This post is a bit of a goof, some will find it funny like I do, but I promise it is all true…for better or worse! This IS my life and how I live it.
In the summer of 1989, I had just graduated high school and was trying to enjoy some free time NOT learning anything before going to college. But when I saw “Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail” that summer, I inadvertently learned a lesson I did not know would help me later in life when I got cancer. There is a scene in which Indy asks his father about the clues the father collected all his life to identify the location of the Holy Grail. Indy is shocked that his father, the foremost Grail expert in the world, cannot remember any of the details written in this book of collected clues, which of course has fallen into enemy hands. The senior Dr. Jones says something like “that’s why I wrote it down in the book, so I wouldn’t have to remember!”
For the already scattered mind, chemo brain is a bitch. By nature, before cancer, I was always dealing with a short attention span (think that stupid t-shirt that says something like “I do not have ADD….oh look a bunny,” yeah, I’m actually like that). Things like having a crawl on the bottom of the screen telling one news story while a talking head yammers on about something else, or OMG, the interwebz and its constant distractions, just don’t help. I’m sure many people, who’ve never even had to deal with cancer, get overwhelmed or over-saturated at least, with too much information to clog up the mind, because we are just having so much useless crapola fired at us all the time.
Post chemo, it’s like my brain is a net with very large holes, and only the really big tuna stays in there. Even worse, I suspect it erased some items that were formerly ensconced in my brain, and had been for years. I recently had lunch with a friend, a good friend, I was her maid of honor in fact…and she began recounting a certain drama that unfolded during her wedding back in 2000. Once she began giving me the details, sentence by sentence, I started to remember the drama, I remember calming her down during it, but I could not provide any of the details of it myself while we had this conversation. With each new detail she revealed, I went “oh yeah, that did happen,” like a lunatic or someone who just agrees a lot.
So I’ve adopted the methods of the senior Dr. Jones, and I write new pieces (of important) information down. My only obstacle nowadays is, of course, where did I write it down? Computer? Phone? Sticky note stuck to who knows what? Well, practice makes perfect, and I am perfecting the art of herding all of my Things Not To Forget notes into corrals of like items, where I can find them again later. And I’m still learning to never fall for it when I say to myself, “oh I’ll remember that!” I cannot even guess how many times I thought “I need milk, I’m going to the store, and will get it then, I’ll remember, no need to put it on the list.” Only to get to the store, buy ONLY the items on my list, get back home, and rediscover I have no milk. Then I kick myself, remembering and realizing the exact moment I should’ve written it down. I confess, I still sometimes fall into the “oh I’ll remember something so important, no need to write it down” trap, and get a cruel reminder each time: no, I won’t.
But I think I also subconsciously developed a system of retaining, examining, and then deleting information. For example, I recently signed up for a few breast cancer studies via Dr. Susan Loves’ Army of Women. I went through steps, including answering a set of questions to make sure I matched the criteria some weeks ago, and yesterday went to get the blood drawn for the study. I was asked many questions by those at the facility about the test (mostly to make sure that neither I nor my insurance would be billed for the procedure). As I struggled to answer the questions, I realized I had mentally discarded the info having to do with how I qualified for the study. Once I qualified, I thought I no longer needed it, I did not allow it clutter up my brain. I did not say this to the person asking questions, but quietly congratulated myself for only allowing just the necessary items to be in my brain (the info I was being asked was not really that needed–they just needed to stick me with a needle and fill tubes with my blood for pete’s sake), so I can at least try to function without being overwhelmed each day.
Here’s the catch, and the story behind the title of this post: I seem only able to delete certain pieces of information. How do I know this? Because anytime I hear the opening bars to that slightly-different-from-the-superior-Queen/Bowie-song, out of my mouth flies these words:
All right stop, Collaborate and listen
Ice is back with my brand new invention
Something grabs a hold of me tightly
Then I flow like a harpoon daily and nightly
Will it ever stop? Yo — I don’t know
Now, if ever there was an example of retaining unnecessary information, this is it. I’d even go so far as to say that I wish I could delete all song lyrics just to make room for important things, especially health info, so I would not have to repeatedly look up, well, most everything. I’m a major music fan, so maybe deleting all song lyrics from my brain is drastic; but good grief, Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” is one I retain? Really?! My inner punk rock girl is embarrassed. But on the other hand, the good news is I still know all of “London Calling” by The Clash as well.
A few years ago, Vanilla Ice was on MTV or VH-1, and he symbolically smashed a copy of the video for “Ice Ice Baby” so it would never be shown again. He shouldn’t have wasted his energy. His legacy, in the form of this ridiculous song, lives on in my chemo addled brain. Cancer took so much from me, but this, THIS, I still have. What will happen if I am lucky enough to avoid more cancer? In another 40 years, will I be in a senior home, possibly with memory loss resulting from old age, maybe even dementia, singing this song? Will I maybe not really have dementia, but the nursing home staff will think I do, simply because I can recite those lyrics? Can’t say I’d blame them, if I went around saying “All right stop, Collaborate and listen,” I’d think me demented too.
BTW, I should now mention that the reason why this music snob-alterna-grunge-girl knows “Ice Ice Baby”. My friend, the one mentioned above whose wedding I’ve forgotten much of, is still a big fan and loved, Loved, LOVED that song. Sometimes you learn stuff you’d rather not!
So perhaps I should find peace with this stupidly selective memory of mine. So what if I cannot remember every day/time of my cancer appointments, I can look it up. I was advised at diagnosis to keep a binder of all my cancer-related info, and I did. Lists of family history, of all drugs, dates of treatment, it’s all in the in the binder. I don’t carry it everywhere with me (trying to NOT be a cancer patient, even when others expect me to be one). So what if I don’t always get it right at the grocery store, I can go back and get what I forgot. I know the words to hundreds (dare I say more) of songs and I can sing along, and for me that is the best way I know how to keep the horror of cancer at bay.
And I wonder
When I sing along with you
If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again
“Everlong” by the Foo Fighters, lyrics by Dave Grohl, see more on him here