Two brains, one in color with a lightswitch on, one dark with a lightswitch off

A Very Common Side Effect: Chemo Brain

Have you ever been talking with someone, and you lose track of what you were saying or you have a word at the tip of your tongue but cannot figure out what it is? I have unfortunately had this happen at the most inopportune times and I believe it is the side effect called chemo brain.

What is chemo brain?

Chemo brain is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur during and after cancer treatment. Chemo brain can also be called chemo fog, cancer-related cognitive impairment or cognitive dysfunction.”1 Let us chat a little about what chemo brain is and ways to overcome this side effect.

After my diagnosis

I received platinum base chemotherapy almost immediately after being diagnosed. We tried a TKI but when it failed, I was started on Cisplatin and Alimta in-patient during a hospital stay. They say that platinum-based chemotherapies often mess with the way we think and how we decipher the information. I have found this to be somewhat true. As I mentioned, sometimes when having a conversation, I have found a loss of specific words or even loss of my train of thought.

What works best for me

I personally have not found a way to alleviate this side effect. I have found that I communicate better via email or text. I have never been one for public speaking but now I try to avoid it at all costs. For my full-time job, I communicate about 90% of the time via email. It helps to be able to put my thoughts down and re-type as needed.

You may be one of the lucky ones and only must deal with chemo brain short term. However, personally, I feel that I have the long-term version of the chemo brain. As we all know, side effects such as this vary in severity depending on each person and their specific diagnosis.

I have found that it does help to explain to others what is happening. My family knows what chemo brain is and they have helped me when I am struggling. I am not suggesting that you tell everyone of course but if there is a situation it may be helpful to add a few notes to the conversation.

Ways to help potentially alleviate your chemo brain

I would like to note that there are a few ways to help alleviate some of the chemo brain effects. It is always suggested to keep yourself busy and your mind active. I like to play games on my phone but you can also do word seracs and crossword puzzles. Light exercise can also help combat some of the chemo brains. You can practice yoga, meditate, or even just go for a short walk in the park.

Chemo brain seems to be a very common side effect to most treatments (not all!) but I feel like we do not talk about it as much as some of the other side effects. Have you found that you have been affected by chemo brain? How have you dealt with this side effect? Let me know in the comments your experience and how you have handled it.

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