Writing and memory

A few weeks ago I was doing some writing about the stem cell transplant I had in 2000. A stem cell transplant is a procedure whereby the doctors use an extremely high dose of chemotherapy to wipe out your immune system. They then “rescue” your system by reinfusing your own (or someone else’s) stem cells.

I was transfixed on the moment when I was given the massive dose of chemo that would launch the process. The dripping of this little bag of fluid was a momentous occasion. My immune system was about to be knocked out and I would lose my hair among a number of other nasty side effects. There was huge risk with this procedure – I would be several days with essentially no immune system.  Once getting this chemo, there was no turning back.

I have a strong memory of intensely watching every drip and imagining what was happening to me. I recollect thinking that the liquid should have been bright orange or green, being so potent. I remember strong emotions about what was happening to me as I watched the liquid flow through the tube. I captured all of these details in my writing and they seemed so clear to me.

Then my husband  stumbled upon an old email that he wrote at that time describing the procedure to some friends. According to him, I fell asleep!! It was him that was experiencing all of the trauma while I snored away from the premeds. My memory feels so vivid, but they both can’t be true. The evidence is on my husband’s side.

I’ve been having conversations with Amy Marash about “chemo brain”. She’s looking for ideas for a cartoon on the subject (ideas welcomed here!!). I hadn’t thought about chemo brain from this perspective. I figured it was something like the baby brain that new mothers experience. Maybe the chemo didn’t just wipe out my immune system – maybe my memory got wiped as well – amnesia by chemo?

Enjoy the weekend



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