Does any of this sound familiar? You're halfway through what will be six rounds of chemotherapy when you notice a dense fog rolling over your brain. You grow forgetful. The responsibility of making even small decisions overwhelms you. You find multitasking impossible; good luck completing any task at all. Driving shatters your nerves; you're disoriented, no longer sure which direction is home. You lose your keys, your glasses, your cell phone, and realize with a panic that the kids are waiting for you at school. You haven't a clue where you parked your car. You leave water running in the sink and food burning on the stove. You struggle to retrieve words (you know it begins with a "ka" or "ch" sound and it's oh-so-close, right there on the tip of your tongue). Ditto for numbers. You pick up a book and put it down because after the first paragraph, you have no idea what you just read. You avoid social situations because you can't follow the thread of a conversation. And you wonder, what is happening to me?
If you can relate, then chances are you're experiencing what researchers refer to as "cancer or cancer-treatment-related cognitive impairment," also known as, "chemo brain," or as I like to say, "Where the hell is my memory?" You're not alone. In fact, among lymphoma and breast cancer survivors where there's the most data, up to 80 percent of people who undergo chemotherapy report some amount of cognitive impairment. For some, the condition is fleeting. For others, it may last for years.
Undoubtedly you're concerned. So talk to your oncologist and gather as much information as you can. In the meantime, although there is no cure or prevention as yet for chemo brain, here are some strategies that may help:
- Ask for a referral to a neuropsychologist who should be able to evaluate your language, motor, and sensory and visual-spatial skills, as well as how you reason and process information. This is an especially good idea for people who have not yet begun treatment but are worried about the cognitive fallout and want to establish a baseline. Whether you're newly diagnosed or not, a neuropsychologist can monitor you over time and work with you to strengthen any areas of weakness.
To learn more about chemo brain, read "Your Brain After Chemo: A Practical Guide to Lifting the Fog and Getting Back Your Focus" by Dan Silverman, MD, PhD, and Idelle Davidson.
For more by Idelle Davidson, click here.
For more on chronic conditions, click here.