For those of you that had chemo, you get it. ‘Chemo brain‘ is an umbrella term used to describe the effects chemotherapy and other medications have on the brain. It affects 17-75 % of cancer patients (big range) and many symptoms can be temporary, while some last longer.1
Feeling like you’re in a fog
I’ve heard many survivors refer to it as fogginess. That sums it up for me pretty good. I have trouble completing sentences, multitasking, focusing, forgetting names of common items, and my memory is horrendous. I think that’s what bothers me the most. I’ve always had a great memory. Not quite photographic, but pretty close. In college (at 38-42 years old), I could read something once and not only memorize it, but actually understand it. Now, I need to read something complex multiple times, which is most of my reading regarding cancer, and there’s still a good chance I won’t fully understand it.
Some days are worse than others
My brain is foggier on some days than others. It’s difficult to plan around sometimes and I’m not really good at winging it, since I have a type A personality. I like to be prepared and I’m a chronic planner. Everyone that knows me is nodding their heads. I’ve learned I need to go with the flow sometimes and that’s not always easy for me. I feel like I’m always apologizing for my scattered and fleeting thoughts, but my family is very forgiving. I often have to take a deep breath and let go of my expectations.
Even though I had chemo 6 years ago, many of these symptoms still challenge me every day. I actually think it has gotten worse this last year. This may, or may not, have something to do with my targeted therapy drug I’ve been on for 57 months. It could also be that I’m just getting older – which I’m very grateful for.
Learning to live with it
There are a few things I’ve learned to make my new cognitive abilities (or inabilities) more manageable. Getting plenty of sleep makes a big difference for me. So does exercise and drinking at least 64 ounces of water daily. Water is a major constituent of every cell including your brain. According to this article, dehydration not only affects your cognitive function and memory, but also your sensitivity to pain and your mood. So, if not for yourself, do it for those around you. Drink more water!
I have ongoing lists to remind me to do things and I put everything in my calendar on my phone. And I mean everything. I’d be lost without it. These tools help me, but I still get frustrated. I’ve had to learn to be gentle with myself. I can’t always complete my list, but tomorrow is another day. I’ll just have to deal with it then.