On Sunday my lancing device bit my finger. The pain was intense! I started crying and I’m a tough customer when it comes to pain. My pinky finger felt like I’d just shut it in a door. I was so upset that I held my finger under cold water and forgot to test. So, I had to do it again. Wham! The lancet snapped into my other little finger and it hurt just as badly as last time. What is going on?
At first I blamed myself. Maybe I’m not as tough as I thought. Little kids get their fingers pricked every day and they don’t start crying. Why am I crying? Is my skin getting more sensitive? Once I was done kicking myself, I took a look at my lancing device. The spring loaded mechanism fired the lancet, but the shock absorbing recoil never happened. It slammed full force into my finger. No wonder it hurt. My fingers had bruises on them. However I did remember to test my blood sugar before soothing my sore finger. Right after that, the fog rolled in.
Five years ago I completed 24 back to back cycles of chemotherapy. You would think that would be in my past, but it isn’t. My brain bathed in toxic chemicals for 18 straight months. My medication was a derivative of mustard gas. Very poisonous stuff. It crossed the blood/brain barrier and left me with chemo brain.
For me, chemo brain is no longer a daily struggle. It only shows up when something minor goes wrong. Like, when my finger pricking device broke. That was a perfect trigger. Chemo brain shuts down my higher thinking abilities. I can feel it happening, like a door closing in my mind. I realized I was having a chemo brain attack when I was on the edge of tears over a broken lancing device.
I knew two things. One my device was broken. And two, I didn’t have any idea how to fix it. I didn’t know what to do next to help myself. When chemo brain happens I feel like a distraught toddler who cannot find her favorite toy bunny.
The child knows three things. One, she wants her bunny. Two, she thought her bunny was on her bed. And Three, her bunny isn’t on her bed. There is no step four where she decides to look for her toy under her bed. That takes a serious leap in cognitive functioning. Toddlers can’t make the leap, so they fall apart and cry. Parents do their child a disservice when they get angry with them for not looking under the bed or behind a curtain. Knowing what is wrong, and knowing how to solve the problem, are not always linked together for little ones. Or for adults suffering from chemo brain.
When my finger pricker broke, chemo brain clouded my thinking. It took a few moments for me to center myself enough to find a solution to my problem. My husband drove me to the pharmacy. They had every imaginable type of lancet available, but no finger pricking devices. We drove across town to another store and they had the same selection of lancets, but no devices.
Chemo brain kicked into high gear after that. It was all I could do to keep from crying. I knew I needed a finger pricking device, and I knew I didn’t want to use the one that hurt. But, my best efforts at problem solving weren’t working. I also knew feeling this upset over it was irrational. So, I got upset with myself for being irrational. Of course that only made me feel worse.
Finally at the third store we found what we were looking for. I got a new finger sticker and it works well. What doesn’t work as well is accepting that every aspect of my life is fundamentally different from how it used to be. Stress shuts down my ability to problem solve. Even minor stress like my finger pricker not working is enough to knock me off center, and I hate that. I don’t want it to be like that. Still, it is like that.
Accepting the unacceptable is one of my life’s bigger challenges. I’m struggling to accept that chemo has changed the way my brain works. MG and diabetes have changed the way my body works. What remains are my spirit and sense of humor. They keep getting stronger. My spirit gets stronger when I give myself permission to feel what I’m feeling instead of trying to fix it. When I’m struggling I remember I’m carving spaces for joy to fill.
Joy isn’t the absence of struggle. For me, joy comes when I stop fighting long enough to marvel at a perfect snowflake on my mitten. Everything else around me might be totally messed up, but for that moment, all is well. Right now all is well. I’ve got my new finger pricker and… and look at that. My blood glucose is 100. That's where I find joy.