Preserved: my pickled walnut!

My brain is…. a walnut!

One of the only parts of my body that hasn’t been poked, prodded, examined or scanned is my head.  Personally I think it ought to be examined but the medics say there’s no need…. they would think very differently if they could see what goes on in there. I think my brain looks something like this photo (courtesy of Flickr).  It’s wrinkly, has two hemispheres and lots of nooks and crannies where a multitude of random thoughts and chaotic images sulk around waiting for the most inappropriate moment to come to light.

Like the image of the sun shining brightly outside my bedroom window that caused me to wake up just before 3am this morning. I’m short-sighted so couldn’t see the time, I could barely find my way out of bed across the room to open the curtains. Once I’d established my bearings it didn’t take long to discover the sun does not shine at 3am, birds do not contemplate the dawn chorus and anyone without a walnut for a brain is still sound asleep.

Having returned to the safety of my duvet for a while I woke up a couple of hours later to find myself participating in another of the walnut’s favourite games…. the What have I done with  ________?  game.    Recently the ______ has included:  my mobile phone, the cats’ breakfast, my contact lenses, the laundry basket full of clean laundry, my notebook, my walking boots and the toothpaste.  Everything except my contact lenses has been safely recovered but my cats remain to be convinced of my trustworthiness when it comes to their food.  Fortunately the walnut managed to prevent me eating the cats’ breakfast; Kitekat megamix fish in jelly doesn’t really go with green tea and a banana first thing in the morning.   My stomach would definitely offer feedback if I tried that combination.

I believe it’s possible that my brain has always been a walnut, but I think it’s shrivelled appearance and slightly dodgy colour is more than likely a result of FEC.  I can’t swear categorically that all its deviant behaviour is due to chemical infiltration because the truth is, it used to do some very strange things without so much as a hint of drugs or alcohol. But I can report that it’s a whole heap stranger today than it was a few months ago and it would easily beat a barrel of eels in a ‘Guinness book of slipperiness’ contest.

For all its imperfections, my walnut brain has managed to see me through completion of the final two modules of my degree course this year.  The first module was pre-FEC but covered the period from my diagnosis through to surgery options.  Overall the walnut coped reasonably well, I managed a good pass in both the coursework and the exam.  The second module (that dictates the honours class for the degree), spanned the period from just before surgery through to FEC2. With a bit of extra effort and an extension for one of the coursework assignments my little walnut managed to keep going in spite of distractions – such as teaching my left arm to take over when my right side was temporarily dysfunctional in the summer.

I was, however, concerned about the exam for the final module.  By the time FEC2 came and went the walnut had a significant amount of extra work to do, not least of which was keeping my physical body alive and operational during several episodes of what can only be described as the medical equivalent of arsenic poisoning.  I suspected the What have I done with _____? game might have taken its toll on my ability to put forward a coherent, reasoned argument in 3500 words complete with citations and references.  

Whether it was luck, sheer bloody-mindedness, the raw power of walnut or a combination of the three I do not know.  But I learned today that I successfully passed the exam for my final module and was only 5 marks off a first in spite of all the chemical chaos.  With any luck this means my Christmas present is an upper second class honours degree to mark the culmination of three years part-time study on top of a more than full-time job.   Not bad for someone whose brain is a pickled walnut!


13 thoughts on “Preserved: my pickled walnut!

  1. Love the barrel of eels metaphor. Congratulations on your perseverance, wit, and positive energy. I can’t empathize with you, but I can definitely cheer you on. Hugs. Kozo.


    • A cheer and some hugs work wonders Kozo, thank you for sending them my way because they’re a big help on this particular journey.
      Sending bug hugs to you too and hoping they brighten your day 🙂


  2. Father speaking! Well done Tracy. I’m not sure where you inherited the ‘walnut’ from, but I do know where you got the insatiable appetite for knowledge. As for working like a Trojan, that does sound a little like The Pot Calling The Kettle Black! I’m sorry you inherited that particular trait, but it seems to have stood you in good stead over the years. I’m managing on about four hours sleep per night these days as there is always more to do than the available time allows. I do not expect you to manage on four hours a night for at least another twenty five years, so get your rest when you can. Congratulations again on an exceptional effort.


    • Hello dear Dad, wise but sleepless one. I recommend Guinness (a couple of pints) and Bernie Segal’s meditation CD’s. Failing that try recording daytime TV to watch later. It may not send you to sleep but you’ll attempt to claw your own eyes out to avoid it’s mind-numbing qualities. On a serious note, 4 hours isn’t enough sleep, please don’t turn into Mrs Thatcher because I’m very fond of you just the way you are.


    • Thank you so much! I’m in bed at the moment (my sleep pattern is all over the place just like the pickled walnut) but when I drag my bones out to face the world I’ll respond properly. And Congratulations on receiving this award too, you deserve it 🙂


  3. Tracy I’m participating in a Stanford research study of cognitive function in breast cancer so maybe in the future they’ll be able to tell others how chemo affects the “walnut” and potentially prevent it.


    • It is a little strange. I experienced similar things when I was sleep deprived after having my son. The thing I find most unusual is that certain activities are unaffected or possibly even improved yet others (spotting my own typos, repeating words and remembering where I put things) are of variable quality. It’s sometimes frustrating so it’s great that you’ve agreed to help with the research as you’ll help us all. I know there’ve been conflicting views on cognitive function for so long but I can see and feel things changing. Anything we can learn about how to deal with it is long overdue. I can cope with losing my breasts, I don’t want to lose my cognitive function.


    • Thanks Elizabeth. I blame dexamethasone and chemopause for this strange and unruly behaviour. My father may be partially resonsible too…. he passed on a genetic predisposition for working like a Trojan and staying up all night!


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