My Chemo Brain

In May 2014, I had my surgery to remove my left lung.  Six weeks later it was time to meet with the medical oncologist. Along with my family, he told us what would be involved in starting chemotherapy. The drug(s), frequency, options, etc.  At the time, it all seemed pretty reasonable and satisfied all of our questions.

Then, after the meeting was step 1. I needed to attend a Chemo Class with my primary caregiver.  Again, as in the past few months, I never questioned anything, did what I was told, and was the good patient.

Chemo Brain is a Common Side Effect

I learned how to prepare for chemotherapy, how to handle side effects and how to protect myself from "sick people."  It was very detailed and informative.  However, now 3 years later, I wonder, why wasn't chemo brain included in that class?  Chemo brain is a phrase used to describe the fogginess and forgetfulness that many in treatment experience. Every person reacts differently to the same medications. According to, chemo brain affects up to 75% patients receiving chemotherapy treatment.1 The American Cancer Society states that any of the following can manifest and intensify the forgetfulness:

  • The cancer itself
  • Other drugs used as part of treatment, such as steroids, anti-nausea, or pain medicines
  • Surgery and the drugs used during surgery (anesthesia)
  • Low blood counts
  • Sleep problems
  • Infection
  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Hormone changes or hormone treatments
  • Other illnesses, such as diabetes or high blood pressure
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Patient age
  • Depression
  • Stress, anxiety, worry, or other emotional pressure2

The Constant 'Fog' is Frustrating!

So, here I am 3 years later, unable to remember what I went into the kitchen to get, asking the same question 3 days in a row not remembering I asked yesterday, a "fogginess" in my head that won't go away. You know that feeling the first 3-5 minutes when you wake up in the morning that you sit and have to think about what to do next. That is how I feel every day. My children constantly respond to me, "I told you that yesterday, don't you remember?"

I have to write everything down in a planner. I have learned how to use my iPhone to keep notes on virtually everything.  They didn't teach me this in chemo class.  They never told me I wouldn't remember things I did 2 hours ago.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, Chemo Brain is REAL. Chemo Brain can be slight impairments or severe. I think I'm in the middle. I know my cognitive skills are diminished since being on some form of chemo for 3 years.

I just wish Chemo Class had prepared me for the cognitive changes my family and I would notice.

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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