My pet Grasshopper & My Chemo Brain
I kid you not, every part of the story you are about to read is the honest truth.
Let me just say that I really battled with the title of this blog; “Patience, young grasshopper” came to mind – from the 1970’s show called ‘Kung Fu’ Patience Young Grasshopper. Then there was “The grasshopper who could not get unstuck”. But I decided to settle on “Chemo and the affect it has on your brain’s stress tolerance”. So this last one is the formal title of this blog post.
My day started out very happy. I had stayed over at my parents to attend a workshop and my brother joined us at 5:30am for the early morning drive to the airport so that we could catch up as a family. We arrive at the airport and I realise that I had left my wallet at home (I do wallets, not purses). I pee myself a little, break out in a cold sweat and then get hot flushes all over (also a side effect from cancer treatment). With red ears (from the internal heat) and shaking hands I explain to the kind lady at the Mango airline counter that I’d left my wallet at home and that I only have an expired drivers license with me. “I’ve not been able to renew my license” I say. “Look! I really only have one boob!” I’m not lying!” I say, as I pull at my sweaty t-shirt (everyone else are in scarves and jackets, being winter in JHB and all). She professionally refers me to the help counter. There are 20 Minutes to go before this plane boards. (Cue Mission Impossible theme music, can you hear it?).
I run to the help counter and join the queue. Everything happens as if in slow motion – remember that scene from Zootopia where the sloths have to help the fox and the cop bunny? Funny Sloth scene Like that. Anyway, my turn and I whip out my laptop to find a soft copy of my ID – they will check me in based on this. The boarding gates will now close in 10 minutes, sweat pool around my feet I’m sure as I can feel it rolling down my back.
As I open my laptop the battery dies. What the actual fuck.
My dad keeps calm and usually I would have too. I would have shrugged, have a laugh, have some coffee with my family and simply eat dry bread and jam for a week as a sacrifice for having to buy a new ticket. I would have seen this as an opportunity to spend more time with my family. But chemo brain makes one anxious and it makes you feel like your head is permanently just way too noisy inside. I’m not a quitter though (not with food, not with wine and certainly not when I have a goal in mind).
There is now about 5 minutes to go and the kind gentleman behind the counter is frantically looking for a plug point for my laptop charger. He is an African gentleman but I swear I can see that his ears are also turning red. We are hot flushing all over the place, the two of us. Long story short I get checked in, I run like I’m first to cross the line at the Comrades marathon, (which incidentally also took place today). Victorious, sweaty and red in the face. I’m the only person in a t-shirt with nothing warm on.
On the plane I’m seated next to an ancient Indian lady in a traditional outfit, (the significance of this to me will be saved for another blog post). She smiles at me and I notice that her teeth are black and rotten, us two odd people sit and stare at each other. At least we are at the very front of the plane – she because she is so old she can hardly walk, me because of my peculiar day so far. If I had had any money to spare I would have been first to get coffee, a non-silver lining – silver lining kind of thing. I try to swallow an Urbanol with just spit but I had lost every drop of liquid in my body with all my sweating and running and mutual hot flushing with the guy at the help desk counter. I almost choke as the pill gets stuck.
I’m first off the plane and now I’m starting to stress about the cost of my parking ticket. As I collect a trolley, (you know how hard it is to pull these trolleys out from each other, they kind of get stuck if that makes sense), anyway, as I’m pulling and pulling I notice this massive grasshopper sitting on the handle bar or whatever you call the thing you use to push a trolley (another side effect of chemo, your IQ drops by about 10 points). It’s a really big grasshopper and I photograph it like I’m making a wildlife programme for National Geographic. Several people stand back, they must be scared it will start flying and get stuck in their hair or something. Poor thing is trapped inside the airport – as I nearly was – and it has no way of finding its way out. Kindred spirit, I think. There must be a deeper meaning to this, I’ll save you little guy. So I choose that trolley, collect my bag and push this thing out of the airport like its my pet. (It just sat there, very content to catch a ride with me). I park the trolley and my new pet outside close to a tree so it can see the green and I feel so happy that I burst into tears (this is what chemo does to your brain people). We have both escaped the airport! Look how far we’ve come! How poetic.
Enter the pay station saga (Cue Jaws music)…
My dad had given me R200 just before I won my personal Comrades at OR Tambo airport (JHB), it was all the cash he had on him at the time. With a mix of anticipation and angst I insert my parking ticket and the cost is….
I run again, this time to my car and frantically search for any money that might be left in there; fallen behind a seat or stuffed inside a kids’ car seat. I find three pieces of very old apple, hands full of rock hard Flings that must be three years old and a pair of glasses I thought I had lost about 6 months ago, but no money. I cry a bit, pee some more, have another hot flush. I call Kevin, who is at that very moment busy changing a particularly bad nappy at home, and ask him to come and bail me out, literally.
About twenty minutes later he arrives at the drop off / pick up zone. He has the kids with him, they are screaming and crying and he hands me R110. A five minute exchange like a bad drug deal amongst crowds of people and our screaming kids. Kev leaves, I return to the pay station. I insert my ticket….
In the 30 odd minute wait for Kevin, the cost of my parking had gone up to R340. But by now I’m so frazzled and gob smacked at the level of fucked-upness my day has reached, that I don’t notice this, so I go ahead and enter my notes into the machine. Do you have ANY idea what it feels like when you cancel a parking ticket transaction and R310 is returned to you in coins? By now I’m unashamedly and loudly crying from frustration. My brain just cannot handle. How did this day get so weird so fast?
I start another frantic search, I look like a bag lady, squatting in a yogi pose, unpacking crumpled tissues and tons of medicine and toys and small rocks and shells (left in my bags by my kids) on the floor at the feet of the ever daunting pay station. By some miracle I find extra coins. Like a pro Casino player with an adult nappy (really, they wear it, look it up), I start inserting the coins from the hoodie of my top. People must think I’m really stingy, I can see them looking at me – ‘probably robbed her kid’s piggy bank to pay for her parking, tsk’. Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back.
THE FUCKING MACHINE WILL NOT ACCEPT ANY NEW FIVE RAND COINS. At this point I just want to join the grasshopper on the trolley and sit there all day and contemplate life and forget about being an adult.
I push the Help button (I always find this so ironic, rather call it the ‘save me’ button, or the ‘come here now’ button). I’m told to go up to the parking pay station office or whatever. I can’t find this office that is supposed to help and so like a deranged woman with a hoodie full of coins (the only way for me to carry all this shit), I wander through the car rental offices, all the time crying harder and louder and leaving loud-sad voice notes for Idele. “I can’t believe this” I say. “I just need a break! And I just passed the grasshopper and the dude is still sitting on the trolley! Why, oh why?!” I’m wailing until some shocked looking car rental person finds me and walks me to the parking ticket office (Help me!). The lady behind this counter is either bored or just very patient or this kind of thing happens frequently? I doubt that last option. She counts all R340 out in coins and finally I’m free to return home.
As I pass that trolley the grasshopper is still sitting on it. Some of us just can’t seem to get unstuck, or perhaps we don’t want to.
Ps. If you are about to receive treatment for cancer, please don’t let this blog scare you. The feeling of being frazzled and forgetful and as if your brain is too full might not be YOUR unique experience. Also, I blame chemo, but really, it could just as well be my kids.
Final PS. Thank you to the graceful, kind and patient staff at Mango Airlines. I must have looked crazy but you let me board anyway. Thank you to the rental car guy aka field guide and thank you to the lady at the HELP US pay station office whatever who counted a full-hoodie amount of coins today.
Last word: If you have a loved one going through chemo never tell them that chemo brain is ‘just a label’ that they give themselves. It is a well researched medical condition. Also, have patience with us, we are forgetful, we do drop balls, we act strange as our medical teams try to get our combination of meds just right. We will get there.