Blame It On the Chemo Brain - Tips and Tricks for Coping

by GregP_WN

Many cancer patients have felt a brain fog before, during, or after cancer treatment. Commonly referred to as chemo brain, the exact cause is unknown, however recent studies have found that some cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause changes in the brain. 

Chemo Brain

Not everyone experiences chemo brain , but those who have know that it includes trouble concentrating, trouble remember details or how to do everyday tasks, losing your train of thought, trouble multitasking, and even forgetting words halfway through a sentence.

No matter what exactly chemo brain is, it might be helpful to shift the focus to ways to cope with chemo brain. It’s surprising to see all the creative things people have done! It’s also good to know that sometimes the best thing to do is blame it on the chemo brain.

1. Warn Others
To avoid coming off as a space cadet, warn your family, friends, and co-workers that your memory might not be as good as it used to be. You could even suggest ways for them to help you like reminding you of things twice or forgiving you when you do have those foggy moments.

“Once I realized what was going on, I let my family know that my memory would be unreliable. I also let everyone know, doctors' offices included, that they needed to follow up with an e-mail to confirm any appointments or commitments of my time.” -JMS

2. Keep a Planner or Cancer Journal
There are a lot of things to remember when you have cancer from appointments to side effects of treatment to even emotions you are feeling through treatment. You may have difficulty remembering things happening during the day but also things from last week. It helps to write these things down.

“I asked for a day planner for Christmas. It was the best thing! I could write everything down, and I mean everything: times to take medication, people's names, schedules, appointment times, etc.” -copland16

3. Engage Your Mind and Body
Some WhatNexter’s have found that engaging their mind with word puzzles, Sudoku, or memory games can act as a kind of mental exercise. Physical activity has also worked for some, especially if they do it consistently in their routine to maintain some structure in their life.

“I started to challenge my brain everyday. What I find works best is forcing myself to work on coordination of the body. Either playing a quick reaction game on the computer or even better, dancing. It seems to help by forcing my brain to send the signals to the body to react or move a certain way.” -debco148

4. Use Post-Its
It might be helpful to leave little notes for yourself around your house or in your planner. You can stick them to anything, and they are hard to miss.

“Best thing for me is to use the 3x3 Post-It notes on the bathroom mirror. I look in the bathroom mirror everyday and I see the note. (Hint: neon color is even better than the traditional yellow!).” -jad

5. Call, Email, or Text Yourself
If writing things down for yourself is not effective, some WhatNexter’s will call themselves and leave a message on their phone, email themselves, write texts to themselves as a reminder, or set alarm notifications on their phone.

“I call myself and record important things on my cell phone that I need to remember when I am out and about.” -lynn1950

“I use alarms on my phone to help with chemo brain. When I create the alarm, I write what it relates to: meds, bills, appointments, whatever I need to do. I also created alarms for helping remind me to drink water!” -carolchristao

6. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
It may seem elementary, but some WhatNexter’s say they must simply say what they are doing over and over again in their head or else they will forget things even from room to room.

“I have found that it helps to repeat what I'm doing in my head over and over again until I complete a task, like "glass of water, glass of water, glass of water" so that when I get to the kitchen for the glass of water I don't stand there for 5 minutes wondering why I'm in the kitchen.” -Bashiemn

7. Organize Meds
A big frustration my be forgetting to take meds or forgetting which ones you are supposed to take that day. The 7-day pill box with individual slots can help keep track of what you are supposed to take and if you have taken it yet.

“I keep my meds in a week long pill box to keep them sorted out on whether I remembered to take them on any given day. It even helps me to figure out what day of the week it is by leaving the "used" slots opened until time to fill it.” -moonmaiden

8. Join a Book Club
A book club or other type of club where you are exercising your mind and having deeper conversations with people could help keep you on your toes when you have chemo brain.
“The most helpful thing I have found is my Bible Study Group because we memorize verses from the Bible. If you are not religious, I think that a book club or card club would be as helpful.” -BoiseB

9. Take Pictures
Some people have wanted to remember their journey with cancer; if you are one of those people, then it may be meaningful for you to document your journey with pictures instead of taking the risk of forgetting small victories and meaningful moments.

“I wish I had taken pictures. I wish I had let my wife follow me everywhere and take pictures of everything, the good, bad and the ugly. Looking back now at what I went through, I don't have much to remember it by but a failing memory.” -GregP_WN

10. Find Your Sense of Humor
While you may feel annoyed and frustrated at first, some WhatNexter’s have resolved that chemo brain is here to stay and therefore it’s okay to laugh about all those quirky things they end up saying and doing.

“I am told that I am funnier than I was before. I think the chemo rewired some brain functions and I see humor in lots of things that I didn’t before!” -SpunkyS

“My survivor buddies and I make a joke out of it when we've forgotten something. It also makes you do crazy things like taking the clean dishes out of the dishwasher and putting them in the refrigerator. Sit back and laugh and use the excuse "It’s the chemo brain!!” -Snooks

It’s good to know that no one is alone in experiencing this bran fog. Have you experienced any funny moments with chemo brain? Do you have any new ideas about coping day-to-day?

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Blame it on the Chemo Brain - Tips and Tricks for Coping

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