While visiting my friend, Amy, in California I taught her how to play dominos, the “Mexican train” version. She loved it and quickly became addicted to the game. Her mom liked it too, and we played almost every day. Since I created the “house rules,” was the most experienced player, and had the final say over game discrepancies, I often won, and Amy gave me the nickname: Domino Diva. We were very competitive. To the point that once, during a heated moment in the game, Amy’s mom referred to me, fondly, as the “little blonde witch.”
Her mom and I began to notice that Amy’s mental capacities were not quite up to par following the days after her chemo treatment. However, she still wanted to play dominos. It became too easy to beat her, very much like stealing candy from a baby. I almost felt guilty about it. This was my first introduction to “chemo brain.” Chemo brain is a real and legit medical diagnosis. Thinking becomes sluggish, described as brain fog, or feeling groggy. In layman’s terms, it means to “feel stupid.” Wow, did chemo brain strike me hard after my own treatments.
This particularly hit home after playing a game with my nephew. He won the first round. He won the second round and the next five after that too. I was getting frustrated. Pay back. My friend, Toni, told me of her own “chemo brain” experience. She was having itchy skin, a side effect of her treatment. It became unbearable, and she decided to take an oatmeal bath to ease the discomfort. She poured oatmeal into the bath water and climbed in. She was tired, and poured the oatmeal straight from the breakfast container. She said the next day she spent the entire morning scooping congealed oatmeal out of the tub. Chemo brain.
I have yet to meet anyone who has gone through chemo that doesn’t nod their head in affirmation that chemo brain does indeed exist. For me my memory, which wasn’t that great before chemo, is now terrible. I especially have trouble remembering names, even the names of my close friends and loved ones. One time I referred to my step dad as “Joe;” his name is “Jim.” They both start with “J,” but no bonus points are given for calling someone by a name similar to their own. I also have trouble with everyday conversations. I sometimes have to pause and take a moment to comprehend what someone is saying to me. It is like my thinking is on a 2-3 second delay. This is not a huge inconvenience, just a little embarrassing when the person I am talking with is staring at me and expecting a response. I may look normal on the outside, but it feels like the inside is still under construction.
It is good to know during these times that we belong to God. We are His creation and He is still able to use us in His plans. Our value is not linked to our intelligence, performance, or getting the best score in dominos. Ephesians 2:8-10, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”