Monday 20 January 2014

Chemo Brain is Real

There appears to be a tie between chemotherapy and the cognitive processes of the brain

Mental Fogginess After Chemotherapy Can Provoke Feelings of Insecurity

Chemo Brain is real.

One of my strongest memories of returning to work after receiving 6 months of chemotherapy is the feeling of fogginess. I was happy to be back in the saddle, surrounded by supportive co-workers, but I had this sense of being dazed and distracted for the first several months. I would sit in front of my computer screen and simply stare, wondering why it was taking me so long to respond to an email. Approving the bimonthly payroll took me three times as long as I knew it had previously, but the numbers just never added up as easily as they used to. I would call someone and then forget what I was calling them about, or I'd forget the name of someone I know well during the conversation. It left me feeling insecure, inadequate and unsure as to whether I should be there or not.

Chemo Brain Symptoms Include Poor Memory, Difficulty Focusing and Problems with Multi-tasking

I had challenges with things such as:
  • Multi-tasking
  • Word/name recall
  • Numerical calculations
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Poor memory

Chemo Brain Is As Real As the Problems It Causes

Many cancer survivors struggle with mental fogginess or "chemo brain" that occurs during and after their cancer treatment. Although the exact cause of it is still not known, there does appear to be a link to the effect that chemotherapy has on cognitive processes of the brain. These symptoms can range from being very vague to being a major impairment, and they can last only a short time or years. An MRI of the "chemo brain" will show actual changes to the grey matter. Chemo brain is as real as the problems it causes, so don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

5 Suggestions to Help You Cope With Chemo Brain

As a result of the challenges brought on by chemo brain, it is not surprising that many people are unable to cope like they used to - and begin to feel anxious and depressed. In my experience, the changes were subtle and not that noticeable to an outsider, but very evident and upsetting to me. A real blow to one's self-esteem. Here are some of my strategies to try and overcome these challenges.

5 simple suggestions to help you cope with chemo fog:

  1. Get adequate rest and plan to do challenging mental activities when you are well-rested.
  2. Be present in the moment, focus on the task at hand and learn to ignore the background noise and confusion. Many cancer survivors benefit from regular meditation. I found that having a quiet work space was essential.
  3. Exercise regularly to keep your mind clear and feeling more alert. Get outside when you can, as I found the fresh air really helps bring clarity.
  4. Create "to do lists" to keep track of tasks at hand. I became reliant on my phone, adding notes constantly to help get me organized and on task.
  5. Slow down your mind and your body. This is a difficult one to do when you are feeling anxious already. I found that deep breathing is really great - three deep breaths will bring everything into clear focus.

Treatment is Available For Ongoing Cognitive Problems Experienced After Receiving Chemotherapy

If your problems persist, you may require a cognitive abilities evaluation and have a rehab professional, such as a neuropsychologist or occupational therapist, work with you to provide cognitive enhancement training. Recent research shows that there is a great deal that can be done to improve an individual' memory and other brain functions. At Cancer Rehab Canada, we believe in your ability to retrain your brain and and encourage you to seek treatment for ongoing cognitive problems. Please contact us to find the clinic nearest you.

To find a Cancer Rehab Canada near you, visit the list of British ColumbiaSaskatchewanOntario, or Nova Scotia locations.

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