Things cancer survivors want you to know about chemo

You may have heard the term ‘chemo brain’ when speaking to cancer survivors about their experience with chemotherapy. For most survivors, chemo brain is one of the most frustrating and equally debilitating side effects that come from cancer and chemo treatment.

Chemo brain is referred to the memory problems that can occur at any time once chemotherapy treatments begin. There are numerous factors that contribute to the cause of these memory problems. Even still, chemo brain affects the everyday life of cancer patients and survivors.

Chemotherapy – What is Chemo Brain?

Chemo brain is also known as chemo fog, cancer-related cognitive impairment, or cognitive dysfunction. (1) Its believed treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy are among the most common things responsible for chemo brain.

Chemo brain often affects multiple aspects of patients’ lives as it can impair their ability to work or even perform everyday tasks. During and after chemo treatments patients will experience mental cloudiness and changes in thinking, learning, processing, and memory functions.

The term is commonly used by cancer survivors as a way to describe the problems incurred with thinking and memory during and after cancer treatments.

Symptoms of Chemo Brain

Symptoms of chemo brain vary, but can include:

  • Disorganization
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Inability to find the right words
  • Difficulty learning new skills
  • Difficulty multitasking
  • Perceived mental fog
  • Loss of attention span
  • Short-term memory
  • Verbal memory- unable to remember conversations
  • Visual memory- unable to recall select images or words

What Every Cancer Survivor Wants You to Know

Whether you’re someone who knows a survivor or current chemo patient, you may not know just how to sympathize with the symptoms that come with chemo brain. As chemo brain is a ‘circumstance’ of its own, cancer patients wish everyone could understand chemo treatments and its effects.

Here are 10 things cancer survivors want everyone to know about chemotherapy:

  1. Chemo brain is real. While some believe chemo brain isn’t real, most cancer survivors would otherwise disagree. In fact, approximately 82% of cancer patients report experiencing chemo brain during or after treatments. (3) It’s not just an excuse. Just because doctors are not entirely certain what causes chemo brain aside from radiation and chemotherapy playing a prominent role, doesn’t make it any less real.
  2. Chemo brain feels like a fog. Making it feel almost impossible to move, chemo brain is described by cancer survivors as if you’re wearing a cap on your head that’s made of fog.
  3. When you say “You already told me that”, it feels embarrassing. Thanks to chemo brain fog, those words have a profound effect.
  4. Please be patient with me! Cancer patients and survivors understand more than anyone how frustrating and trying these moments can be for all parties involved. The request is for patience, understanding, and compassion for the haze they may be experiencing.
  5. Chemo brain isn’t funny. After a while, it’s not funny to those who experience chemo brain. In fact, I feel as though it’s actually horrifying. Laughing at the symptoms of foggy forgetfulness is not a joke to those with chemo brain.
  6. Chemo brain has no timeline. It’s true. In fact, chemo brain can befall patients at any point and time during or after treatment. There is no way to tell how long it will last, and it varies for each individual patient. Even years after treatment, chemo brain can still be prominent.
  7. I haven’t lost my mind. Just because patients experiencing chemo brain are forgetful, does not mean that their actual level of intelligence has lessened whatsoever. The worst thing you can do is to speak to them as if they will not understand what you’re saying.
  8. We just want things to be normal. Due to the side effects like chemo brain that come with treatments, there are days that we may not be our normal selves. When they sometimes may be forgetful or short, it is never done intentionally. Everyone has their moments, and a lapse in personality is never intended to be intentional.
  9. This is harder for me than for you. Imagine the treatments, the symptoms, and the looming frustrations that have come from cancer.  If you think that chemo brain is frustrating for you, imagine how it is on the side of the patient.
  10. All we need is love. To be thought of, to be heard, and to maintain normalcy. Through it all, whether survivors or current patients of cancer, the thing that means the most is to be reminded that they are loved.