Forget about it

One of my favorite side effects is chemo brain.  It’s great.  You can’t remember anything, so there are no worries!  You won’t remember this in five minutes anyway.   And words.  What are those?  I routinely blank out in the middle of sentences and can’t remember a word I need.  It’s what I imagine it is like to have amnesia.


In all seriousness, chemo brain can be annoying at best, and debilitating at worst.  But I am learning to cope, and I want to share a few hacks with you.  And this is not just for those with chemo brain!  I know a lot of my non-cancer friends are entering the life phase of being “forgetful”.  These will work for you too!


So what am I talking about?


1.  Write it down.  I’m serious.  Pencil and paper baby, keep it old school.  Get a notebook and keep it by your side.  Write everything down.  EVERYTHING.  You may need it to jog your memory later, or you may never look at it again.  But I have found that the act of physically writing something down sometimes imbeds it in my brain so I remember it.  Also, I have rediscovered penmanship.  It feels so soothing to take my time writing.  And I feel  accomplished when I look back at the beautiful cursive.  Props to my third-grade teacher (whose name I have forgotten) for drilling this skill into my mind.


Typing on your computer or phone doesn’t seem to have the same effect, so don’t bother.  Pen and paper.  You can get them at any store.   Go.


2.  Speaking of writing, get a planner.  A good old-fashioned book that you actually write in.  You can put things in an electronic calendar if you like, but it helps to remember it if you physically write it down.  The are some great ones out there, I personally use the Law of Attraction planner.   It’s so much more than just a calendar.  It’s a life planner.  I’ve brainstormed, set goals, and evaluated my progress.  It inspires thinking and planning.  And it allows me to write.  It is by my side constantly, reminding me of tasks and appointments.  You need this.  Go now.


Freedom Mastery Law of Attraction or search on Amazon. (I have no vested interest, I just love their products.  So there.)


3.  Puzzles are good.  They make you think, and use logic.  They make you write, and we all know how I feel about that.  I personally love sudoku.   It’s not just thinking, it’s using numbers.  It’s a workout for your brain.  The more the brain is stimulated, the more it heals and stays young, or so I like to think.


(Disclaimer:  I am not a scientist.  I just like giving an opinion). 


So pull out that pencil and do a word or number puzzle.  Not an app on your phone that does all the work for you, but actual paper and pencil.  You know the drill.  Go.


4.  Learn another language.  It gives you a mental workout and challenges you to remember new things.  Think of where you would go on your dream vacation, and start learning the lingo.  Start with an app to help you with vocabulary (there, you can finally use your phone, does that feel better?).  A nice one I like is Duolingo.  Once you get more comfortable, watch shows in your new language with English subtitles (Netflix is your friend).  Read books and learn about the culture.  Get that brain working.  It’s good for you.  Why are you still reading this blog, you have studying to do!  Go.


5.  There was a fifth one, but I have already forgotten it.  Whatever.


So there you have it.  My recipe for fighting chemo brain and forgetfulness.  I’m not sure if mine is better, or if I just manage it well.  Either way, life is just a little bit easier.  And in the end, isn’t that the idea?


For more hacks and good info, check us out at Driven to survive.






I have done traditional meditation for years.  I visualize, I do focus exercises, I’m even now dabbling in transcendental meditation (it all makes me sound so deep).  It’s an incredible experience.   I come out calmer, centered, and more focused.  It eases my physical pain.  Meditation is a wonderful treatment for a variety of things that may be ailing you.


Back when I started meditating about 10 years ago, my favorite exercise was focusing on the sound of the fan.  The noise, the patterns, the soothing way that it repeated.   Everything else melted away, until it was just me and the fan as I floated off.  Usually to sleep.


That was pre-cancer.


Now is post-chemo brain.


These days, my fan can’t crack the surface of my thoughts.  It’s like a maelstrom in there, a hurricane of ideas, reminders, and unrelated facts that only seem to come to me when I am trying to forget them.  Some days, I can’t sort through the debris.  Sometimes I wonder why I want to.  It’s a whole bunch of nothing.  A pile of crap.  Stuff I’ll forget in five minutes anyway.


But then I made a discovery.  Pretty mind-blowing, actually.  Something that has spun my meditation to a whole new level.


I almost hate to admit this.  And I apologize to all the yogis out there who think that I am crazy.   But I’m going to just come out and say it.


I may be the only person in the world who meditates to Metallica.


Yes, THAT Metallica.


I know others may listen to music while meditating.   It may even be beautiful,  uplifting, inspiring tunes.  That doesn’t do it for me.  I need noise to calm my thoughts.  Loud, pounding, angry,  head-banging kind of noise.  Sort of like pouring ice-water on your brain kind of noise.  Yes, it may hurt for a moment, but then comes the sweet relief.  I only hear the sounds from the song, not the nagging of my mind.  My head bobs in time to the beat.  Maybe theres even some fist pumping, let’s not judge.  My thoughts feel less disjointed, more associated.


And I get calm.  I float off to another plane, if I can be so honest.  They are putting into words what I am thinking.   All the pain, the grief, the madness, the anger.  Its all there, and the music helps me release it.  It’s actually kind of incredible.


I still practice the same habits as before.  I’m not completely shutting down my brain.  But I am sitting back and letting the waves turn into eddies so that I can sort out what I need to.  And I can turn off the music and feel the tranquility that has washed over me.  It doesn’t matter what went on that day.  Or what will happen tomorrow.  Or in ten years.  I am centered.  I am whole.


And I have found what works for me.





Practicing medicine

I am here today to talk about being a proactive patient.


I don’t care if you have stage 4 cancer, are perfectly (disgustingly) healthy, or act as a caregiver to someone who is ill.


This one is for you.


(Ok, I do care, and wish we were all disgustingly healthy.  But you know what I mean).


This is the deal.  The days where we went to one doctor and took what he (and I do mean “HE”) said at face value are over.  Done.  Kaput.   This is your health we are talking about, the very essence of your life.  We need to build relationships with good doctors, and demand the best care available.  I don’t care how little money you have, or what insurance you are stuck with, we pay for a service, and we deserve the best results possible.


It’s your life.  YOU are responsible for overseeing it.  That can’t be delegated.


So how do you become proactive?  It starts with your choice of doctor.  If you are insanely healthy, you may only have one doctor (how quaint).  If you are fighting a disease such as breast cancer, you have an army of medical professionals.  I personally command a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, cardiologist, plastic surgeon, surgeon, and primary care physician.  I also have a physical therapist and lymphedema therapist on call.  I feel like a general ordering maneuvers most of the time, but its the only way I can feel like I have covered all the bases.


What to look for in a doctor, whether it is one or ten?  Here are a few of my thoughts:


1.  How accessible is the doctor for questions?  Two of my doctors have cell phones where they can be reached 24/7.  Two more have an on-line messaging service; I always receive prompt responses.  Two others are mainly available by phone, but I find that they respond quickly so that is ok.


You should NEVER have to wait weeks until you have an appointment to have questions answered.  You should not put up with unanswered messages.   Part of healing is keeping calm, and that is difficult if you are under constant stress from your medical providers.


2.  Demand better.  Don’t look at it as a second opinion.  Treat it as an interview.


Go to meet additional doctors, listen to their views on your health, and ask questions to see if this is someone you can work with.  Are they willing to work as a team with your other doctors?  Ask questions about alternative treatments and recent research to see what their reactions are.  Make sure they are a good fit.


3.  Make sure your doctors are willing to listen to YOU.


You have concerns.  Are they being taken seriously?  I see too many people being diagnosed with advanced cases of their disease because it took too long to diagnose.  It infuriates me when this happens.   There are infinite diagnosis tools out there, but doctors need to listen to us and validate that we know something is wrong.


If you are brushed off, see #2.


Once you have doctors in place that make you comfortable, it is time to research


I don’t mean you should spend all your free time on webmd looking for diseases you might have.  But after discussions with your doctor, go on-line and make sure you understand what you are being told.  And that there isn’t more to the story.  Confirm side effects, and check for drug interactions that may have slipped past your doctor and pharmacist.  There are many reputable sites for medical information.  If it sounds wacky, it probably is.  But make notes and ask additional questions of your doctors.


If my doctors aren’t rolling their eyes by the end of my appointments,  I don’t feel like I’m doing my job as an informed patient.   Bonus points if they tell me to stay off the internet.


Finally, find a support group, either local or on-line. 


These are your people.  They are your tribe.  They have been through what you are facing, and have tips and hacks.  And some may be at your stage of treatment, so you have someone to face it with.


Facebook has groups for pretty much every medical condition.  They are an information rich environment to learn from others, and hear about treatments your doctor may not be doing.


Just a few safety pointers, though.


Do you feel comfortable sharing in the group?  Are other members respectful to each other, and do admins enforce group rules?  Is there any vetting of new members?   Are admins or other members actively trying to market products or services to you (a sign that the group is not about support)?


Remember that anything you share on-line is immediately out of your hands, so you want to ensure that you have a safe environment.  It should be a place you feel at home.  If not, you may want to keep looking.


And that is my primer on the first steps to becoming an informed health care consumer.   There is too much technology at our disposal to not be an active participant in our treatment.


And remember, the key word is “eyerolls”.   That means you are doing this right.


For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth. ~Sanskrit Proverb


Most people don’t give a lot of thought to their breathing.  I mean, it’s a reflex right?  It goes in, it comes out, all without much intervention from our conscious brain.  But it is surprising how important it can be to cope with certain stresses and anxieties, which affect pretty much everyone.


Ever since I had chemo, I have experienced anxiety and downright panic attacks.  My chest starts to tighten up, I feel like I can’t breathe, and the hot flashes start forming at the top of my head.  I struggled to control them for a year without much success.  There was no trigger, no action that seemed to spark the attacks.  But they happened at least twice a day, usually sometime in the afternoon, and at bedtime.  I began to wonder if this was my life now.


I finally fell back into my old yoga habits, one of which was deep yogic breathing.   And it was incredible.   Over a few months my attacks began to taper off.  I rarely have one at bedtime anymore, and attacks during the day have decreased to maybe one or two a week.  Not only are the episodes occurring less frequently, but I can usually nip them in the bud as soon as they start.


The key to using breathing exercises is to perform them regularly as part of a routine, not just when you are getting flustered.  The exercises are simple, but take practice.  They require no equipment, and can be done pretty much anywhere.   And unlike most anti-anxiety medications, there are no side effects.  Well, unless you count being healthy and panic attack free.


Now, there, doesn’t that feel better?


Here is a very simple breathing exercise to get you started.   It is my go-to when I need to head off an attack at the pass.  (See for this and other useful information on deep breathing).  For best effect, make sure you are only breathing through your nose.


  • One Minute Breath
    Yogi Bhajan specifically recommended that women practice the One Minute Breath in order to create a deep experience of relaxation. Yogis also practice this breathing sequence to calm anxieties, fear and worry, open the intuition and activate the entire brain.
    Inhale: Breath the air very slowly into the lungs for 20 seconds
    Hold: Sustain the breath as you relax the chest and shoulders for 20 seconds
    Exhale: Release the breath very slowly for 20 seconds.
    Continue this sequence for 7-11 minutes daily.