I am sometimes grateful for my chemo brain and my multiple jobs during cancer

“You don’t look sick.”

“You shouldn’t work so hard with cancer; please take some time for yourself.

“How can you remember everything? How can you even keep a job?”

“Why are you so open with your cancer?”

“You are too young to have cancer”

The questions, opinions, constant updates and efforts to balance everyone’s interests and concerns for my cancer can be time consuming, overwhelming and emotional at times. Yet that never upset me or stopped me from being an open book about my cancer adventures. Mental health is critical to my functional well-being and cancer survival.

Yet, I know that my own mental health issues are completely normal as an adult, because there are so many challenges to face as an adult with cancer right now. I’m almost 35, working full time with two jobs (three if you’re going to write these articles), battling cancer, and typical responsibilities in the average adult world (paying bills, owning a home , repairing a car, etc.).

Along with normal tasks, my own brain doesn’t work the same way due to the medications I take and the side effects of chemo. I call it my “Dory’s brain”. I found so much love many years ago with Dory in the movie “Finding Nemo”. Who knew that years later she would be my spirit animal.

During chemo, my nurses warned me about the “chemo brain”, which is how chemo can drain our energy and make us feel tired and forgetful, and when we try to think it seems a bit “fuzzy”. . Our thoughts might take longer, tasks might be harder to complete, and basically chemo wants us to nap more often.

Now with stage 4 disease, many of my meds are giving me permanent chemo brain. My “Dory Brain” is with me forever.

I made peace with my brain Dory. Don’t get me wrong, he has his bad days where my tongue is twisted and I can’t remember anything for five seconds. I’m stuck going around in circles and you might find me on my way to Wallaby Lane, Australia, just like in the movie.

For me, however, every day is a new day. Every morning, I barely remember the night before. Some of my most painful memories of the past few years, I remember. I also remember some really good ones, but I’m lucky in the sense that if it’s just a BLAH day, it doesn’t register on my scale of good or bad. I know that deep down my emotional health and well-being has been tested over the past few months since my last scans and progress, but I don’t remember all that pain. So I thank my “Dory Brain” because I’m lucky that it wasn’t so horrible to register on my scale (fish joke!)

Working two jobs is hard, which some days makes me wonder, “How can I handle this?” I have my full time job that I work during the day which gives me my health insurance (so thankful). Then I work another 25 hours part-time at a home decor store to help pay medical bills, generate extra income, and save for our next to-do list item: a trip to Italy. It gives me purpose, creativity, motivation, something new to learn, and most importantly, hope – I hope my body hasn’t stopped working at 34 to do all of this, and to keep on going despite the toxic drugs running through my blood; I hope cancer hasn’t gotten in the way of part of my work ethic from setting goals for me and my marriage; hopefully i can handle this because i am young and not aging like the 87 year old like i feel most of the time with this disease. Working two jobs has been a blessing in disguise; it has really helped my mental health the most of all for the past three months.

In September, after my recent scans informed me of the progression of stage 4 breast cancer to my right hip, sacrum and other spinal damage, I fell into a certain depression. I didn’t even know it when I was in depression, but I immediately told my GP that I thought I needed help.

I asked for additional anxiety medication which helped a lot. I started getting additional migraines, so my neurologist increased my migraine meds, which also helped. I also started taking new cancer drugs and fired my oncology team. I no longer received the mental, emotional or physical care that I needed. Each blood draw was 12 shots, and each IV draw I mentally dreaded because I knew it was an hour-long ordeal. I regained control and got rid of the toxic mind drain.

After I terminated this Care Team, I moved on to another Care Team, making this the fourth Care Team, in less than five years. That alone stresses me out, and I knew I had to get it right this time. Turns out I did.

Each blood draw and IV preparation, is a stick, two at most, with an ultrasound IV. There is an oncology support team to help book appointments and there is a social worker as a go-between for additional support. Between all this support and having my two oncologists now, I feel incredibly supported and defended. I no longer feel like I have to continually fight for my own body and protect it like I used to. As a result, my own mental health finally began to improve. Previously, in my last care team, my mental health suffered so much, that I honestly didn’t see it until the very end.

What I’ve learned most about my own mental health through all of this is that even as cancer patients, we’re still drawn to comfort and routine, and starting over is especially hard. Whether it’s a new job, an oncology team, a new medication, or even a new day, mental health is so essential to our daily lives. It’s part of who we are, how we behave, and it affects our moods and emotions, and how we interact with others.

If you’re like me and you’re having trouble in any way, you can ask for help, additional medication, a second opinion, another doctor, another nurse, another medication or heck, limits because you just might need some space. Just remember for December, we’ve had almost another trip around the sun, and we should savor the days, especially the good ones. These are worth remembering – take it from Dory!

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