Coping with Chemo Brain


If your brain feels sluggish and slow, you may be experiencing chemo brain. Chemo brain is a term used to describe the fuzzy thinking and memory problems that can accompany cancer treatment. It’s a real issue that affects cancer patients during treatment and beyond.

Chemo brain doesn’t have a single defined cause. It’s likely due to a combination of the stress of diagnosis, chemical changes in the body, the effects of cancer treatment, and related complications, such as anemia, fatigue and nutritional deficiencies.

Regardless of the cause, chemo brain can add insult to injury, especially when you’re working as hard as you can to kick cancer. But since it comes with the territory, it’s best to acknowledge it, cut yourself some slack and ask others to do so, too.

Be Open with Others

Start by letting people know. Don’t let others dismiss it or compare it to a “senior moment.” It’s more than that. Someone described it like this: “Chemo brain feels as if you’re wearing a cap on your head made of fog. And you can’t take it off.” You haven’t lost your intelligence, but you’re finding it hard to concentrate, remember things and stay organized. Perfectly normal. And perfectly frustrating, especially to you.

The Mayo Clinic website has a whole section devoted to chemo brain – its causes, treatments, self-management and more. One of their suggestions is to ask for help if you need it. For example, you could ask a family member to help with your calendar or have someone remind you of plans by both phone and email. Explain that you may need to have things repeated or written down.

Chemo brain feels as if you’re wearing a cap made of fog. And you can’t take it off.

Ways to Manage Chemo Brain

Make it easy on yourself. Here are a few tips to help you cope:

  • Lower your stress level by listening to music, watching television or browsing through magazines.

  • Keep your mind sharp with puzzles and mental exercises like Sudoku and word games.

  • Stay active with light exercise and outdoor time.

  • Tap into your creative side with crafts and relaxing hobbies.

  • Avoid multi-tasking. Do one thing at a time and take breaks as needed. Finish what you start before moving on to something else.

  • Talk with your doctor. A simple change in medication can make a difference.

The most important tip of all? Give yourself permission to let go. Some schedules will slip; some things won’t get done. And life will go on.

Share Your Thoughts

If you’ve experienced chemo brain, what advice do you have for others?

Michelle LeCompteComment