Blog and rehab04 Mar 2018 07:09 pm

I was expecting a return to academia to be challenging, but it has been much tougher than I anticipated.  Impairments that were potential issues for me when I was starting my journey into life as a brain tumor survivor are resurfacing as new challenges in a new environment.  The most shocking impairment for me is short-term memory loss.  I’ve been able to hide these deficits with technology and putting things in my long-term memory, but has been exposed in a formal academic setting. Learning new materiel/concepts for quizzes and exams in a classroom environment with time constraints is more difficult to get stored into my long term memory.  My memory is not completely horrible, but there is definitely difficulty remembering things that are presented to me for the first time.  Initially, I attributed it to old age or the lengthy break from school, but I noticed that things that I read don’t “stick” as easily as they did before.  I did recall that on a neuro-cognitive test after brain surgery, one of my physicians mentioned a “mild cognitive impairment”.  I’m trying to locate the official note now.  “Chemo brain” or other memory impairments are probably reasons why many of survivors don’t return to school.  My long term memories are still intact, but my short term memory is definitely impaired as evidenced by my performances on in-class quizzes and exams.   This has been extremely frustrating!  I’ve been able to compensate short memory deficits with:  the use of my smart phone to jot down notes/reminders, a lot of repetition, and concrete application of new material.  When I first started down this ambitious path of returning to school as an older student I remember thinking, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  I think a more correct approach to take is, “How do you teach an old dog new tricks.”  Starting a program in a new professional discipline is tough, but combining that with cognitive and physical challenges is VERY difficult.  I’m trying out different learning strategies to see if that will help retain new memories.  I’m trying not to get discouraged by my poor academic performance, but this is very frustrating and a huge blow to my confidence.  I can only imagine what this does to the confidence of a pediatric, adolescent, or young adult patient with short term memory issues who is just starting to create his/her identity.  I’m starting to gain in-depth understanding of the issues neurology patients with memory impairments must face. It’s been a very “eye opening” experience. I’m starting to wonder if returning to school was the right move… why do I need to get another degree?  My goal in returning to school in Houston was to do research and make connections.  I am meeting a lot of people in the Houston Disability Advocacy community through the Independent Living Research Union at the Texas Institute of Rehabilitation and Research.  I am trying to figure out my next move.  Do I spend all the time and energy to get another degree?  Or do I apply my experiences to the disabled/brain tumor community?  If my long term memories are still intact from before the surgery, I still have my physical therapy knowledge and leadership knowledge… I can still apply that prior knowledge to everything I’m doing now and planning to do in the future.  Just have to decide which professional path to take…

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