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Did Chemo Brain Influence My Decision?

Posted Jul 31 2009 11:51am


I finished chemotherapy in January 2009. If you've read my blogs to date, you know that chemotherapy was much more traumatizing to my body than I thought it would be - but I always assumed the effects would be temporary and that once I was over the toxic side-effects, it would be done.

In fact, I assumed that radiation therapy would be my biggest challenge to overcome in the long term. For the most part this has been true; I have a hard mass of scar tissue under my skin on my neck. I have much less saliva than I used to have. I have difficulty swallowing because of the scar tissue in my throat.

Since I came back to work, though, I have noticed some mental changes as well. I am not the same man I used to be. There is some "fuzziness" in my thinking. I am not able to speak as quickly as I used to - the thoughts that were always on the tip of my tongue, fighting to get out, come at a more leisurely pace now. I am not quite as quick-witted as I used to be. I have to be more deliberate and thorough in my actions; I tend to get more easily distracted and have a more difficult time focusing on multiple things at one time.

I have, in short, post-chemotherapy cognitive impairment, or chemo brain for short. According to wikipedia, about 20-30% of people suffer from post-chemotherapy impairment. Some people have severe cases; I think I have a rather mild case. Still, I definitely have some form of chemo brain.

I also notice that my emotional responses to things are different than they used to be. I am not sure if I can pin that completely on chemo brain, though. Going through cancer treatments and rehabilitation changes a man; my emotional outlook may simply be a reflection of who I am as a man now. I am certainly more humble than I used to be.

There is one troubling issue though. I gave notice to my job last week. Tomorrow is my last day. I have been with this company for over three years. I met my fiance here. I love this company, the culture, and what it stands for. It's got amazing benefits, brilliant people, and a lot of chaos and energy.

I got the offer to become the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) of a small company here in town. It's a great offer, but not substantially better than where I am now. The biggest benefit, for me, is that I'll be flying back and forth to DC frequently and I'll be working with a long-time friend, surfing buddy, and business associate. I'll be very entrepreneurial, will define the standards for a company's technology strategy from the ground-up, and it is a step up in my career. Being a CTO is pretty much what I have always aspired to be, in this particular career path.

The decision to leave was much, much, much harder than any other professional decision I have ever had to make. Never before have I struggled with a career decision as I have with this one. I had a hard time separating logical reasons to stay or leave from emotional ones.

Emotionally, I have friends here, people who aren't that fond of me, a history or success. This company was here for me as I went through my cancer treatments. I met my fiance here. I have a lot of history here.

Logically, I felt like there wasn't a lot of growth opportunity beyond the job I was doing now. The chaos, while getting better every day, has put a lot of gray hair on my head. The CEO is the most visionary person I have ever met; I've never seen anyone dream bigger, and motivate an entire company to put it into practice.

I really struggled with that - emotional versus logical; pros versus cons. The chemo fog in my brain prevents me from seeing this as clearly as I would like; so I don't really have that 100% certainty I have always had to date that I am doing the right thing.

Don't get me wrong; I am intelligent, hard-working, and will always land on my feet. I am not uncertain that I will fail or that this decision will harm me or my family for years to come. I am good at what I do and will succeed.

But here I am, a day away from closing one door to open another, and I wonder; how much did Chemo Brain affect my decision to change jobs?
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