Chemo Brain: Fighting Through The Mental Fog
Disease related brain disorders are sometimes a byproduct of the “cure” and not necessarily the disease. Chemo Brain, the mental fog and cognitive decline associated with chemotherapy, is a prime example.
Chemo Brain, like other types of conditions that effect thinking, may be marked by:
- Memory loss
- Trouble paying attention
- Trouble finding the right word
- Difficulty with new learning
- Difficulty managing daily activities
- Difficulty remembering the order to perform daily tasks
The difference between Chemo Brain and other conditions is that these symptoms can manifest up to a year post chemotherapy and often are written off as part of something else.
As I started researching “chemo brain”, I was shocked to find articles titled: ‘Chemo Brain’ a Real Thing or ‘Chemo Brain’ The Debate. The following from the American Cancer Society stopped me dead in my tracks and really shed light on why this is even a debate.
“When you use the word “chemobrain,” your doctor may not be familiar with it. Tell him or her that chemobrain refers to cognitive problems after chemotherapy.”
AND…. “Talking to your doctor can be difficult, especially about symptoms of chemobrain. Not all health care professionals know how to evaluate chemobrain, and many may be unfamiliar with the resources that are available to help. If you have problems with memory and attention, or other difficulties related to chemobrain, speaking with your doctor is an important first step in getting the care you need.”
This is a very real condition that deserves to be treated like one. Chances are everyone you know has had at least limited firsthand experience with someone who has been in chemotherapy. Chemo Brain happens across the board without regard to age. I saw it in my mom, the most naturally intelligent person I ever knew, and most recently in a 25 year old awesome, bright young man. No age discrimination there….
There are things that caregivers, friends, and family can do to make things a bit better. Developing strategies to organize the day helps – making lists and putting items like shoes and keys in the exact same place every day make a huge difference. Games help; talking helps; interaction with others helps; and laughter helps. The biggest thing however, is knowing that others understand that this is a real condition and not a personality flaw or a weakness.
Here is a link to a short video from NBC News that gives a great perspective.
The following is a collection of podcasts from www.cancer.org that take you through the experience of chemo brain. The first in the series is so poignant – The Survivor’s Perspective – and is so worth the few minutes to listen.