The Post Chemo Brain

I’ve had some interesting insights lately into what has happened to my brain since treatment. I was asked by Dan Palmer from ‘Making Permaculture Stronger’ to talk about how I apply permaculture design principles. He’s a joy to speak with, and asks the kinds of questions that stretch my mind. During the interview I talked about soft systems methodology as I understood it and Dan commented that my understanding differed from his. Following the interview I googled it. Sure enough, the articles and diagrams I found to explain soft systems bore no resemblance whatsoever to my understanding of it! What was going on? How could I be so certain about this knowledge and yet so wrong?

I think it’s something to do with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is like a wildfire that consumes a huge chunk of cognitive ability and what grows after it continues to surprise me. My brain was not commonplace to start with (and I suspect that if I had been born into this generation I may have been diagnosed as mildly autistic) so this new version seems to be some kind of unusual evolution from that.

I feel as if the chemotherapy burnt away all the detail and allowed me to see the underlying structure in things. It also seems to have fused different categories of knowledge together in unusual ways. Following treatment I had difficulty remembering my phone number and I intentionally pursued ways to rebuild my brain. That included rereading and relearning things I had known well before treatment. I enrolled in permaculture courses because I loved the subject and once understood it well, but found that post-treatment I struggled to articulate even the basic principles. Sure enough, the neural pathways started to rebuild, sometimes connecting with a flash of insight.

I pause here to apologise to the very tolerant teachers on the Milkwood permaculture courses that tolerated by often excited interruptions to their excellent training. I must have been one of the most disruptive students ever, and yet you remained empathetic. Thank you. I am deeply grateful.

It seems that like a forest after a fire I am creating something new from the devastation. It’s hard to say. I can’t return to thinking the way I used to think so I have no honest comparison. I do know that as I recovered from treatment I intentionally designed my own pathways back to health. I’m starting to suspect that I modelled the rebuild on permaculture. It seems that I may have bundled some of my previous knowledge together and developed some new and unusual connections. I feel like this evolution of my brain is a new and improved version. I allow for the possibility that my thinking is actually very ordinary, but just novel to me because my cognitive function was so poor for a couple of years. I may just be a three year old discovering the joy of twirling around in circles.

In any case, it’s great fun to think and explore and design and create. I am perhaps the bird that broke its wings only to rediscover the joy of flight. I have a new appreciation that can only come from spending time unable to fly. I dip and swerve and soar for the sheer joy of it, and delight in the company of anyone that wants to play along side me. I feel like an eagle. I may be just a delusional sparrow, but this does not in any way detract from the joy of flight.

PS: Thank you to everyone that has remained interested in this blog and my apologies for not writing more frequently. I’ve been busy. If you enjoy my writing and want to read about something other than cancer I have another site here:
Smarter than crows

I’ll be copying this post to there, but everything else on that site is different to this one. It’s kind of a parking space for my new brain.

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