By Ashley Morine
Three and a half years ago, I was treated for ocular melanoma. Since then, I have noticed a change in myself. Not the “YOLO, I’m living for every moment!” change, but the “WHY THE HELL AM I SO UNMOTIVATED?” change.
Before cancer, I was incredibly organized. I took pride in my clean home and strong work ethic and was motivated to further my education to become a dentist.
In university, I would often have nightmares about missing assignment deadlines or failing exams. I was obsessed with achieving honours and making the Dean’s list.
Fast forward to “after cancer” Ashley who now forgets halfway through a sentence what she is saying, has a lessened vocabulary, spends too much time in bed, and has failed a university course for not submitting assignments.
That last one was hard to admit. I forgot deadlines, I lacked motivation to sit down and write, because I find it very hard nowadays to articulate what I am thinking.
I am tired, wow. I am so tired.
I wanted to know why. I have had blood tests with normal results, I see a therapist regularly, I eat well, exercise, and I am relatively stress free.
Initially I had ruled out brain fog, because it is usually linked to chemotherapy, which I didn’t have. However, after digging deeper, I realized that ANY cancer patient can experience brain fog, during treatment and years after.
Why? Some of the symptoms of brain fog can be caused by trauma associated with a diagnosis, pain endured during treatment, hormonal changes, fatigue, rapid weight loss, and medications. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but these are the factors I believe have contributed to the symptoms I feel today, three-and-a-half years later.
What have I done to try to achieve my goals whilst experiencing brain fog?
1. I get at least eight hours of sleep a night
2. I make “to do” lists
3. I use a vision board or journal to write out “life” goals (so I don’t forget them!)
4. I reward myself after accomplishing a task I believe is mentally exhausting. (For example, I’ll have a cup of tea once I finish my taxes)
Number 5 is the one that’s been most helpful, and that is speaking to other YACCers about their experience with brain fog, because venting helps, and they get it.
So far, these tricks are working for me. I am hopeful that eventually these symptoms will go away.
Brain fog is just a reminder, and I’ll say it louder for those in the back — “CANCER DOESN’T END AFTER TREATMENT.”