The Chemo Brain Struggle Continues

The Chemo Brain Struggle Continues

I have been on chemotherapy for two years and then immunotherapy for the next two years (still on immunotherapy).  BOTH list cognitive issues as side effects and I am here to tell you - IT IS NO JOKE.

Chemo brain is defined by the American Cancer Society as:

  • Forgetting things that they usually have no trouble recalling (memory lapses)
  • Trouble concentrating (they can’t focus on what they’re doing, have a short attention span, may “space out”)
  • Trouble remembering details like names, dates, and sometimes larger events
  • Trouble multi-tasking, like answering the phone while cooking, without losing track of one task (they’re less able to do more than one thing at a time)
  • Taking longer to finish things (disorganized, slower thinking and processing)
  • Trouble remembering common words (unable to find the right words to finish a sentence)1

I have a daily conversation with someone who says to me, "I told you that." I have NO idea what they are talking about. I go into the kitchen and by the time I get there, I have NO idea what I went in there for. My family and friends always make references to something we did together and I have no recollection.

Finding ways to manage my chemo brain

I have had to reorganize my life in such a way to help me from forgetting everything....and I mean everything.  I keep track of all my appointments on my Gmail Calendar on my phone so it is backed up online for the many times I deleted something and forgot about it.  I have a 5" x 8" planner where I write everything else down. Specific days when prescriptions need to be refilled, when to make appointments, and, if I am cooking that day, it will list what I'm cooking and what ingredients I need.

On television, there is nothing about chemo brain, but many television shows depict characters with dementia. For me, chemo brain almost seems like a mild case of dementia. A good example is that at the beginning of the month, I separate my money by the bills I have to pay. I have notes in my planner, otherwise, I would have NO idea why this pile of cash is wrapped separately from all my other cash.

Coping with a little bit of humor

On a daily basis, luckily, my family and I approach my diminishing cognitive skills with humor. At first, it made me angry and then I realized there really isn't much I can do about it so why not go with the flow. As a mom of 7, I write down everything my kids tell me (they are all grown) to remember what they are doing on a daily basis.

On a final note, a good example was last night. My daughter purchased a Wendy's Frosty for me to have as a late night snack. It was delicious. Two hours later I had a thought, "Oh boy, I have a Frosty in there." I went to the freezer and there wasn't one. I yelled "who ate my Frosty?" and the answers coming from the other room with laughter were, "YOU ALREADY ATE IT, MOM!!"

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Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on January 28, 2020, Jennifer Toth passed away. Jennifer was a passionate advocate for the Lung Cancer community. She will be deeply missed.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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