When Is My Brain Coming Back?

My brain still isn’t working like it used to. I’m not sure if its chemo brain lingering, or my mind trying to get back to fully functional, or something telling me to take it easy.

BRAIN-AT-WORKWords come to me slowly. In fact, sometimes they don’t come to me at all. And I’m not talking about complicated words. The other day at work, I couldn’t think of the word chair. CHAIR! I had to act it out to my co-worker, like we were playing charades. Could have been funny at a party, but during a work meeting…not so funny. Luckily my co-workers are also friends, so they were quite gracious with me. It was another daily reminder of what I’ve been through from breast cancer and how my brain hasn’t gotten back to normal yet.

Before I started chemo, I talked to many women who had been through what I was about to go through. One of the things they told me was that their mind still hadn’t gotten back to fully functioning. Some of these women were 3-5 years out of treatment. They said they couldn’t multi-task like they used to. And that their concentration wasn’t as good either. I thought they were being dramatic. And I thought, oh, that won’t happen to me. Well…here we are.

I’m trying to be patient. Next month marks my one year anniversary of finishing all my treatments. Everyone reminds me that it takes a while for the body and brain to get back to 100% functionality. I’m hoping that magically a switch is flicked in my brain that makes it work again at the one year mark. Patience with myself is not one of my strengths. Another stupid lesson to learn from this ordeal.

There’s a saying in the cancer community – “the new normal” – how to navigate your life after diagnosis and completing treatment. But I’ve come to see that my new normal is actually more like the new brain.

I’m sure there’s a more sophisticated word to describe how I feel about this new brain, but the only thing that comes to mind is UGH!


A Glimpse of My Old Life

This past weekend I went to New York to spend time with my mom and sister, and watch the U.S. Open. It’s our annual Labor Day weekend tradition. We’ve been doing it for about 7 years. Last year at this time I was in the middle of chemo, so clearly I wasn’t gonna make it to New York.

Train Ride to NYCOn the train ride up to New York I got a bit teary thinking about how happy I was to be able to resume this tradition. This weekend with my mom and sister was the first time the three of us have been together since my mastectomy surgery last year. On the train ride I started to think about all the times my mom and sister came to visit me last year, to help me through surgeries and chemo treatments. The tears came again when I thought about how grateful I was to be getting together for something fun and happy.

I also started thinking about how great it was to be doing the activities I used to do before my breast cancer diagnosis. As I made my way up to New York, it almost felt like I was living my old life. It felt like a normal weekend. There’s so much talk in cancer circles about ‘the new normal’ – how to navigate your life after diagnosis and completing treatment. Well, as my friend Katherine says, ‘I like the old normal just fine, thank you.’

There’s something special about New York that makes me feel alive. There are so many people – so many different kinds of people. The hustle bustle of the city is so vibrant. There’s really no other place quite like New York. I love it. My trip to New York couldn’t have come at a better time. It reminded me that life can feel normal at times.

It was hot and humid in New York. My chemo curls were really getting a work out. But I was just so happy to have hair, I didn’t really care how crazy it looked.

U.S. Open at Night

My mom, sister and I went to watch two nights of the U.S. Open. The nights were warm, with a gentle breeze that helped keep things comfortable to sit outside for hours. It kept my hot flashes to a minimum. That was greatly appreciated.

Roger Federer

We got to see Roger Federer, one of my favorites. He played an 
almost flawless match, barely giving his opponent any chance of coming close to winning a set. I didn’t really care whether it was a great match, I was just happy to be there, literally happy to be alive to be watching tennis again with my mom and sister.

I also got to spend time with a couple of my oldest and dearest friends. Over the last year and a half I’ve been reminded that I’m lucky to have many good friends and family members that support me through life’s challenges. Any chance I get, I want to spent time with these people. It feeds my heart. For me, life is now about nurturing the deep connections with the important people.

After three nights in New York, I got home exhausted. But it felt so great to be exhausted from having too much fun – staying out later than I have in over a year and a half, walking around all day long and warm summer nights. The activities that used to make me exhausted were surgeries and treatments. What a nice change that is.