You’ve probably heard of chemo brain. Maybe you have it, or know someone who does. Maybe you’re wondering what on earth it is or why people get it (or don’t). Well, I’m here to help explain everything!
This is really a thing.
Every cancer patient has heard the term “chemo brain,” but what does it really mean? Chemo brain is a term used to describe cognitive changes that occur after chemotherapy. It affects many people who have had cancer treatment, not just breast cancer patients.
Many people who have had cancer and/or chemotherapy report similar symptoms, which are collectively known as “chemo brain.” The symptoms of this condition are similar to those of dementia: memory loss, confusion, trouble concentrating and multitasking. They also include word-finding difficulties, slow thinking and speech, poor judgment and lack of insight into one’s own mental functioning.
The causes of chemo brain are not fully understood. There are several factors that can increase your risk for developing it:
- The number of cycles of chemotherapy you receive or the dose of drugs you receive during each cycle
- Your age at diagnosis (the older you are when diagnosed with breast cancer, the greater your chance for developing chemo brain)
- Other medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes (having these conditions increases your chances for developing chemo brain)
- The length of time between your last dose of chemotherapy and the start of your radiation therapy or hormone therapy (if you receive these treatments)
Why does it happen?
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill fast-growing cells in the body, such as cancer cells. It’s important to know that chemo brain is not a mental or emotional condition, but rather a physical effect of treatment.
The brain changes associated with chemotherapy are caused by damage to healthy nerve cells and their connections, which can affect how you think and learn new things. This can also make it harder for you to concentrate on tasks like reading or doing simple math problems.
It’s important to note that the effects of chemotherapy vary depending on what type of cancer you have and which drugs you’re taking—so it’s impossible for everyone going through this treatment to experience the same side effects at the same time.
How does it affect you?
When a patient is first diagnosed with cancer, they often have trouble grasping the enormity of their situation and what it means for their future. As they move forward in treatment with chemotherapy, that fog can become even thicker. While you might notice some changes in your memory or concentration right away, other effects may not emerge until later on in treatment or after it has concluded.
Some patients report difficulty planning and organizing themselves as well as multitasking—they will forget to do something important because they get distracted by something else (or just plain lose interest). A common example is forgetting to pay bills on time; others include forgetting appointments or missing out on opportunities due to lack of follow-through.
Having cancer and/or chemotherapy means that your brain will function differently than before. Learn how to cope with that.
The most important thing you can do is take comfort in the fact that it’s not just you.
Chemo brain can be very frustrating for people who are going through treatment because a lot of the symptoms make it hard to do the things you need to do. But there are some things you can do to help yourself with chemo brain:
1. Write down everything you need to remember. There’s no shame in using a note-taking app or writing things down on paper (or even just leaving yourself voice memos). You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to remember things when they’re written down somewhere—and it helps you avoid unnecessary stress when your mind is trying to process so much information at once!
2. Use reminders on your phone or computer: For example, if there’s something important coming up in one week, set an alert for two days before so that you don’t forget about it and have time to prepare for it!
3. Take breaks while working on complicated tasks. If you find yourself getting frustrated because you can’t remember something or figure out what needs done next, take a break for 10 minutes. Getting up and moving around will help clear your head and get more oxygen flowing through your brain, which should help with concentration levels!
4. Make sure you get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet. Sleep is important for brain function. The brain clears out toxins during sleep, which helps prevent memory loss. You should also try to eat as healthy a diet as possible, which means consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. A good rule of thumb is five servings per day. You may want to think about taking supplements like fish oil or vitamin B12 if you don’t think you’re getting enough of them in your daily diet. Discuss any supplements with your doctor before starting them.
How can you help someone with chemo brain?
So how can you help? It’s not easy to know what to do, but here are some tips:
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions—or several of them. The brain fog makes it hard for the person with chemo brain to remember things that happened just a few minutes before. So don’t be embarrassed about asking them if they want coffee or lunch and then reminding them when it’s time for either one.
- Be patient and give them space when necessary—and don’t try to do things for them that they can do themselves. This is probably the most important thing you can do! They will feel so much better if they can take care of themselves without your help or interference, even though it may seem silly sometimes (like making yourself breakfast when you could have woken up earlier). If someone else needs help doing something around the house, consider finding other ways besides doing it completely by yourself because if this person has chemo brain, chances are good that he/she won’t remember what just happened anyway!
- Don’t forget that emotions run high during treatment; keep your cool and stay calm while being supportive at all times! Don’t get mad at someone who accidentally forgets something because there’s no way around this type of thing happening due to having chemotherapy – it’s just part of life right now.
In the end, chemotherapy brain is a real thing. It’s not a myth or something that happens only to certain people who have bad luck or weak immune systems. You can have a brain injury from cancer treatment even if you’re young and healthy, and it can affect your ability to work, remember things, think clearly and make decisions with confidence. That doesn’t mean you should give up hope though! There are many ways to cope with this condition. Knowing you are not alone is the first step