What Is "Chemo-Brain" Really Like, and How to Fight it

by GregP_WN

 Where Oh Where

According to The Mayo-Clinic the definition of Chemo Brain is:

Chemo brain is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment. Chemo brain can also be called chemo fog, chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment or cognitive dysfunction. Cognitive problems occur when a person has trouble processing information. This includes mental tasks related to attention span, thinking, and short-term memory.

MD Anderson describes it as - Chemobrain, formally known as cognitive dysfunction, is a symptom reported by many cancer patients. Chemobrain, or difficulty in efficiently processing information, is a legitimate, diagnosable condition that may be caused by chemotherapy treatment, the cancer itself, or secondary medical conditions such as anemia.

But, ask any cancer patient that is suffering from it and you won't get a clinical description, but more likely they will tell you something like these descriptions from our WhatNext Community:

Meyati: I had a good example, but I forgot what it was.                                                                                       Chemo Brain Wait What Was I Saying

Coco5253: I've been known to tell my husband an interesting story only to discover he's the one that told it to me earlier.                                  Chemo Brain Forgive Me If I Told You This Before

Related Post - "8 Ways You Have Gone Totally "Chemo-Brain"

RichardC: Inability to focus, can't multitask. Takes total concentration to perform work or completes some tasks. Forgetting names but remembering faces. Total frustration with not being able to get the words out to describe things.                                                        Chemo Brain Can't Multi Task

BuckeyeShelby: I'll just stare blankly into space, hoping that missing word will drift by. And it's stupid stuff, like spoon or alarm clock. If it were some scientific term or name of a med or something, I could understand. But spoon!?!? Sigh...       Chemo Brain Remember The Spoon

Kris103: Knowing I need to go to the store, but not knowing what for. I need to take notes for everything!

Related Article - 7 Tips on Coping With Chemo Brain

GregP_WN: Letting the dog outside to pee, then thirty minutes later asking your Wife where the dog is.                                                         Chemo Brain Have You Seen The Dog

Mallory Jean, WhatNext Facebook Page: Most of the time it's knowing something but having no way to put it into words an explain it. I end up looking like a fraud and people not believing me that I know something.                                                                                                                                                 Chemo Brain Can't Remember What I Was Going To Say

Jennifer Bertoldo, WhatNext Facebook Page: I sooo have this. I use the wrong words all the time. An example? well, I kept trying to say "happy anniversary" to a friend last February. I kept saying Happy Thanksgiving...said it repeatedly. ugh

TxHills: It is suddenly having dyslexia for both reading and writing when I've never had it before. It is a long lag time waiting for the right word to come to me when speaking.

Hussy: Telling the doctor you have concerns about your "cauliflower" (gallbladder).

Roberta Haney-Jones, WhatNext Facebook Page: I made myself a cup of coffee this morning. It came out [clear]. Told my hubby the coffee maker was broken. Turned out that I forgot to put the coffee grounds in.                                                                                                                         Chemo Brain Forgot Coffee

While some of these things may give you a chuckle, the fact is that chemo brain is extremely frustrating to those of us who have it. We didn't forget to pick your stuff up at the store on purpose, we didn't leave our phone outside in the rain just so we could get a new one. We feel bad when someone thinks we do these things on purpose.

Lapses in memory, losing our train of thought, not remembering co-workers names, forgetting to make calls or be at meetings all can put our employment in jeopardy. When someone says, "oh, I know how you feel, I lose my keys all the time". NO......you don't know how I feel. 

Here are some tips to help combat the effects of chemo brain from  Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center 

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center behavioral psychologist Dr. Bonnie McGregor suggests trying these things:

* Try mindfulness. “If you can attend to things longer, you are more likely to store them [in memory]”. Any kind of yoga or mindfulness practices such as sitting or walking meditation can help you develop your ability to pay attention, and could lead to better memory retention. Classes are often available at little or no cost through hospitals, doctor’s offices, or community centers.

* Get some physical exercise. Memory and executive function (decision-making abilities, basically) have been shown to improve after mild to moderate physical exercise. “You have to be careful if you are already fatigued,” said McGregor, “but exercise can reduce levels of inflammatory cytokines.” A midday walk is a gentle place to start.

* Work on your strengths. Dr. Monique Cherrier, research associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington and affiliate investigator with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center  reminds patients to not focus on their weaknesses. “What can you do to work on your strengths?” she asks. Try building on the things you can still do well—perhaps cooking from recipes, playing board games, or completing jigsaw puzzles.

Some tips from the American Cancer Society

* Exercise your brain. Take a class, do word puzzles, or learn a new language.

* Use a detailed daily planner or your smart phone. Keeping everything in one place makes it easier to find the reminders you may need. Serious planner users keep track of their appointments and schedules, “to do” lists, important dates, websites, phone numbers and addresses, meeting notes, and even movies they’d like to see or books they’d like to read.

* Set up and follow routines. Pick a certain place for commonly lost objects and put them there each time. Try to keep the same daily schedule.

* Don’t try to multi-task. Focus on one thing at a time.

* Track your memory problems. Keep a diary of when you notice problems and what’s going on at the time. Medicines taken, time of day, and the situation you are in might help you figure out what affects your memory. Keeping track of when the problems are most noticeable can also help you prepare. You’ll know to avoid planning important conversations or appointments during those times. This will also be useful when you talk with your doctor about these problems.

* Try not to focus on how much these symptoms bother you. Accepting the problem will help you deal with it. As many patients have noted, being able to laugh about things you can’t control can help you cope. And remember, you probably notice your problems much more than others do. Sometimes we all have to laugh about forgetting to take the grocery list with us to the store.

Have you had trouble with chemo brain? What tips can you share with others to fight it off? Please share in the comments. 

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