Feeling Foggy

source RSNA 2012

Okay, so just this week in the news there were numerous articles saying that “chemo brain” is REAL and not just a patient’s imagination.   Guess I am not going crazy.  There are definitely cognitive changes as a side effect from chemotherapy.  I may have finished my “chemo” treatments a few months ago but I am still feeling rather foggy.  At times it seems to be worse instead of getting better. However, the study said that once chemotherapy is finished, chemo brain gets better on its own.  Guess it will just take time.

I had heard about “chemo brain” but thought that maybe it happened just as a result of all the stress and everything on your mind as a result of being treated for cancer.  It’s nice to finally see some studies being done that will now give us a legitimate excuse.  The study was only on breast cancer patients and 82% of the 595  studied reported having problems with memory and concentration.  This was confirmed using PET/CT imaging showing changes in metabolism involved in long-term memory, mental agility, decision making, problem solving, and prioritizing. WOW…women need all these things to run a household on a “normal” day.  Now add spending even more mental energy dealing with doctors, treatments, appointments, insurance bills,etc. while not feeling 100% physically.

What is it like having chemo brain? It is very frustrating to look at someone you know and see on a regular, okay a daily I Have Chemo Brain Mouse Padbasis and call them by the wrong name.  I can picture people, places and events in my head and know what I want to talk about but can’t remember the name or date or location for the life of me sometimes.   Everything is always on the tip of my tongue but doesn’t want to come out.  I have always been a good multitasker but often I forget what I’m doing while in the middle of several things.  I admit that I am not a young chick any more but I really did not want to start practicing for Alzheimers either!

I was trying to remind some coworkers at school about what happened the last time the students had a half day and the staff had to stay for a full day.  They were very puzzled.  I could picture it in my head but when we looked at the calendar there had been no half day yet.  Finally someone reminded me that it had happened the end of the last school year in June, not in this new school calendar.  My timing had been way off but in my head it seemed like it had just been recent.

I was really good at “winning” with my husband because my mind was sharp as a tack and I could recall exactly where and when I informed him of something.  Now I am not so sure myself so I need to shelve that approach which probably isn’t such a bad thing.  My kids think this whole “chemo brain” thing is funny and now every time they tell me something and I look at them funny like I never heard what they are reminding me of, they say “chemo brain.”  They could really use this to their advantage “reminding” me of things that never existed!  This is not a good thing.  This is potentially dangerous.

I have always been a list maker.  It’s part of my personality.  Some of you reading this know exactly what I mean because you can’t live without your lists either!  Every day has a new list and sometimes if I do something that is not on my list I will add it just so I can get the pleasure of crossing it off.  Now you have evidence that I am really in a fog!  Anyway, I have always gotten through my day with a list.  With chemo brain for me it is even more vital to have a list so I don’t  forget what I need to do or would like to accomplish.  Ironically in the articles they suggest having family members or friends help make lists for you to get through the period of mental fog.  I don’t need or want anyone making lists for me…I just need someone to help me FIND my lists!  I don’t remember where I put them.

I know they didn’t have chemotherapy back in Bible times but I think 1 Corinthians 13:12 was written with chemo brain in mind.  It says, “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!” (MSG)  Yes, whether my chemo fog clears in 6 months or a year, I know that one day the fog will lift, the sun will shine and the only thing that really matters will be seen clearly, my Savior!

Just a few of the articles this week on the chemobrain study:

http://www.healthimaging.com/topics/molecular-imaging/rsna-your-brain-chemo-petct-may-enlighten-its-effects?page=0%2C0
http://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20121129/chemo-brain-real?src=RSS_PUBLIC
http://www.medpagetoday.com/MeetingCoverage/RSNA/36138

Some books on chemobrain:  www.chemobraininfo.org

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13 thoughts on “Feeling Foggy

  1. When I first complained of it to my oncologist she kind of brushed it off and then said apologetically that the medical community doesn’t recognize it since there is nothing that can be done. I’m glad they are at least admitting it’s real now.

  2. Great article Susan! Many people that have been on pain blockers for spinal injuries have the same kind of challenge. Making and having lists are one of the tools, that for those that already do, ease part of that burden. Also consider using colors within lists to associate “like things” for faster recognition and time “slots” or appointment for groups (during those fuzzy times, it is easy for time to slip past).

  3. Wish I could call my forgetting by a name other than old age, or worse–dementia. I know it isn’t chemo brain…. PTL anyway! I’ll always remember God loves me and I love you!

  4. I completely understand, even 14 months after my last chemo. I’m still lousy with recall, though my recognition is OK. Dates/times and how fast or slowly time passes are still messed up. I’m a list maker- monthly budget, grocery store, and this month- who gets what for Christmas. ❤

  5. Pingback: “Running” out of Excuses | apilgrimsponderings

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