memory, body, cancer

chemo gives you brain damage, by all accounts. i am bipolar. to be specific, i suffer from bipolar 1, ultra rapid cycling, with psychotic tendencies.  rapid cycling, and bipolar in general, causes brain damage, and often effects memory in particular.

my memory isn’t good. it’s not great for faces, but it’s mostly bad for things like ‘did i already tell you this story?’ or ‘what is the word for that kinda egg shaped yellow fruit.. you know.. the .. the one..’ it was already bad, and it’s marginally worse.  the effects are cumulative.

what is it to forget you have cancer when you have cancer?  tv triggers an hypnotic state, according to my psychologist who specialises in hypnosis.  i am watching Boston Legal at the moment, and Denny Crane and Alan Shaw guarantee me large chunks of the day distracted from my reality. Denny Crane.  i binge on  my watching – hours at a time, interrupted by my walks to get water, and exercises/stretches. sometimes, i only have a 5 minute break.  i constantly flex my calf muscles though, all day, without thinking about it now.  but when i am watching Boston Legal – or whatever it is i have on the screen – i have forgotten.

i had a busy week. my playdate set up went really, really well, and i had an outing or event or a companion for every day of the week.  time felt more meaningful – it didn’t go faster which is strange. it felt substantial, like rather than days being light and floating by as i sat at home, that there was something TO the days. like there was a reality to them that was otherwise lacking.  and yet through those distractions, the reality of my life, of my cancer, of my mortality, sunk back.

sometimes i don’t know if talking about it helps.  when i realise i’ve spend a large amount of a conversation not talking about cancer, i feel both relieved and anxious.  conversations can happen that aren’t about the cancer, or about what cancer has done, to a degree. but then, it creeps in.  i can’t forget it. and i shouldn’t forget it. those states where it is not there, not in my head, not in the forefront – they are little holidays, pleasant diversions from the facts around my life.  i can press pause on it though, and i think that’s ok, because i don’t deny the reality of cancer. i just, for a little bit, forget.  and then i remember.

when i wake up, sometimes i don’t remember i have cancer straight away. sometimes it’s my first thought, but more and more, i have another pause where though i might remember, it is not the thing that i awake with. strangely i had a few weeks where i would wake up not knowing or remembering what gender i was. i would wake up thinking i was male for a good portion of time, and then the feeling would fade away.  not sure what’s happening there.

it would be nice if i could make this and make my writing about something broader and more meaningful than my own individual struggle and experiences, my memories and my disease.  but i guess for me, that’s where all my meaning is right now – in the every day minutia of what it is to know you have cancer, accept you have cancer, and live with having cancer.  and i remember and i see, even when i am scared of reading other people’s stories, that they are living, even if just for today. and i am living. i am frightened of what it is to feel that slip away.  i lay in bed last night wondering if it would be the lung mets or the liver mets that would get me.  if i would choke on my own cancer, gasping, or have my body degrade from liver failure. the idea of tumours in my lungs terrifies me. the cancer there is my nightmare. i want to fight it off desperately.

my blood clot fear deepens. my GP explained to me, in detail, why the nature of the spread of my cancer, and the nature of the cancer itself, makes me a low risk. it explains why my oncologist and nurse were trying to reassure me it was ok – and what my GP said made a lot of sense.  my doctors are looking at my blood tests, assessing the risks of my cancer treatment in relation to the way cancer has manifested inside me, and making calls based on that.  it is so hard to trust them, after everything that’s happened.

there are few parts of my life that this hasn’t invaded.  it grows and spreads, insidiously into each part of what previously was normal.  it has taken my job (for now), my health, my ability to go out at night easily, my energy, my capacity to remember the word for ‘mango’ and my appetite. it has ruined my relationship with my body which has always been healthy.  i admire anyone who can go through this without having their body become a horrifying, terrifying, questionable thing you no longer trust.

i am used to my perception – my brain – being unreliable – the bipolar in many ways has given me a gift in becoming hyperaware of my brain, of how i may be perceiving my surroundings, my situation, and the behaviour of other people in an unreliable way, and that there is often many alternative answers for most things we perceive than the one we jump to. working out ways to manage my terrible memory, and the days where the medication made it hard to string a sentence together. the person next to you in the supermarket might not hate you, they could be having a bad day. your boss is not disinterested, but distracted. your friend hasn’t called because they don’t know what to say, not because they don’t care.  all sort of things.  i know how to work with this relationship, and the duality of questioning my perception – if you’ve ever suffered psychosis you know why this skill is vital to learn.

but i have no idea how to manage this feeling of no longer trusting the rest of my organs. those silent organs that you don’t really think about – how your liver works, your lungs, your bowel.  i know the pathology of where stage IV bowel cancer goes next – stomach, pancreas, spleen, bones, or locally into my reproductive system.  these are colorectal cells gone wrong in me.  i trusted that they were fine. i trusted that they were just a THING that happens, remotely, distantly.  it is every bit as intimate as my brain – as much me, as much a constant reality, and the whole of my body is a minefield of potential disease, of spread.   more surgery. lymph nodes. blood.  and i will be honest. i hate my body. i hate what it has done to me.  i hold in me the infinitely close memories – the ones that the bipolar and the chemo haven’t claimed – of how i felt before this happened.  some days, i cling to those memories, and how much i damn well wish i could reset that clock to the time where i didn’t know i had cancer, and every single bodily function didn’t remind me of the fact i have cancer.  i remember my life, and the relationship i had with my body then, when it was me – a thing of greatness that somehow survived whatever crazy things i’d done, and the extensive tattoos i’ve spend years working on and now can’t finish any time soon, the piercings i just got rid of because it was easier than trying to get them in and out every other week for scans, the rest of those things about your body that you just take for granted.  the normality of it. the idea that it is not self destructing with rogue cells.  i miss taking it for granted.

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About elizabeth

various things.
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2 Responses to memory, body, cancer

  1. Jenniferlloyd says:

    The times that you forget you have cancer are the times that you have normalised things. It’s a bit like saying you have a brother or sister. Sometimes it is important information and sometimes it is not, depending on the context of what is going on. I remember hating my belly scar so much. The only good thing about it was the way it deviated around my belly button. A friend told me that it was a badge of honour, which I really didn’t appreciate at the time. I couldn’t imagine that would ever be true. And yet, it is! I now quite like my scar. It is a part of me. The experiences I had in getting the scar cannot be changed, but my reflections on that time (as my memory fades) become less angry and more accepting. We are all individuals (except that guy on Monty Python) and no-one can tell you what is right or wrong. This, to me, was the hardest thing.

    • veritas says:

      thank you so much – it’s good to be reminded that, at some point, my relationship with my body may very well get better, and that’s ok to feel a bit bad about it, especially when carrying around my little chemo bag for days at a time, and feeling tired and weak.

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