Fall allergies while on chemo

Cleaning up Yard during AutumnEarlier this week I noted there wouldn’t be any real post that day due to not feeling very well and my brain fog being too thick. For the last few days it has been hard to put thoughts together and breathing has been very hard. Luckily today I seem to be back to normal and believe it was in fact fall allergies which took me down for the last few days.

One thing I love about our home is that we have a lot of old trees surrounding the house. Of course that also means a lot of leaves. Sunday of this week was a very nice day. It was slightly cool, but there was no wind at all. This was perfect for one last time to clean the leaves in the yard. I spent a few hours in the afternoon with my leaf-blower and hauled a full pickup load of leaves to the dump site. Not only did I feel that something was accomplished by removing all the leaves, I also got some good exercise in.

It didn’t occur to me at the time to worry about my fall allergies. I am already taking Claritin every day. I partially take Claritin to combat fall allergies; and partially to combat the side-effects of certain drugs I am taking; more specifically Claritin helps battle the side-effects of Neulasta and Xgeva. Even though Claritin does a fine job of keeping fall allergies at bay, it does have its limits. I apparently found those limits by using a leaf blower to shoot a lot of allergens into the air.

I didn’t exactly have my normal fall allergy symptoms. Typically during fall I get a runny nose, my sinuses feel plugged, and my head feels like it is going to explode. This time I had a little bit of a runny nose, but I don’t believe my sinuses were clogged at all. My head didn’t feel like it was going to explode either. Instead I had a harder time breathing and I just felt “off”. Additionally my brain fog seemed to really get thick. I just couldn’t put any thoughts together at all. Finally today, four days later, I feel almost back to normal (well the new normal for me being on chemo).

This morning I was in contact with another cancer patient going through chemo. She has a similar experience when doing yard work. To combat this she has to take a shower immediately after doing any yard work and ensure she doesn’t come in contact with the clothes she was wearing again until after they have been washed. Additionally if she has done something like raking she will put the blue mask on. That day I did not take a shower until the evening. Now I know to do that right away.

Now that there is a light layer of snow on the ground hopefully fall allergies won’t be an issue. Furthermore, if my treatments go right I hopefully won’t be on chemo come spring when I have to worry about allergies again. Either way I now know my body definitely reacts differently to fall allergies than it used to. I guess it’s just one more thing to watch out for while on chemo.

Working while on chemo

Desktop of the businessman.One of the most common questions I get from people is whether I am able to work while going through chemo. I do work, but it is greatly diminished from what I was once capable of. In this post I will briefly blog about my current work experience while going through chemo.

The type of chemo I am going through is called R CHOP. It is a very aggressive type of chemo and is very hard on the body (but then I have yet to hear of a non-aggressive type of chemo). I have chemo once every three weeks. On the day of chemo and the two days following I am basically unable to work at all. Fatigue hits heavy on these days and I sleep most of my day away. Actually I look forward to these days now, because I know for at least a few days I won’t suffer from insomnia. At the same time though it means on these days I cannot work.

Earlier this year I had already started to work from home most days. This was not done because of my cancer. Instead I started to work from home three to four days a week in order to take care of my youngest son. By summer I was rarely able to make it to the office even once a week due to breathing problems. When I started chemo it was time to face the fact I should not be in the office at all. There are too many customers who come into the office sick. With my weakened immune system it just doesn’t seem worth the risk to come into the office when I have the option to work from home. The biggest downside to working completely from home is that it feels like I’ve abandoned my wife to run the office by herself. Actually, cleaning out my office was one of the hardest things I’ve done since being diagnosed with cancer.

Working from home may allow me to keep away from germs. But it doesn’t mean I get a lot done on the typical day. The brain fog I suffer from seems to get worse every day. On some days I can only work a few hours before the brain fog gets so bad that I can’t even put two thoughts together, much less work. On other days I can put in a good six or even eight hours of work. There is no consistency about how much time I am able to work. I have found that if I spend an hour playing word or logic games before I work, that I am able to use my mind for work longer. Also the days I am able to work longer I am doing tasks such as archiving old files in our database. This is a long monotonous process which requires very little brain power. Even if it is monotonous it does at least give me something I can do when the brain fog sets in.

I am somewhat lucky that I am able to work from home. Many cancer patients don’t have this option. Hopefully by the time busy season begins for the office I will be done with chemo and my brain fog will lift a bit. No matter what though I am more than happy to do whatever work I can from home. It is much better than just sitting around thinking about cancer.

Brain Fog

110311681Today I want to briefly blog about the worse side-effect of having cancer. It isn’t the fear of dying, nausea, or any of the multitude of side-effects that come from chemotherapy. No my biggest fear has become losing the ability to use my mind properly. Many people with cancer will experience something referred to as “brain fog” or “chemo brain” (or many other names). For the purpose of this blog I will stick to the term “brain fog” because it describes what I feel the best. It is my fear that any brain fog I experience will continue beyond chemo. In this post I will touch briefly on the subject; but this will likely be the topic of many future posts.

I’ve made a living using my mind. In the Army I was a communications technician. I went on the IT field where I eventually became a Network Engineer and Project Manager. Over the last few years I have been a writer and tax preparer. Basically I have spent most of my adult life relying upon my mind to make a living. I hope to continue making a living utilizing my mind. I fear however that may not be as possible as it was once.

Recently I’ve begun to understand that I suffer from brain fog. Here is part of what Mayo has to say about Chemo Brain:

Chemo brain is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment. Chemo brain can also be called chemo fog, chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment or cognitive dysfunction.

Though chemo brain is a widely used term, it’s misleading. It’s unlikely that chemotherapy is the sole cause of concentration and memory problems in cancer survivors. Researchers are working to understand the memory changes that people with cancer experience.

Despite the many questions, it’s clear that the memory problems commonly called chemo brain can be a frustrating and debilitating side effect of cancer and its treatment. More study is needed to understand this condition.

Over the last couple of months it has become very hard for me to organize my thoughts, especially in activities which require multiple steps. I can still do so, but I have to take more time and document things more than I used to. In the past I would create a mental flow chart of tasks to be performed. Now I find myself having to actually physically write things down to be able to see how a process should flow. This change started during my first cycle of chemo, so I am hoping it will go away after chemo has completed.

Another big change I’ve noticed is short-term memory problems. We all have moments where we walk into a room and forget why we went in there. That is happening to me all the time now. I have to document my tasks throughout the day so I don’t accidentally do something twice that I shouldn’t. On one particular day I almost took my morning medications twice. Luckily my wife was around to set me straight. Since that time I made sure all important things such as medications and meals are documented.

I call my condition brain fog for a reason. There will be times I just can’t seem to put thoughts together, as if the words I need are just out of reach in the fog. It is difficult to describe, but it really does seem that a fog has set inside my head. Today is a good example of that happening. Off and on and throughout the morning I tried to write a blog post, but couldn’t. The fog was too thick.

Going forward I hope the brain fog will go away when I am done with chemo. I have four to six more chemo cycles remaining. The problem is I know at least the memory problems have been happening since way before I started chemo. I believe I’ve had memory problems for months actually. It does however seem that the brain fog became much thicker after chemo. That would lead me to believe that chemo is in some way making my brain fog worse (unless the brain fog is making me think that).

I have been trying various things to battle against the brain fog. The main thing that seems to help is playing word and logic games. Hopefully when chemo is done the fog will lift some and I can feel I have my mind back. Actually, writing posts on this blog seems to help as well. At least it helps when the fog will let me write a post…