Episode 14: Managing Chemo Brain

“I don’t know where you get your delusions, laser brain.” Princess Leia, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back


Oh, hey there!  It’s been awhile.  This summer has been pretty busy.  In May I decided to audition for the summer musical at my local community theatre.  The show: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”  The part: Narrator.  Theatre is nothing new for me.  I’ve been involved since I was a teenager either as a performer or a music director.  However, this was my first audition since I finished my treatments.  I was very nervous and I went back and forth for months trying to decide if I was going to audition or not.  I had been so tired at the beginning of the year that I thought my body wouldn’t be able to handle it.  But more worrisome were my issues with “chemo brain.”

I love to perform and being on stage in front of hundreds of people doesn’t really faze me.  But there is one thing I still get nervous about: memorization.  I’ve always been a bit “flighty.”  I will go to do something and then 3 seconds later forget what that was.  I have to write things down… A LOT!  And now it’s worse.  I’ve talked before about how it’s hard for me to find my words sometimes.  But now,  how could I remember a whole bunch of them to sing over and over again while walking or dancing?  That was my big fear going into auditions.  But I worked through that fear and auditioned…  and got the part!  But even better, they cast two Narrators to split some of the singing parts and also sing together.  This was such a relief to me as I had someone there to help anchor me.

I knew the music to “Joseph” fairly well.  I’ve listened to the soundtrack over the years, but never was involved in the show until now.  The thing about “Joseph” is that everything is sung.  You can’t just reorganize a line or say something similar if you forget one because the show is reliant on the words fitting the music…  And there are SO MANY WORDS!  I started by listening to the original soundtrack.  Most of it is the same but there are some differences.  I made sure to mark where those differences were so that I didn’t learn it wrong.  Then I started to breakdown each song.  I’d go over the first line: read it, sing it, then do that a cappella.  Then I’d add the next line: read it, sing it, then do that a cappella and so on and so forth.  I’d also make sure to mark the lyrics where I would often stumble.  Then, when I got to the point of not needing the music, I’d practice one of two ways.  The first way would to just start singing one of the songs.  I wouldn’t think about it; I’d just sing it.  Then I’d think the other parts (so I wouldn’t be tempted to sing them at rehearsal).  The other way would be to grab a pen and paper and write down the first word or two of each phrase.  As long as I remembered that, I knew the rest would come.

The true test came when we were off book and eventually in front of an audience.  I can psych myself out by thinking TOO MUCH about the lyrics.  I made sure to go over them in my head at least once beforehand and then tried to just let go.  That didn’t always happen, but at least any mistakes I made were very minimal and probably not noticeable.  The nice thing about rehearsals is that I learned where my common mistakes would be so I could prepare myself for the shows.

So, ultimately, the thing I learned this past year is that I have trouble with words from time to time.  As frustrating as it is, I accept it.  When those moments happen, I either take a moment and think it out or ask someone for help.  BUT I also learned that I can still memorize music, even though it may take me longer and I may have to learn in alternative ways.  But I’m very happy I worked through my fear and auditioned.  I truly believe it helped strengthen my brain so that hopefully any issues will be few and far between!  But, like many things in life, it’s just something I have to work through.  Accepting it makes it less frustrating and easier to deal with.  I’m looking forward to my next performance during the theater’s 50th Anniversary show, which is actually next month already!  Let’s get memorizing!

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