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.