Chemo Brain…Is it Real?


Odd what I can and cannot remember. I can’t remember the brand of the soup I had for lunch – bugs me so much I have to go dig through the kitchen trashcan to find the soup container and read the label. But I can clearly remember sitting in the Chemo Room for the first time. I had been scheduled for an interview with the chemo nurses, two very kind ladies who would be administering and supervising my chemotherapy. I remember hearing their voices, but that I only caught a few words here and there. I should have been listening closely to learn all the what, where, and when’s of it – and what to do when something other than that occurs. But my mind had other ideas. Every since I heard the words for the first time, “You have cancer,” my mind had a way of tuning out when conversation got too real. I’d find myself daydreaming, thinking about ANYTHING but what was happening at that moment. I guess it was my subconscious survival technique.

Anyhow, I remember sitting there straining my eyes to read magazine and newspaper articles tacked to a small corkboard on the wall behind the nurse. One of the articles was titled Chemo Brain. I was skimming through the article when the nurse asked if I had any questions about the information she had given. I did ask a question or two (exactly WHEN was my hair going to fall out, etc.) and the appointment came to an end. I never gave that article another thought.

Skip three and a half years to the present and my soup dilemma. This type of memory lapse seems to be a common occurrence for me, as well as frequent inability to focus or concentrate for any length of time. Am I crazy? Well maybe, or perhaps I have Chemo Brain! This thought sent me searching the internet for information on the topic. There wasn’t as much out there as I’d expected, but here’s what I found from the most credible sources:

The American Cancer Society defines Chemo Brain as mild cognitive impairment experienced by some people receiving treatment for cancer. The symptoms can include:

  • · Short-term memory lapse — forgetting things that they usually have no trouble recalling
  • · Trouble concentrating — can’t focus on what they’re doing, have a short attention span, may “space out”
  • · Trouble with word-finding, such as remembering names, not completing sentences, or not being able to think of a word
  • · Trouble multi-tasking, like answering the phone while cooking, without losing track of one task
  • · Taking longer to finish things– slower thinking and processing

This list describes my situation to a ‘T’!

The Mayo Clinic states that the term Chemo Brain is misleading. They believe it is unlikely the cognitive changes reported by some cancer patients are caused by chemotherapy alone, that many other factors combine to cause the issues. The American Cancer Society agrees that could be true, but adds that not enough significant research has been done to give conclusive answers.

From my personal experiences I find that things like stress, poor sleeping habits and diet, lack of exercise, and other factors commonly experienced by cancer patients and survivors definitely make the problem worse. But regardless of whatever scientific findings there may or may not be on the subject, Chemo Brain is real, and I have it.

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