Ron Sparks Author, Poet

Chemo Brain Attack


I haven’t blogged in a while; I have been so busy with the holidays and work that i haven’t had a chance to sit down and think. The only reason I am able to do so now is that I am in a hotel room in Washington, DC and have a little insomnia.

Six months ago I blogged about how I felt chemo brain may have affected my decision to quit my old job. On the whole, the “fuzziness” to my thinking that I referred to in that post has abated. But I still, occasionally, feel the effects of my chemotherapy. It hit me really hard today and it was embarrassing and humiliating because it happened in a professional setting.

(techno babble starting – you can skip to the next section if you want)

I was in my DC office meeting with two of my employees. A few weeks ago I introduced them to the concept of Object Relational Mapping (ORM) and Service Based Architecture (SOA) in .NET applications. Most of their applications have been, to date, monolithic applications reminiscent of classic ASP applications. While they have OO training the never had the opportunity to use it.

Anyway – I introduced them to a code generator called CodeSmith and ORM templates running on CodeSmith called .netTiers.

(end techno babble)

So I sat down to train them – and my mind went utterly and completely fuzzy on me. I started stuttering. I was unable to find and perform even the most elementary programming tasks in my code editor. I certainly wasn’t able to explain the rather advanced concepts they wanted me to show them.

i knew immediately that I was having a bout of chemo brain – and I said so out loud – but I kept trying to push through it. It doesn’t work like that. I just made it worse and I had this mental image of myself as some bumbling, incoherent, buffoon.

I started doubting myself. Did I really know this stuff? Was I perhaps just a buzzword manager and I know enough to sound intelligent, but I couldn’t really do it? It seemed to me I remembered using these tools and concepts in the past, but it seemed almost unreal.

Eventually, with a lot of patience and a few deep breaths, I managed to perform the basic tasks i needed to show my employees what I had wanted to show them in the first place. It was painful for them and it was painful for me.

I went to the airort to pick up my wife immediately after the botched training attempt. She flew in to share New Year’s with me in DC. I didn’t tell her about my chemo brain. we enjoyeda nice lunch at a noodle place in Crystal City and while she went exploring DC I went back to work.

When I got back to the office, my spell had passed. I fired up my code editor and within seconds I had accomplished what had taken me 40 minutes earlier in the day. I then went on and performed even more advanced operations, alked to vendors on the phone, managed my development team in Orlando, and prety much resumed business as normal.

I don’t know much about chemo brain, but here are the facts as they seem to affect me:

  1. I am not quite as quick-witted as I seem to be.
  2. It seems harder to grasp and retain things now. I have to concentrate just a little harder.
  3. I forget things more often than I used to.
  4. It’ gotten better over time, but I am not yet back to what I perceived myself to be before I had chemo.
  5. Every once in a while, I get hit by a spell of idiocy like I did today that completely shuts down my higher cognitive abilities for about 35 minutes.

Is this normal chemo brain? I don’t know. Maybe not. maybe I am blaming chemo brain on growing older; i will be forty in 3 months, you know.

I do think it’s chemo brain though. While it is better than it used to be, it still occasionally sucks to be caught unawares by a spell I didn’t see coming.

Oh – here’s a pic of my lovely wife outside the Noodles & Company restaurant we went to for lunch today. Maybe the spicy Thai noodles I had helped me kick the chemo brain spell! More likely, though, it was the joy I felt at seeing her for the first time in 2 days when she got of the plane.

About the author

Ron Sparks

Ron Sparks is a technology professional, science fiction and fantasy author and poet living in Zurich, Switzerland. His latest book "ONI: Satellite Earth Series Book 1" is available on

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  • How good is to know that’s possible to program again after enduring such a great battle. Like you I do programming I’m a software developer since 13 years old 🙂 it’s my work, my passion, I love to scratch my brain with a nice mental challenge, i.e. play chess, you know. And like you my life had an horrendous flip last year. I had what supposedly is a paraganglioma on my carotid bifurcation and also got a nice deep scar on my neck and soul. I didn’t do any chemo but there’s a real chance that I will endure it along with radiotherapy. What an inspiration your site is and thank you very much for sharing your experience. Losing my ability to think is one of my fears…

    • Hi Luís – I’m so sorry you have to deal with what you’re going through. You are not alone! I am here, on twitter, Facebook, and everywhere else if you ever need to chat. Also – make sure you find your support, be it a group, friends, family, or all of the above. You got this fight!

Ron Sparks Author, Poet

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Ron Sparks

Ron Sparks is a technology professional, science fiction and fantasy author and poet living in Zurich, Switzerland. His latest book "ONI: Satellite Earth Series Book 1" is available on


A man of many passions, I lay claim to a myriad of interests and hobbies. Among them, I am an amateur astronomer, an avid motorcycle rider, a whiskey aficionado, a (poor) surfer, a scuba diver, a martial artist, a student of philosophy, a proponent of critical thinking, a technologist, an entrepreneur, a cancer survivor, and I harbor a lifelong love of science fiction and fantasy. Feel free to strike up a conversation on the social networks below.

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