Justin Birckbichler is a fourth grade teacher, testicular cancer survivor and the founder of aBallsySenseofTumor.com. From being diagnosed in November 2016 at the age of 25, to finishing chemo in January 2017, to being cleared in remission in March, he has been passionate about sharing his story to spread awareness and promote open conversation about men's health. Connect with him on Instagram @aballsysenseoftumor, on Twitter @absotTC, on Facebook or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ever walk into a room and forget what you're doing? Chemo brain made me do that daily.
The chemo side effect that seemed to be most long-lasting and constant didn't make me physically sick or tired. It had more of a psychological impact. I'm talking about chemo brain.
The Mayo Clinic defines chemo brain as a "term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment," but researchers are unclear on what exactly causes it. (Based on their list of possible causes, I am guessing my experience is due to high levels of potent chemo meds.)
The best way I can describe chemo brain is that it's similar to ADHD. I find it hard to focus on things for extended periods of time and I find myself growing increasingly forgetful. I can't seem to remember things from day to day, but can remember specific events from years ago.
Additionally, I sometimes struggle a lot with word retrieval, but oddly enough not the name of the process. A good analogy for experiencing chemo brain is Drew Barrymore in the movie “50 First Dates.” Her memory reset overnight, but she could remember things from a decade ago as clear as day.
To best illustrate some of the moments when chemo brain has struck, I kept track of some of the more notable events:
These are some comical moments from experiencing chemo brain, but it does bother me to a degree that I constantly am in a state of fog. Throughout my K12 education experience, I was in the gifted program and I have always prided myself on being pretty smart. While experiencing chemo brain, I struggled with remembering to follow through with things now, and I had to have others remind me to do things (like take medicine so I don't feel sick, although feeling sick is another good reminder).
Because of this experience, I definitely have a stronger understanding and appreciation for my students who have ADHD and will now be more cognizant of how hard they must be working to stay focused and on task. If I find myself needing to take breaks while watching a movie, I can imagine how taxing a 25+ question assessment must be for them.
But the best upside to chemo brain? It's a foolproof way out of arguments!
"Why didn't you unload the dishwasher?"