|Posted on 11 June, 2016 at 18:15|
Yes it really is a side effect, not just something we make up to justify when we make no sense! Chemo Brain is a change in memory, concentration and how we think, which people link to chemotherapy, breast cancer patients were the first to report this problem which they believed to be linked to chemotherapy. These changes are called Chemo Brain or Chemo Fog, or if you want to get technical, Mild Cognitive Impairment or Cognitive Dysfunction. Put simply, its how our brain processes information or understands the world and how everything works. I have read some research that suggests Chemo Brain isn't related to chemotherapy, it could be related to other factors, or from the cancer, as some research has shown people suffered with it before and it improved during chemo. This must be the case in some instances, if there is research to prove it, but all I know is I supposedly had cancer for about 12 months before diagnosis and I wasn't saying things like "Chub Tair" before chemo! I also read that people who report problems with Chemo Brain are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than people who don't suffer Chemo Brain. Well I go against research here as I haven't suffered with anxiety or depression throughout and after the cancer experience. I'm sure people do and again if the research is there.... but it does amaze me how a negative has to be attached to every chemotherapy side effect. Lets give people some hope, rather than swinging the bell of doom over everything. So on that, let me ring my little, happy, shiny bell and tell you the reality of my Chemo Brain...
Chemo Brain started for me during the months of chemotherapy, but I can't remember exactly when. I suppose I first noticed that I struggled to concentrate on things. I might love my reality TV, but I also love history and my inner geek loves anything Tudor Related, after all these years there probably isn't much I don't know about Henry and his six wives and Queen Elizabeth 1 or Mary Queen of Scots but I could still read history books or watch endless documentaries. My partner bought me a bag of Tudor related books before chemo and I recorded quite a few documentaries to watch. I finished one book within a week the week before chemo (I am a fast reader usually) yet the next book on my list 'Lamentation' by C.J Sansom is still sitting on my coffee table and I still haven't got any further than chapter 4, that's took me over 8 months. It's just a mental block, I just can't hold my concentration. It's the same with the documentaries, I couldn't concentrate on anything that requires a higher level of thought or attention this is getting better now but the reading is still an issue. This is why I over indulged in reality TV, easy watching was all I wanted!
I also have to think about writing, I was an A and A* student in English, Maths has always taken effort but English used to come so easy to me. Now I have to really think about my grammar, I struggle with the correct use of spelling, for example if it should be 'being' or 'been' and actually spelling in general! So if there are any spelling mistakes in my blog posts, blame the Chemo Brain!
I also have to think of how I speak, not all the time, just occasionally it tends to just come out of the blue every now and then. I can be mid sentence and just completely forget what I was going to say. Then I have to stop and literally do the whole thought process of what I wanted to say. Or I'll pronounce words wrong, which actually can be quite amusing at times! I found this was worst the few days after chemo and now I just get it the odd time throughout the day.
Does it have a big impact on my everyday life? No, it can be annoying, can be frustrating but I can see the humour in it. I guess it depends to what degree of memory issues you have with Chemo Brain. Like most lasting side effects from chemo, its likely to take around 12 months to recover from these problems. I have found that been pro-active in helping myself does help, I have tried reading more simple books or magazines, just taking it slow to build my concentration. Writing these blogs has helped immensely with my grammar and I've found recently most of my writing comes quite easy to me again now. I have just got back from a week's family holiday in Wales and the holiday home we stopped in had books and board games in to use. So I did something I haven't done in years and years, read a Goosebumps book! I was determined to finish it in the week and I did I read all of King Jelly Jam. I also played Scrabble, but don't knock it, it worked. We only played it a couple of times over the week but I noticed quite a difference the last time I played to the first, I actually won a game, not bad for Chemo Brain! This is another positive from the cancer experience, it gives you such a different outlook on life, it's like been a kid again and you just see the fun in life and have a go at anything, all those little things you forget about and don't do as you get older. So yes I have Chemo Brain but it is getting better.
All I will advise if having issues with Chemo Brain, like most chemo side effects just go with the flow, don't be too hard on yourself or push yourself too much, just do things as and when you feel ready. But try to help yourself a little too, whatever works for you. If your mind is more mathematical thinking maybe you could try Sudoku. If you are creative maybe painting and colouring could be for you. If like me English was your thing why not try a game of Scrabble or start with easier reads. Exercise your brain in small amounts little and often and as time goes by you will notice Chemo Brain issues less and less. I might just try another Goosebumps book, Revenge of the Garden Gnomes anyone??
Categories: Cancer and Me