Tracie Cone has always been a trailblazer. This award-winning journalist is the former California Newspaper Executive of the Year. She shares a Pulitzer Prize with fellow staff members at the Miami Herald for coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew and has twice been nominated individually. She has focused her writing on helping the underdog and empowering those without a strong voice of their own. Now she takes us on the fight of her life.
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Spacey Tracie

There is this effect called “Chemo Brain” that happens to people on chemotherapy. It causes the brain synapses to fire more slowly, leaving words just out of reach and witty comebacks a little late. It’s frustrating because those two things are my bread and, uh, something. Ah, butter! (just kidding).

I often spend time looking for the right word, or giving a long definition of it so that the person with whom I am conversing can fill in the blank. Just a while ago I completely forgot the name of the investment firm where my pension sits. As I go back and reread this before posting, I still can’t think of it.

In other words, it’s a little like getting older, only the effect is supposed to be temporary. Six months or so from now when the chemo leaves my body, my brain function should speed up.

It’s not that I can’t think complex thoughts; it’s just that my motor skills are a little off and I blank sometimes in the middle of sentences. Then I fire back up again. And it’s not all the time, just sometimes. Mostly when I’m not focusing hard.

So yesterday I was feeling pretty good. I walked a mile, quite an accomplishment since I’ve been confined to my cul-de-sac for nearly eight weeks. The sudden burst of energy at the end of this chemo round gave me confidence. So Michelle sent me to our neighborhood market.

Mind you, I haven’t really driven in the same eight weeks I’ve lacked energy. Driving takes a lot of concentration, and I’ve had friends around to do the job, so I just haven’t tackled it. But we needed a few things and the store is really close, so I decided I could do it.

I had no problem driving (slowly), found a handicapped parking place in front, and, armed with my list (because I possibly would have forgotten the two things on it), I found my items, paid, and left the store.

That’s where my problem began. I went out a door different from the one I went in, and there sat a car that was nearly the same color as mine. Believe me when I say that is where the similarities end. It was bigger, way bigger, and cleaner. It wasn’t even the same make or model. And it was a much darker shade of gray, but close enough for my Chemo Brain to say “There’s our car!” Psych.

I walked up to the driver’s door and pushed the button on my key fob to unlock the door. Then I tugged at the handle. Again and again and again. Nothing. I cursed my key fob. I figured the battery had run down. I tugged and tugged at the handle as I clutched a melting bag of ice in my arms.

It took a little while before I peered inside and realized it wasn’t my car at all. By that time a few people had paused in front of the store to watch the bald woman juggle her bag of ice, key fob and uncooperative door.

Oooops, I said aloud. Wrong car. My walk of shame was 10 stalls westward.

Later that day I was talking with Michelle’s mom, who offered consolation by saying that this, too, happens to her when she goes to the mall.

She’s 81. Sigh.

So my friends, I know that this particular state of mind, for me, is temporary. But this gives me a glimpse of what we have to look forward to – losing our cars in parking lots, losing our words in mid-sentence.

The rewards of a long life well lived. I’ll take it over the alternative.

But in the age of satellite radio our generation has an added degree of difficulty – no antennas to which we can tape a garish plastic flower, a beacon to discretely guide us on our walk of shame.

As I said, I feel pretty good heading into this round (that’s what chemo does. It allows a few good days so the patient will show up for the next round). I’m not as weak as last time, when I was still recovering from that drop in blood pressure and a 5-day hospital stay. This time my weakness started subsiding on Thursday, perhaps coincidentally with a break in Fresno’s plus-100 temperatures (I meant 100-plus temperatures). The other good news is that the side effects of the trial drug Lapatinib seem to have subsided. I do have some neuropathy (tingling in the hands), but my skin no longer is sloughing off my fingers. No nausea either (yay!). With urging from my life coach Lynn, I take the pills and visualize them leading the chemo to the rogue cells hiding in my body. I do feel like they are all under attack. My goal is to be the star patient who lifts the survival odds for everyone!

I’ll meet with an endocrinologist to talk about a benign “speck” an MRI found on my pituitary gland. Nobody is worried about this. Doctors told me that if everyone had a brain scan, perhaps 30 percent of us would have this “speck.” But maybe they’ll tell me what it is?

I’ll also meet with the plastic surgeon who eventually will do my reconstructive surgery. The plan is to use my body fat to build new breasts (yes, I’m leaning toward a double so I’ll start using the plural to see if it helps me get used to the idea). It means I’ll get a tummy tuck at the same time.

I’m also due an echocardiogram. The downside to both my chemo and the Lapatinib is possible heart damage, so it is being monitored closely and reported to the FDA. Last time my heart function was better than my initial baseline exam, so my fingers are crossed.

And I get to see Katie and Dr. Mollick!

Then, of course, chemo at 4 p.m. Pacific Time.

Think happy thoughts!!

READER REPORT: Thank you to the 511 people who visited my website last week, including readers from Madagascar, Chile and Mexico! I love this new feature that tells me how many people are following my story. As I said before, if you are a fellow traveler, I wish you good luck and a complete restoration of your healthy body. If you are a caretaker, I wish for you strength and patience.

7 Responses to “Spacey Tracie”

  • alejandro:

    Ah Tracie… those mental lapses are not only for older people… they happen to me more often than I’d like to admit.

  • Elaine Hoover:

    Hey T,
    That part about the car was funnnnnnny! When you buy your next car make it a bright color. No more black, white, or gray cars, there are just too many of those. How about a Carolina blue one? My dad once lost his car in the hospital parking lot for about a week. They had to keep driving him back to the hospital until it was located. It happens to the best of us.
    511 readers… wow!!!!
    I’ll be praying for you early and often tomorrow.

  • Kelly S.:

    I am not a chemo patient and I am About half of 81, so I am not really sure what my excuse is, but I am constantly losing my car in parking lots no matter how long I have been in the store. Could it be that we live in The Land of Identical SUVs? I never noticed how many big-ass, gold SUVs are out there until I bought mine. A strategically placed Tinkerbell decal helps. If it makes you feel better, I have done the walk of shame, too. LOL Happy car hunting! Glad you’re feeling good enough to do it!

  • Paige:

    I love the title of this post…it made me laugh! Also, I’m thinking that chemo might just be bringing out the Cone gene in you because mom and grammy have been losing their cars in parking lots for years now! :)

    I love you and pray for you everyday!!!

  • BJ Helms:

    Hey Tracie,
    Don’t feel bad about losing your car. I lost mine in the WalMart parking lot in Belmont. The bad side is a friend saw me and asked me what I was looking for…….. I replied my car. So now it has become a joke every time he sees me. Hang in there girl. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  • brenda:

    Sounds quite like pregnancy brain! This too shall pass… You’re almost done!!!

  • Francesca:

    Love your writing. The car story is funny. I also suffer from working memory loss. It’s always a struggle, and I have to concentrate so hard at work. Socially, I am resolved to not recognize people who know me, and I can’t remember them. It’s menopause for me. And I’m wondering if your estrogen stores are down and that is also contributing to your working memory loss. It’s the inability to pull from what is already stored in our minds. We have the memory… but no ability to pull from it. Some days are worse than others. I make notes on my iphone for anything I need to do, or get. lol
    Isn’t Her2 the same as tripple negative? Are your receptors negative for estrogen and progesterone?
    Thanks for the smiles it brought about the car. Your attitude is wonderful…. And I am glad that this ‘brain’ thing will pass for you.

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