Friday, December 7, 2012

The CEO takes a vacation

I’ve been reminded again this week that the healing process for my body and especially my brain from the assault of cancer treatment will take time. We don’t know yet what remains of the melanoma, but are convinced of the necessity of the intervention. My recovery is ongoing and unpredictable, as I was warned it would be.

This week has been somewhat of a setback as I’m more fatigued than I’ve been and the mental fog has thickened again. I’m sleeping 10 hours at night plus taking a long nap almost daily. My body craves the rest. My appetite has been much improved the last couple of weeks and I’ve regained some of the weight I’d lost, but now I’m feeling fussy about food again.

The effects of radiation alone can explain much of this. We’re assuming it did its job at disrupting the abnormal cell mitosis of melanoma, but there’s also the collateral damage to consider. The x-rays killed millions of healthy brain cells that are only gradually being replaced and they also destroyed thousands of capillaries that deliver blood to all parts of the brain. Until they’re fully replaced, it’s safe to assume that parts of my brain are under-oxygenated, which further diminishes cognitive function. It takes time for them to regenerate.

What’s interesting about this is how I perceive the process. While I haven’t noticed any loss of short-term memory, which has been my biggest concern from the beginning, I sense slippage of what neuropsychologists call executive function. That’s just fancy language for being able to make plans, to multitask, to effectively manage my place in time and space—which can sometimes make driving a bit of an adventure—and certain other mental processes. The CEO inside my brain seems to be on a long vacation.

And I get to observe all this from within my mind. I don’t think we’re aware when we’re healthy just how much background cognition is constantly grinding away in our brains. We don’t have to think about thinking. I find myself having to push through on certain things mentally, like deciding when and what to eat, or whether to schedule more than a couple of activities a day. It’s comfortable for me right now to keep things simple, which I sense is what my brain needs, even if I was more of a social animal. I’m very much aware of what I think I need to get through this.

What disappoints me most about the process is the obvious: This is the run-up to Christmas and there are plenty of excuses for spending time in places and with people who I would otherwise love to be with. But it’s abundantly clear to me that my brain can’t effectively process the extra stimulation of being in large groups right now. It just gets swamped. Again, it’s interesting to recognize this happening and to know there’s a good reason for it.

I can accept what’s happening and, as I’ve written before, the quietude of how I live right now provides a happy refuge. It’s probably not much fun for Ellen, but she’s a good sport and fortunately has other outlets for social engagement. Lord willing, the fog will gradually lift and my CEO will show up for work again. Until then, my days will continue to be slow, quiet and reflective.

P.S. In light of what I figured the side-effects of my treatment might be like, I resigned weeks ago from my part-time teaching appointment at OSU. I’ve really enjoyed being in the classroom and engaging intellectually and socially with college students, but to do that well I need to be in top form mentally. With that chapter of my life over, it’s time to move on to new things.


grsmouse said...

...praying for you...

Anonymous said...

If your CEO is on vacation, you would never prove it by me. Your observations and your writing remain top notch! I always enjoy reading your blogs. Wishing you all the best.