Everything you need to know about chemo brain

Ever feel like you’re having an off day where you’re constantly having ~brain farts?~

Like forgetting where you put your cell phone when it’s been in your hand the whole time? Or accidentally bringing the TV remote to the bathroom? (guilty of this on a number of occasions)

Well for some cancer patients, this is an everyday reality.

If your mom (or loved one) is treating their cancer with chemotherapy, they have a 75% chance of experiencing chemo brain.

Chemo brain is often described by doctors as a “cloudy mind” where patients don’t feel as “mentally sharp” as they used to.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty remembering small details
  • Misplacing items used daily
  • Struggling with multitasking and concentrating
  • Troubles with simple word retrieval
  • Feeling slow and confused

Each cancer patient may experience chemo brain differently, or in some cases, not at all. But chemo brain is often caused by the medication of chemotherapy or sometimes by the cancer itself.

For some patients, like my mom, chemo brain can have a long-lasting effect.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for chemo brain, but there are ways to help you cope.

Based on my personal experience, here are some tips to help you and your mom (or loved one) deal with chemo brain:

1. Be patient

This is, without a doubt, the most important tip when coping with chemo brain. I discussed the importance of being patient in a previous post, but when it comes to chemo brain, patience is absolutely crucial.

  • Your mom (or loved) one may ask you the same question a few times a day, or they might tell you a story and re-tell it like you’re hearing it for the first time. But please don’t get frustrated with them. Just be patient and either (kindly) let them know that they’ve already asked the question and told the story, or just go along with it. If you have to answer the question a second, third, or even fourth time, then do it. If you have to listen to the story and share another laugh or smile, just do it. Trust me, it’s not worth getting frustrated and losing your patience. It’ll just make everyone upset – especially your mom (or loved one).
2. Laugh off their mistakes
  • When I say laugh off their mistakes, I don’t mean using this as an opportunity to make fun or tease them. I mean making a friendly joke out of their mishaps and laughing about it together. For instance, mixing up names is one of my mom’s biggest symptoms of her chemo brain. She often confuses me with my sister (calling me Nikki and her Sara), which sounds pretty normal. But she’s also called me George … who is my father … and Lucy … who is my dog – LOL. Instead of making her feel silly though, we always laugh it off.
3. Most importantly, help them stay organized
  • As I mentioned above, having difficulty remembering small details and misplacing items are common symptoms of chemo brain. To help her remember and stay organized, my mom will write all her appointments and important tasks down on the calendar fridge. The fridge is an easy place for everyone to see, including my dad and sister, so if my mom forgets to check, they will help out and remind her. My mom also keeps important items in the same place – like her keys and cell phone on the tea trolley near the front door, which helps her remember where these items are at all times.

Chemo brain isn’t exactly fun or avoidable, so remember to be patient, add humour when you can (without making them feel embarrassed), and help them stay organized.

3 thoughts on “Everything you need to know about chemo brain

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  1. Thank you. 😊 I am a daughter who is also dealing with a parent with cancer. My dad began chemo today as he was recently diagnosed with cancer for the 2nd time this year. I look forward to reading your blog. I have also felt like doing a blog to just get the emotions out of me.

    1. Diana,

      I am so sorry to hear about your father. Sending all my love to you and your family <3 Although I created this blog for a class assignment, I found writing about my mom's cancer to be very therapeutic. It helped me a lot so I think it could help you as well :) Thanks for the comment and I hope my tips and advice can help you and your family cope. xoxo

  2. Thank you for shedding light on this, because despite having multiple family members undergo chemo, I had no idea that this phenomenon existed. I really love how your posts manage to be light despite discussing a heavy topic, and the way you gear all your advice to be applicable to day to day life!

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