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Jay Lake
Date: 2013-02-22 05:24
Subject: [cancer] There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza
Security: Public
Tags:cancer, child, conventions, friends, health, movies, personal, radiantlisa, work
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.

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User: angiereedgarner
Date: 2013-02-22 13:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Fuck cancer.
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User: thecoughlin
Date: 2013-02-22 14:11 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
1) Fuck cancer
2) Some of it may just be the repeated surgeries - certain anethsias are KNOWN for weird and lingering long term memory issues. The dissassociative nature of the drugs does more dissassociation then is typical -- and with your peculiar pain-med difficulties, the compounding of using anethesia as part of the post-surgical pain control.
3) Probably doesn't help the feeling, but knowing the root can't hurt - and some of may actually clean up over time. It's probably peak right now post surgery if that IS what's going on.....

FWIW, the walking into a room wondering what the heck I was about to do happens to me at 40 and I don't have medication to blame......
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2013-02-22 14:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Besides post-surgery, the chemo does have definite cognitive effects, and Long-Term Retrieval is one of those. Somewhere around here I've got a paper on the cognitive effects of chemotherapy on students, it was part of a Masters presentation at the same time I did my Masters project presentation. Gist of it is, the drugs have both long-term and short-term effects on memory. Since that was an ed presentation, I'm relatively certain there were coping strategy suggestions proposed and by now, I'm sure they've been decently researched (this was 8 years ago, based at Doernbecher/OHSU).

Not sure but I think it's also one of those things that does eventually reestablish itself, if there's enough time. I'll look around and see if I can find the paper, but hey, 8 years, my research filing system pile....
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User: ericjamesstone
Date: 2013-02-22 14:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
A couple of weeks ago at work, someone discovered a problem with one of the websites we installed a few months ago. I figured out what it was, fixed it, and then realized I would need to make a fix to the script we use for installing sites in order to prevent that problem going forward.

And I found that I had already fixed the installer months ago. One of my co-workers remembers having told me about the problem at that time, but I had absolutely no memory of figuring out the cause and fixing it.

After thinking about it for a while, I was able to dredge up a vague memory of the incident.

I'm three years younger than you, so I imagine it'll start happening more and more to me. So I sympathize completely.
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User: cathshaffer
Date: 2013-02-22 15:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What you describe is my normal baseline. I don't remember the plots of movies, and can be surprised by their endings more than once. I often forget meeting and interacting with people. And I do come across stuff I've written that I don't remember writing. I've always been like this. It's not age-dependent. It's a little disturbing to me to hear you describe this as a state of impairment or cognitive dysfunction. I am a highly intelligent person, I don't consider myself impaired. (And in this way, I take after my father.) I'm going to suggest it may be more psychological than neurological. We form and allocate memory space based on what is important and significant to us. You are going through a catastrophic change in your life. In that context, is it important to remember the plot of The Bourne Supremacy in detail? I think not. I can memorize a 10 or 15 digit number very quickly if I feel like it. Do I need to memorize every such number that I come across in my life? Not really. Try not to worry. Your brain is obviously still firing on all six cylinders. Maybe your inner life is taking precedence, now, and the externalities are less important.
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User: threeoutside
Date: 2013-02-22 15:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
While there's no doubt in my mind that the chemo has had its negative effects, and all the other stuff you said and others said are also in play, one thing that also may be working on you is stress. I have a pretty leaky memory myself, but it's *always* much worse when I'm feeling a lot of stress. I don't know if this is accurate but what I've devised to explain it to myself is that the constant stress, even if I'm not consciously aware of it, acts as a *distraction* to my mind, so even though I seem to be in the here & now, I am not really paying alert attention to what's in front of me. In fact, I now take forgetting things (beyond the "where'd I park the car" type) as a signal that I need to stop, breathe deeply, try to ID the stressor, and do something about that.

In your case, if that has an impact, you're already doing every thing you can to remove the stressor so sure there's leftover stress.

Not diagnosing, just noting. Fuck fucking cancer.
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houseboatonstyx: smaller-healing-buddha
User: houseboatonstyx
Date: 2013-02-22 19:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I also was going to say stress. I've been to doctors and counselors for this (it happens ever so often). Been scanned and blood tested and function tested, always with the result: "You're in a stressful situation, this happens, no big deal."

Now I can observe it, coming and going as stressful things happen off and on throughout the day. In a combat game, the screen refreshes more often. The fleeing monkey needs to know where the tree limb is NOW, not where it was a minute ago.
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User: rekre8
Date: 2013-02-22 17:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
On the one hand, I have to agree with those of us who have never had as perfect a memory - when your brain is full, stuff slips. It's not completely the chemo, as fx4 noted some years ago (at an age much younger than you) when it started happening to him (and since my brain has always been full of holes, I told him to join me in making lists on everything).

On the gripping hand, though, I applaud your self knowledge and ability to articulate the phenomenon. My Pop slid into dementia with what I assume was a bit of shame at not being able to remember, and a bunch of coping mechanisms so that no one would notice his lapses, and then more coping mechanisms to hide other cognition problems, until we all suddenly realized he should not be driving or have power tools. No one looks forward to that day, but really: you and your loved ones would rather it was a bit more gradual than what happened to my dad. Obviously, your issues are going to be different than the Alzheimer's route, but I want to again appreciate your ability to speak about it.
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mlerules: Brain
User: mlerules
Date: 2013-02-22 17:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
You are in an good position to more fully appreciate my recent incredible frustration w/bar prep. This used to be so (relatively) easy; not so much these days. You ain't alone in this... And I feel your annoyance, big-time.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2013-02-22 20:50 (UTC)
Yes, I am definitely experiencing that time-of-life effect as well. :\
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Gary Emenitove
User: garyomaha
Date: 2013-02-23 02:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Not to make light of something that's clearly troubling you, but it sounds like typical dinner conversation in our home. It's almost a race around here to see who will be the first to lose track of a conversation.

After observing my family for years, and M's family more recently, it seems completely natural to me.

My best friend and I joke about this all the time, about senior moments and such. We can recite "chapter and verse" about 60s pop music, but something last year? Fugedaboudit.
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User: goulo
Date: 2013-02-23 11:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This reminds me of that time you and I were on the road trip in Canada, and when we were talking after the car crash, you totally couldn't remember when the circus clowns in Florida a couple years earlier wanted to buy us champagne in that fancy Italian restaurant!
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2013-02-23 14:12 (UTC)
Wait, what...?
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Nat S Ford: ms
User: natf
Date: 2013-02-23 12:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, fuck cancer.

Also, though, fuck multiple sclerosis. I started this process, almost identical to what you describe, well before I was diagnosed at 30. I used to be an A+ student but now feel like my mind, at 45, is that of someone older than 100. Ah well.

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When life gives you lemmings...
User: danjite
Date: 2013-02-24 10:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Remind me to tell you about my supplement regimen, especially Huperzine.
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User: dsgood
Date: 2013-02-24 20:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This sounds somewhat like my own ADD/ADHD baseline state of consciousness. Perhaps some of the suggestions in books on coping with ADD would be useful to you.
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January 2014
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