• Another 100 Days of Good Karma: Day 287 (Cognitive Changes)


    Friday, April 24, 2015

    Run/ Walk/ Bike/ Elliptical (Today: 3.00 miles;  Running Total: 256.66 miles)

    Day 287 of *Another* 100 Days of Good Karma.

    It’s been a little over a week since treatment ended and the radiation effects on my skin are really starting to come out.

    What was just red and sore before is now blistering and peeling. And not little blisters either. These look like big nasty boils. When they pop there’s new skin underneath and it itches like crazy.

    Those are just the visible effects from cancer treatment. There are more that can’t be seen.

    I’ve noticed differences in how I think. I have trouble focusing on one thing for very long. I get distracted very easily. I have to speak more slowly than I used to and really think about what I’m saying or it comes out in a jumble.

    The one thing I’ve noticed that really drives me crazy is that I can’t read for very long. My eyes just jitter around the page. I have a really hard keeping up with characters in a book. I have to read the same lines over and over again to get it. When I put a book down and come back even fifteen minutes later I don’t remember where I was in the story and I have to go back a page or two to remind myself.

    I can listen to audiobooks more easily than sitting down to read. I have to keep busy while I’m listening though. Folding clothes, driving, cleaning the house. I have to do something while I’m listening or I get just as confused over an audiobook as I do with words on a page.

    At first I thought I was just imagining these changes. Then I spoke with a volunteer at the cancer center. She said she also noticed a difference in how she processed information after treatment. A career scientist, this woman had to move to a non-technical role after treatment because she wasn’t able to think and process information the same way anymore.

    This made me think maybe I wasn’t imagining the changes.

    So I called my friend Tina and explained the problem.

    I knew Tina could help because in addition to being a fantastic writer, Tina is a trained school psychologist. Also, while in college Tina was diagnosed with dyslexia. Since then she’s found ways of retraining her brain to read and process information.

    I couldn’t think of anyone better equipped to help me find a way around these problems.

    Tina totally sympathized. She hasn’t had cancer or been through cancer treatment, but she said that the struggle with words on a page sounded very familiar. She also reminded me of a girl we went to school with who finished leukemia treatment and later discovered she had a type of learning disability resembling ADD/ADHD.

    Tina said that when it came to reading her e-reader was her best friend. Reading hard copy books is incredibly difficult for her unless she covers everything but the line she’s reading with another piece of paper. Tina said if I’m having trouble with hard copy books (I am) to try switching to my Kindle after making a couple of setting changes.

    The setting changes were pretty simple. Tina said she had better results reading when she rotated her Kindle to landscape mode instead of reading in portrait mode. Also, she recommended increasing the font size and spacing between the lines. This helped her because there were fewer words on the page.

    Tina said to experiment with reading at different times of day to find my peak hours of functionality. Tracking how long I can read before I get mental fatigue can give me a basis for slowly increasing those times.

    As a final recommendation, she said that word find puzzles can help retrain my brain to identify words on a busy page.

    After hanging up the phone I immediately implemented a few of Tina’s changes.

    I changed the settings on my Kindle and noticed that the words were much easier to read. I also downloaded a free word find game for my phone.

    In the days since my conversation with Tina I’ve tracked my ability to focus at different times of day. My peak functioning hours are for the first few hours after I wake up. After that my focus goes downhill quickly, so it’s a good thing I’ve made it my daily habit to get up and write my blog post first thing in the morning.

    In the afternoon I can read for about ten minutes before I get distracted and start mentally wandering.

    I’ve also been practicing with the word find puzzle on my phone. Word find puzzles used to be very easy for me. I was surprised to discover that these are now much harder to finish. I’ve been working on the same puzzle for a few days now.

    These changes are unbelievably frustrating.

    In addition to feeling like I’ve lost one of the great joys of my life (books) I’m also nervous about searching for a job. What if I can’t perform at a job the way I used to?

    As if I needed one more hit against my confidence.

    Today’s Silver Lining: With practice I think I can regain my ability to read.

    I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to consume books the way I used to. I’m a much slower reader now. But I think with practice I can recover some of what’s been lost.

    I also don’t know if this is a residual effect from chemotherapy or just a result of having an epically shitty year. Maybe both.

    I hope this will pass the further I get from treatment.

    What’s your silver lining today?  I love comments!

    Don’t want to leave a comment, but have something you want to share?  Send me an email at gettingthewordswrong(at)gmail(dot)com.


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6 Responsesso far.

  1. My husband used Lumosity after his brain surgery and radiation. I think he found it helpful to re-train his brain to concentrate and improve short term memory. I have no idea if that was placebo or Lumosity though. But the games can be fun.

    • Meghan says:

      Someone else recommended that to me, too. I downloaded the app last night. Placebo or not, maybe it’ll help. 🙂

  2. Leah Senona says:

    I thought about you today when I picked up a book from the library. The only copy of the book I needed was large-print. Maybe you could try reading large-print books sometimes if you miss the feel of a book in your hand.

    • Meghan says:

      That’s a good idea. I do like the feel of a book in my hand sometimes. The Kindle is awesome, but it doesn’t have that great book smell. 🙂

  3. Theresa Gamble says:

    The brain is an incredibly plastic organism – meaning it was designed to change in order to learn new things over a lifetime. Although you may have temporarily lost some functionality – your lovely grey matter is completely engineered to implement work-arounds. It’s all about practice, practice, practice – and making new neural connections. You may also want to try some things you’ve never done before – a new language, a new instrument, a new sport – it will keep your brain flexible and agile. Good luck, I know it must be hard, but this too shall pass….

    • Meghan says:

      Hi, Theresa! I’m all about trying something new. I think that’s a great idea. Thank you for the recommendation and encouragement. 🙂

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