watching the first movie, I vaguely recalled one scene. Watching the second movie, all I could remember seeing before were the final two scenes of the movie.

Yesterday I was going through my writing spreadsheet checking for the publication markets of the few Original Destiny, Manifest Sin shorts which have published. I kept running into story titles I didn’t recognize. In a few cases, even on opening the file, I didn’t recognize the story text, either.

I used to be able to recall pretty much every movie I’ve ever seen in my adult life. I used to be able to tell you the title and plot summary of every story I’ve ever written. Nowadays? There’s nothing there in my head.

This applies in other areas of my life. I believe I mentioned recently here on the blog that I couldn’t recall my (step)mother ever breaking her wrist, even though she had commented at a family party last month about how I had helped her out while she was recovering. I’ve run into people — notably Brent Weeks at ConFusion last year (2012), whom I simply can’t remember meeting before, even if we have had substantial interactions.

I used to think this was a chemo side effect, that I could get back my old snap, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

In fact, I have two issues. One is long-term memory, as discussed above. I don’t think those memories are so much gone as the filing system in my head that lets me find them is well and truly borked. Because things do float back to the surface after a while. The other is short-term memory. I can forget what I’m doing in the five seconds it takes me to step across the room. Some tasks have to occur to me a dozen times before I can hold onto the thought long enough to right it down for later action.

This isn’t amnesia or dementia. I function just fine on a day-to-day level. And tasks I repeat frequently, such as most of my Day Jobbe duties, or parenting behaviors, or dealing with writing and publishing issues, seem to be okay in my head. This would be continuous reinforcement, I guess. But the one-off stuff, and the old stuff, is irregular.

Which is deeply, deeply frightening to me. Because I don’t know what else I’m missing. I’m sufficiently bright and verbal that most people around me don’t notice the deficits. But I do, except generally after the fact.

I realize that what I’m complaining about is a natural part of the aging process. But at 48 years old, I shouldn’t be losing this much of my cognitive function. The deficits have been substantially accelerated by my years of chemotherapy. And this isn’t even getting into the issues of self-awareness and situational awareness and other forms of cognitive function which have become noticeably compromised for me.

Presumably, having holes in my head is one of the prices I pay for still being alive at all. Perhaps I shouldn’t complain about the bargain. But I am not who I used to be. Which makes me feel like I’m dying by degrees.

I hate this with the burning passion of a thousand suns. Fuck cancer.

20 thoughts on “[cancer] There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza

  1. Ursula Pflug says:

    My thoughts are with you Jay, although I think we only met once at Torcon. Last night we went to Living Downstream, a documentary by survivor, environmental biologist and activist Sandra Steingraber. The director was present and a Q and A followed. I have posted the link to the film. Steingraber is incredibly knowledgeable and erudite about the links between cancer and environmental toxicity. It was depressing for the obvious reasons and inspiring because of her passion and fight. Best wishes always.

  2. Ellen Eades says:

    I’m there, too, Jay, and I don’t know the cause of my memory problems; the other day I started a conversation with my sweetie twice in the same day. I simply forgot he’d been part of the earlier convo — I thought I’d only brought the subject up with his mom and he wasn’t in the room. I was deeply disturbed by this. And short-term memory loss (as in, “What am I looking for in this room?”) has been part of my life for years. The other day I met an Internet friend at a con, I thought for the first time; I had to be reminded that we’d met in person previously. I share your fear. I don’t know if it’s better or worse to not suspect a proximate cause, but I share your fear. I’m sorry.

  3. Rachel has this as well as part of her chemo. There are large tracts of our relationship that only I remember. I feel like crying or raging when I bring up what I remember as a shining moment in our lives together only to see a blank stare on her face, but all I can do is share the memory with her again. FUCK YOU CANCER YOU COCKSUkING BASTARD!

  4. I’ve been experiencing this, too, and am sure some is natural aging, but a lot is having such a busy, active life with so much going on I can’t give everything that happens proper attention. Absent-minded professor for a reason. You have much more going on compared to the average person, and write at the speed of Asimov, or at least a good fraction thereof. He used to say that he would do a lot of research, write an article or a whole book (in a few weeks), and promptly forget it all. I think it’s normal for mere humans operating at their limits.

  5. Rachel Sinclair says:

    I think Mike Brotherton has the right of it. You have a busy life, as well as chemo brain. And I think long term effects of surgical anesthesia haven’t been studied enough. Don’t forget that stuff may still be in you.

  6. Harald Striepe says:

    Dude, you are getting older. This is quite normal. And ytour hunch about the filing systems is absolutely correct.
    I am now past the 60 mark (now that is a weird sounding age to a late boomer), and noticed the beginning of the change at 40. Most of it is related to retrieval through related links. I make it a point to work on it, and keep trying until it is back without resorting to other means, unless I run out of time. It has kept the engine tuned without to dramatic a deterioration. However, there is also a heck of a lot more search space (not always clutter.) Some of the knowledge moves from the specific to the abstracted (meta?).
    No reason to sweat 🙂

    1. Harald Striepe says:

      Man, I wish there was a way to correct typos in this board…

  7. Part aging, but part, I think, at least in my own case, is that there’s just Too Damn Much Shit going on to keep track of it all. Life seems to be more frantic, more involved, more complicated than it used to be, regardless of how technology was supposed to streamline our lives. It’s like the difference between juggling three or four tennis balls, and juggling twenty.

    In your own case, life has tossed a running chainsaw into your own juggling mix. I’m not surprised that a few of the tennis balls get dropped.

    (Oh, and when the revolution comes and I’m declared Semi-Benevolent World Dictator: MANDATORY NAMETAGS! Or maybe forehead tattoos, I haven’t decided yet.)

  8. For whatever reason, perhaps age, my short-term memory buffer gets filled more quickly than it used to. Thus, part way through the day, especially if I’m tired, I stop being able to take in any more little details like shopping items or event dates. When this started happening I would get panicked but now I just shrug and tell people: Write it down, email me — I can’t take in any more information.
    My now (ex) used to gaslight me by claiming that all sorts of things had happened and, hey, didn’t I REMEMBER? I would freak out until I began to find logical errors in his stories and realized that he was playing on my fear of memory loss. He thought it was hilarious. I’m blessed to now be with a partner I can trust to help me and be understanding.

  9. Paula says:

    You have nicely articulated exactly how I feel. I am done with Chemo for now – it is expected I will have to do it again in the future – but the side effects still remain. The memory issues are the biggest problem for me. I used to be a music trivia geek. So much so that nobody would want to play against me. Now they could easily beat me since the stuff I used to know is hidden and hard to find. I also used to be an excellent writer. Now I have trouble remember grammar rules and spelling has become problematic. People will talk about something from the past and I won’t remember it at all. Sometimes I even struggle to get the right words out when I’m talking. Since I’ve always been an intelligent person most people don’t notice, but I sure do. It sucks watching my brain getting dimmer. I worry that before too much longer it will become noticeable to everyone else and that strangers will just assume I’m an idiot.

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