Skip to content

Chemo Brain

Tom stealing cigarttes

A real short explanation as my brain hurts for anything too long or too complicated.

Let me explain chemo brain. Chemo brain for me is like having to play a game of chess against a grand master with an audience watching. And you’re sweating because of drug induced menopause and a fucking ridiculously intense effort to concentrate. And the audience keep watching, to see if you can cope and to see who will win. And while playing this important game, in front of people who are watching (I’m stressing this point), you have three kids ages 6, 5 & 2 all demanding your attention all at the same time. And they’re pulling at your clothes and hair and they’re all talking at the same time. And if you, dear reader, have spent time with mine you will know that they’re LOUD. I mean in a taxi after a nightclub loud, and I’m not (loud). And so the game is ON and you’re trying to at least understand the rules but you forget, on a regular basis, which bank you’re banking with (for reals it’s that bad, I once forgot the word ‘pirate’. I had to ask Kev, “you know those bad-ass guys who go on ships at sea and rob people, what are they called?”).

Now I’m not super intelligent but I managed school and university without too much personal investment and I like to think that I can use my brain. Let me tell you that intellectual death is the worst. For the first time in my life I have a glimpse of what Iris Murdoch must have gone through. It’s humiliating and embarrassing and frustrating. And it’s also the reason why I shut down at any story or explanation that does not seem to bear relevance on life right now. That sounds so selfish, but cancer brings a very sharp perspective. I don’t really care, dear waiter, about how the food was prepared, if it’s good and clean, just bring it already. Your dog who chased that other dog and then pee’d on your floor, I’m trying to be interested but we are all on borrowed time here, make it funny or make it short. You’re not boring, I have the attention span of a fruit fly (It’s true, fruit flies have a shorter attention span than goldfish, and when given Ritalin they improve. Also read this scary article about how the attention span of humans may have gotten worse than that of goldfish mainly because of our addiction to smart phones & technology in general: I’m keenly aware of how short life is and how we should not waste time. How we should be having fun and focusing on important things like the planet and giving TIME and on our loved ones and our kids and whether or not they will ever see a rhino. Tell me about you and about your people, tell people your lessons and your life story, now that matters. Don’t tell me about your lunch on Instagram, let’s go for lunch!

So, why am I telling you this? If we meet on the street and I don’t remember that we were supposed to meet for coffee the day before, or I get your kids’ name wrong or I seem spaced out like a hippie at Woodstock, then please understand. I’m hoping to be back to normal again soon. And every person with cancer or MS or mental illness or any other debilitating disease, they’re also hoping to be better soon. And in the meantime we find meaning and we make meaning and we try not to waste time because our brains can only handle so much.

And until then, until I’m better, I’ll speak some garbage, have a thousand lists around the house, and close my eyes as I wait for my brain to give semi-coherent answers to things.
Ps. Parenting can also do this to you, so I can perhaps not blame the chemo entirely.

  • This is chemo brain for me. It might be different for you, it might not even happen to you


  1. Your brutal honesty about life is what makes you stand out from the crowd. You keep it real but light which makes us often reflect on own own journeys or laugh/cry along with you.
    You are so brave and inspirational, accepting with courage what you can’t change at the moment but not letting it beat you. I am definitely richer to know you. You are super talented with so many things and as a mom and wife you rock !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The fact that you still have the energy to share your thoughts is super amazing! love what your chemo brain is thinking here. Please become President and make it a law that talking crap is illegal.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Hannelie van Niekerk Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: