I have realised that perhaps the most precious things we have in life are our memories.
The fleeting thoughts that make us smile, those special things that make the butterflies in our stomach flutter. That flash suddenly before our eyes as if we are there in that place again, in that one particular moment, and it is all as real as could be.
Older memories of school days and family holidays, bring with them familiar smells and sounds. Newer memories of long evenings spent in the company of good friends, eventually turning into weddings and births. All of the little things add up to make us who we are. Individual and unique.
And yet my memories are beginning to falter, to fade, and in some cases completely disappear as if they were never there in the first place.
Myself and my husband recently settled down to watch a film all about a lady who discovered that she had Alzheimer’s disease. Still Alice, told of a heartbreaking story where a University professor begins to lose her memories – and even worse, the type of Alzheimer’s she has is aggressive and genetic. It follows her story from the point that she realises that she is beginning to forget things – right through to visiting her doctor, telling her own children and then trying her hardest to maintain her career. The story goes on, right up until the point that she forgets the answers to the three important questions she sets herself, for she knows that if she can no longer answer these questions then her memory will have truly left her forever.
It does not take a lot to make me cry nowadays, but this film caught me off guard and I was captivated throughout. Could I remember the simple question that her doctor asked her? the same question he posed to her upon each visit. I could answer the question, and so I breathed a sigh of relief, but I inwardly worried that I would fail.
I believe the technical term is ‘chemobrain’, which I hate.
Sometimes I hate the phraseology that comes with cancer treatments. A phrase attributed to a change in concentration and memory or the ability to think clearly. Unfortunately, it seems that my head began to give up on me quite some time before I fell ill, and it is a difficult thing to come to terms with. Of course I blamed it on the initial hurricane of motherhood. Another term that I came to dislike was ‘baby brain’. Whatever you would label it, I seemed to have it. I have left keys on the outside of doors, locked myself out, left purses in shops, lost my car in car parks. I have left taps running, irons switched on and I have placed things in the fridge that really do not belong there.
I could go on (although at this point my long suffering husband will have his head in his hands) because this is the daily reality that he has to live with. At first we would argue about it. Him adamant and exasperated, me stubborn, and yet in the end we both realised that I am just forgetting things, more and more it seems.
In a way it is funny.. sometimes in life you have to laugh, or you would just cry.
A friend of mine recently bought me notebook entitled ‘Stuff I am Likely To Forget’, and I use it all the time to make lists and record things that I need to remember. That book comes everywhere with me. We did have a chuckle at work as I attempted to describe the film Still Alice and I managed to confuse the leading actress for some other Hollywood star. It was funny, but a little bit tragic – that I couldn’t even remember the film I had watched not one week since, that had made such an impression on me.
And so I have a new found empathy for those living with, or caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s, partly because I am touching the very boundaries of memory loss myself.
The experience is making me more determined than ever that if I am to lose important memories, I will do my utmost to create new and better ones for my own children.
They will forever have memories of singing in the car, cuddling watching a favourite television show, going to the seaside or even sipping on hot chocolate before bedtime. They are our memories, just ours.
And it is working, I can see it is working.
My little girl said to me at bedtime the other night, “Mummy, that was the day we went to the seaside and I got sand in my shoes” as she pointed to the only picture in her room of me carrying her along Filey beach a few Summers ago (all because she refused to get sand in her jelly shoes!)
That was a very special day, and one that I hope she will never forget.
As ever, the wonderful MacMillan provide support for this http://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/treating/chemotherapy/side-effects-of-chemotherapy/chemo-brain.html