Category: Uncategorized

Comedic Relief from Cancer

My local cancer center has an amazing program for comic relief in which comedians teach cancer patients and survivors how to do comic routines. Earlier this year, the first showcase was a huge success. I sat in the audience and as soon as the first person started, I wanted to sign up for the next one. I entertain myself all the time, so I could definitely do a comic routine! A few days ago, I had my first comedy class. I was so excited. I have been thinking about all the funny things that have happened along my journey and looking forward to learning whatever they would teach me in class…until my brain wasn’t having any of it. Part of the class is on-the-spot exercises in which we had to brainstorm and then share our results with the class. My brain. Couldn’t. Do. It. This led to a mini-meltdown with some tears in which I had to come to terms with this limitation. Here was another thing that I just assumed would be fine. It didn’t even occur to me that there would be an issue. So sitting in class, with a blank page because my brain was completely frozen…just sucked. Now that I’ve gotten over my frustration, I realize a couple things. I have to recalibrate my expectations for this class moving forward because I am not giving up. I am going to get to the comedy showcase. Also, this is  the first formal educational activity I’ve done since my brain has been wacky. Good info for me moving forward and also good thing I finished all my degrees years ago because there would clearly be some obstacles to making that happen now. At least I can laugh at myself through this stuff. Seriously. Maybe eventually I’ll have some good jokes to share on here when my brain gets around to realizing its comedic genius…which will hopefully be before my stand-up is scheduled. Otherwise that’s going to be five really awkward minutes for me and everyone in the audience that night!



I recently met up with an old friend and we were discussing how good I used to be with directions. My ability to know where I was and return to a place I had been was so good that my friends occasionally called me Rand McNally. One time in college, I went for a drive to intentionally get lost and was unsuccessful. However, after my brain surgery and subsequent treatment, my spatial abilities are some of the most impaired. This was evident from my cognitive testing and also from my recent attempts to do brain puzzles that require mental rotation or spatial comparisons. I know I’ve mentioned this before because it is a prominent aspect of my life now. These recent conversations, though, got me thinking about why my spatial abilities specifically were impacted and whether it is because my ability to internally visualize things is one of the reasons that my visual processing is “slowed” and impaired. I have been focused on my processing of visual stimuli from the world and hadn’t given much thought to whether my ability to internally visualize things had been impacted. I think the answer must be yes. It’s not just difficulty in interpreting outside visual information, but also manipulating internal visualizations as well. As I type this, it seems completely obvious; however, it was not something I had thought about previously…it also got me curious about what kind of visualizing occurs for people who have gone blind later in life and have visual memories to work with. If they have no visual stimuli from the outside world but their visual cortex is still working, I would assume they can still visualize things, possibly in a different way. There will never be a lack of interesting brain concepts to mull over.

Wired to be (too?) helpful

This evening I had a Lyft driver who, upon finding out I was returning home from the Cancer center, shared with me that she was a breast cancer survivor and then proceeded to tell me all about her beliefs in alternative medicines and how she has cured her own cancer without traditional Western medicine. I listened politely and engaged in some conversation, while getting the clear message that she knew more about cancer treatment than I did and she was bestowing her knowledge on me. This got me thinking a little bit about this innate urge we have to help people when we learn of some “problem” they may need assistance with. It seems to be a reflex in some ways, even when the situation is absurd when you dig a little deeper. For instance, why is it our natural response, when someone tells us they cannot whistle, to respond by showing they we can whistle? Or when someone says they cannot roll their tongue, we naturally roll our tongue to show them. Whistling or rolling your tongue at someone who cannot do it in no way helps them learn how to do it. If you think about it, it is essentially a slap in the face, a na-na-a-booey to someone who has just shared a personal limitation with us. Yet we don’t even think about it, it we just do it automatically. So is it the same absurd phenomenon with the Lyft driver talking to me as if she has better information about my medical issues and treatment than I myself do? That certainly seems absurd. Or is that completely different and just a personality issue? Is that a kind of a know-it-all complex of sorts? Thoughts are a-swirling. I was recently reading about how one of the theories about why yawning is contagious is empathy. Maybe this need to be helpful stems from that? I don’t know. It’s definitely absurd. At least my Lyft driver on the way there gave me recommendations for a great Turkish restaurant, so I’m going to say that makes up for the return trip driver.

What’s an escape room like after a brain tumor?

I had suspected for a while that I would not be good at an escape room. I had tried this once years ago so I knew what the general concept was. Given that I don’t do well in time-sensitive activities anymore and that I’m not the best at puzzles anymore, I figured an escape room would be pointless. However, my need to keep stepping out of my comfort zone and trying things like this triumphed. With four people I didn’t know and one person I did, I spent an hour in an escape room trying to solve the mystery of the black widow. As expected, I was pretty much useless in helping solve any of the puzzles and I couldn’t really follow what was going on with the group and any time I thought I might have something to contribute, they were already way ahead of me. Luckily it was a small room and only a group of 5 people in addition to myself so while it was over-stimulation of a sort, it wasn’t the kind that made me extremely uncomfortable. I simply surrendered to my limitations and amused myself with how different my reality is. The four people I didn’t know didn’t have any idea who I was or what I’d been through, so for all they knew I just wasn’t very bright.  More likely they were just focused on the game and didn’t even notice that I didn’t really contribute. It matters neither way.

I used to be really good at solving puzzles and I loved doing puzzles for entertainment. My cognitive testing from last year suggested that I can solve any problem if I have no time constraints. The escape room is a timed event, so that puts me immediately into that category of things I have difficulty with. I did wonder afterwards, if I was given the same instructions and allowed to just be in the room for as long as I needed to, would I have been able to figure the whole mystery out?  I have figured out how to put furniture together on my own, though the instructions for those aren’t intentionally trying to trick me. Maybe one day I’ll make friends with someone who runs an escape room and ask them if I can get in on a day they are closed and just see what happens. Anyone know anyone with an escape room hookup?

In addition to validating my lack of escape room skills, I also “attempted” to play ConnectFour and it was a laughable venture. My brain just had no idea how to use those old highways, clearly bogged down with lots of construction and detours that prevent my little signals from reaching their destinations in any useful time frame.  Maybe one day my brain will be able to connect more dots again…