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How I Explain 'Chemo Brain'

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Chemo brain is one of many possible side effects of cancer treatment. Not everyone will get it, but I did, and I did not really understand what to expect and how to cope.

Why Chemo Brain?

During cancer treatment and often afterwards we cannot function the way we used to — often on all levels: physical, mental and emotional. Why is that?

Because we are affected by the cancer itself, the cancer treatments and other medication we may require, overall changes in our wellbeing and the tremendous stress, anxiety and emotional trauma of the situation.

Chemo brain is one of those consequences and side effects. And it is not necessarily only related to chemotherapy but to a combination of all of the above. The degree to which chemo brain can impact us varies from person to person. Indeed, it can outlast cancer treatment.

Chemo Brain Symptoms

With chemo brain we may experience a number of symptoms that reflect a reduced mental ability: loss of concentration, fatigue, confusion, not being able to multi-task, not being able to cope with noise or conversations or media, sleep disruption, finding it difficult to go out and more.

If your brain, head or mind, whatever you want to call it, was a processor, then during chemo brain it cannot process as much or at the same speed as before.

We may be left feeling frightened and isolated. It is another loss of normality, predictability and our identity. More uncertainty and new circumstances to deal with.

Explaining Chemo Brain to Others

It can be difficult to explain to others what we are going through. I like to use the example of a computer. If our brain was a computer used to  running six apps and multi-tasking for example on Facebook, Twitter, watching TV and doing WhatsApp at any given time, with chemo brain our brain may be able to use one app only and even then only for a short period of time. It will also take a lot longer to re-charge.

Coping with Chemo Brain

To cope and look after ourselves, we may need to scale down our activities, commitments and responsibilities, including the small things, which we like and will miss.

We may need to reach out for help and delegate. All things, which may be hard and not straightforward.

I have recorded a video about it, where I share some of my own experiences with chemo brain and coping strategies. I hope you might like it and find it of use.

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Getty image by Victor_Tongdee

Originally published: May 10, 2018
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