Today I want to briefly blog about the worse side-effect of having cancer. It isn’t the fear of dying, nausea, or any of the multitude of side-effects that come from chemotherapy. No my biggest fear has become losing the ability to use my mind properly. Many people with cancer will experience something referred to as “brain fog” or “chemo brain” (or many other names). For the purpose of this blog I will stick to the term “brain fog” because it describes what I feel the best. It is my fear that any brain fog I experience will continue beyond chemo. In this post I will touch briefly on the subject; but this will likely be the topic of many future posts.
I’ve made a living using my mind. In the Army I was a communications technician. I went on the IT field where I eventually became a Network Engineer and Project Manager. Over the last few years I have been a writer and tax preparer. Basically I have spent most of my adult life relying upon my mind to make a living. I hope to continue making a living utilizing my mind. I fear however that may not be as possible as it was once.
Recently I’ve begun to understand that I suffer from brain fog. Here is part of what Mayo has to say about Chemo Brain:
Chemo brain is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment. Chemo brain can also be called chemo fog, chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment or cognitive dysfunction.
Though chemo brain is a widely used term, it’s misleading. It’s unlikely that chemotherapy is the sole cause of concentration and memory problems in cancer survivors. Researchers are working to understand the memory changes that people with cancer experience.
Despite the many questions, it’s clear that the memory problems commonly called chemo brain can be a frustrating and debilitating side effect of cancer and its treatment. More study is needed to understand this condition.
Over the last couple of months it has become very hard for me to organize my thoughts, especially in activities which require multiple steps. I can still do so, but I have to take more time and document things more than I used to. In the past I would create a mental flow chart of tasks to be performed. Now I find myself having to actually physically write things down to be able to see how a process should flow. This change started during my first cycle of chemo, so I am hoping it will go away after chemo has completed.
Another big change I’ve noticed is short-term memory problems. We all have moments where we walk into a room and forget why we went in there. That is happening to me all the time now. I have to document my tasks throughout the day so I don’t accidentally do something twice that I shouldn’t. On one particular day I almost took my morning medications twice. Luckily my wife was around to set me straight. Since that time I made sure all important things such as medications and meals are documented.
I call my condition brain fog for a reason. There will be times I just can’t seem to put thoughts together, as if the words I need are just out of reach in the fog. It is difficult to describe, but it really does seem that a fog has set inside my head. Today is a good example of that happening. Off and on and throughout the morning I tried to write a blog post, but couldn’t. The fog was too thick.
Going forward I hope the brain fog will go away when I am done with chemo. I have four to six more chemo cycles remaining. The problem is I know at least the memory problems have been happening since way before I started chemo. I believe I’ve had memory problems for months actually. It does however seem that the brain fog became much thicker after chemo. That would lead me to believe that chemo is in some way making my brain fog worse (unless the brain fog is making me think that).
I have been trying various things to battle against the brain fog. The main thing that seems to help is playing word and logic games. Hopefully when chemo is done the fog will lift some and I can feel I have my mind back. Actually, writing posts on this blog seems to help as well. At least it helps when the fog will let me write a post…