Is Your Brain Puzzled?

It is important to keep your brain active while you are going through chemotherapy. We all get “chemo brain,” and it’s especially true if you tumor has set up camp in your neuro region. My speech therapist encouraged me to do word puzzles (crosswords, fill-in, wordsearch . . .) in multiple platforms. One benefit of doing a crossword on paper is that you are exercising multiple parts of your brain. The cerebral cortex manages speech and reading comprehension. Another part of your brain controls the mobility of your hand while you write.

I love old-school puzzles in the newspaper or a book, but phone and tablet apps help my help me utilize another part of the brain. Isn’t it ironic? (cue Alanis Morissette). Here are a apps you can download for free on your smartphone or tablet.

  • Wordsearch: The app is pretty straight forward. You get a list of words that grouped by categories. The puzzle get more challenging the more you play the game.
  • Word Swipe:
  • The puzzles in Word Swipe are also categorized by theme, such as world landmarks, 1960’s pop culture, and famous authors. Every day there is a famous quote to decipher, and it’s a great way to learn about history/geology.

  • Memorama: This is a basic memory game. You turn cards over to find a match. It’s as easy as that.
  • Onet Connect and Onnect: Both of these game require you to find matching pictures. They’re different that Memorama because the pictures are face-up and you have to able to connect the pictures with just three lines. Onet Connect shows the same pictures each level, but the tiles start to move around. Onnect is similar, but the pictures change every level. You can replay the same level to increase the speed of your matching. I like to play the levels at least three or four times before I move onto the next level.

Video games can also exercise your mind.

  • I love Big Brain Academy for Wii. It has several memory games, as well multiple visual recognition puzzles. The utilize five types of learning: math, memory, matching, visual. You can play the game alone to build up strength. You can also play with multiple players to encourage a sense of competition.
  • Tetris a great throwback to the 1980’s is also available on Wii and the Amazon Firestick. This game utilizes space recognition and logic. You have to think about how different moves will set you up for future moves. It’s fun to play solo, or with a partner.
  • There are games to download to your phone or tablet that are similar to Tetris. 1010!, Flow Free, and Unblock Me both focus on block placement.
  • I change back and forth between games so that I don’t get bored. Think about going to the gym, or preparing for a marathon. Different types of physical exercise focus on specific parts of your body. Wee should take care of our brain as much as we tend to the rest of the body.

    I hope these tips can help you maintain your brain, your body, and emotional strength healthy are you travel through your cancer treatment. And if you don’t have cancer, we all need to keep our brains in check. So keep a puzzle on hand – even if it’s an old school paperback puzzle. There’s still value in the classic forms of reading.

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Enough is Enough

I have had the privilege of sharing my stories with Female Storytellers!, a local organization that provides monthly writing prompts and gives women (however they define that identity category) to share their stories with a live audience. This month’s prompt was “Enough.” I was drawn to this prompt because I have had enough time on chemotherapy to speak from the heart about the impact is has made on my life.

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Chemo Can Kick You Into Early Menopause

One of the predictable side effects of chemotherapy and radiation is a disruption of hormone production. Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 45-56, but menopause can occur earlier if you are receiving chemotherapy; if you’re using hormone replacement therapy (either because of chemotherapy, or because you’re transgender); or if you’ve had a hysterectomy.

Symptoms of menopause include:

  • Hot flashes
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Headaches
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Urinary problems

I have experienced all of the conditions of menopause thanks to being on chemotherapy for over eight years. I don’t miss tampons, but I do miss feeling chilly.

I started dealing with early menopause a few weeks after I started receiving Avastin, an IV chemotherapy treatment. The downside, however, was that I started having hot flashes and headaches. Even small changes in room temperature or ligthing can trigger a migraine. Although I’m usually cold (even in the Arizona desert), I have to dress in layers so that I can strip/redress depending on my perceived body temperature.

There are several things you can do to address the side effects of menopause. Acupuncture is one of those tools. I enjoy getting acupuncture because it works. And at the very least, I get a good nap when I go in for treatment. Acupuncture has helped reduce the frequency and intensity of my migraines and hot flashes. It has also helped me manage my depression.

Don’t let menopause get you down. Take care of yourself, and focus on healing.

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Clean Slate

The year is coming to an end, and what a year it’s been . . . for all of us. Trump has dominated the headlines, but I don’t want to talk about him. I want to talk about me. It’s my blog, after all.

I have had a good balance between positive and negative experiences in 2017. I went to Rochester, NY in January to attend the March for Women’s Lives with my brother and his daughters. I was so excited to see people coming together to celebrate the importance of women’s history and women’s leadership. The icing on the cake was watching my nieces making their own posters. They were eager to be a part of social justice activism. My heart melted when my oldest niece told me she was a feminist without any prompting from me.

My tumor is stable. I’m cutting my chemo treatments back to once a month. MRI’s will be quarterly, rather than every other month. I’ve graduated from speech therapy and have been enjoying the challenge of intense physical therapy to help me maintain my balance. My quilting skills have grown, thanks to volunteering with Project Linus Tucson. I get to drive once a week to run errands. These may sound like small victories, but it’s the little things that help us create and share positive energy. Just think of the atom. It’s miniscule, but it’s the basis of all life. [Read more…]

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Dear Senator McCain

Senator John McCain returned to the Senate floor today, after spending just five days in recovery from surgery to remove a brain tumor. Senator McCain’s office released a confirmation of his diagnosis on July 19th. He has a glioblastoma, one of the most difficult types of brain tumors. I applaud McCain’s tenacity, but I am very disappointed by his stance on the Affordable Care Act. This is my response.

Dear Senator McCain,

Congratulations on heading back to the Senate floor. I admire your tenacity.

I am reaching out to you as a fellow brain cancer warrior. I was diagnosed with stage 3 Astrocytoma five years ago. I was self-employed, and my partner was in graduate school when I received my diagnosis. We did not have health insurance. However, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect in the Spring of 2012, and I was fortunate enough to get insurance coverage through the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP). I paid for my policy, deductibles, and co-pays, just as anyone else does. My partner dropped out of grad school so he could find a stable job that provided health insurance. Thanks to the PCIP requirements, I was able to obtain stable health insurance when the PCIP expired.

I have been on chemo for five years. I have had three separate different sets of radiation. I have had bi-monthly MRI’s for the past five years. I have utilized speech therapy and physical therapy. If the ACA is repealed, I (as well as every other cancer patient in the United States) could be at risk losing health care insurance. That is unconscionable.

Please vote no for the repeal of the ACA. Healthcare is a basic human right. You owe it to yourself, your constituents, and all your fellow cancer warriors to stand up and speak out.

I look forward to your support and send you positive, healing energy.

Sincerely,
Serena Freewomyn

Dealing with cancer is hard work. I am blessed to have the support of my family and friends. However, I have wracked up over $300,000 of debt ($60,000 was from one visit to the ER) because of cancer. Please contact your Congressional representatives and urge them to keep healthcare coverage available for everyone, not just the one percent. We can’t say that the US is the greatest country in the world if we don’t have equitable access to healthcare.

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