Fighting Chemo Brain

July-October, 2008

Chemo Brain can sneak up on you like a snake hiding in the weeds, saying boo! It can also slowly take over so that you don’t realize that you have it. The time frame is a bit fuzzy because it was years ago and memory isn’t always a fun visit. I remember being startled by the loss of some memory and my recall fuzziness. Recovering from chemotherapy was not what I expected. Nothing prepared me for the struggle I had with my mind.

Time moves in one direction and memory in another.” William Gibson

I never thought about chemo brain while I was actively in chemo but it showed up pretty fast while I was recovering from chemotherapy. “Chemo brain” is an affectionate term for cognitive changes to thinking, learning, processing or remembering information. These changes take over your life, even the ability to work or do everyday tasks. I thought that I was doing pretty well until Dave mentioned it when I couldn’t remember what the chemical names were that I just had!  What a surprise!

I thought that I was doing fairly well shedding the chemicals, but little did I realize all the subtle changes that had taken place. Firstly I felt that I had done everything that I could to fight this, was given all the options, unlike after my first surgery. So I felt that I was “done” with this cancer, I just had to move forward. But moving forward was like holding a rope that’s dragging a load of sand, a net filled with what ifs, buts and tears.

Chemo brain
Chemo brain
Chemo Brain


Yes, I was thrilled that I had survived this second cancer, of course, but I was shocked that it had come back. (A very pompous thing to think!) I don’t think that I had given it much thought after my first cancer. Now I was giving it much thought. I kept forgetting that I was thinking it, then was surprised when I remembered, again and again feeling a jolt each time, a zap from underneath the chemicals that wouldn’t allow me to fully process everything. Lost in a semi-fog of unreality was frightening. I should have worn a sign saying, “Out of Order”.

Lacking for words was a strange sensation for me, as I often had too much to say. Many times I would make myself unheard, afraid that I would forget what I wanted to say. I felt like a Raggedy Ann who had lost some of her yarn.

I had always found it easy to multi-task. But making dinner, coordinating side dishes and setting the table seemed impossible to do.  My timing was off and many things now didn’t make sense. I tried to hide my troubles by avoiding certain social engagements, or being quiet. My husband picked up on it very quickly and with patience that Job would have envied, he slowly guided me through the worst of it.

Anxiety became overwhelming and the things that used to make me anxious weren’t on the menu anymore. Sometimes I felt overwhelmed, over stimulated, because in trying to understand everything I wasn’t understanding anything. And I did not have any  patience. This was exacerbated because to understand, focus and not be a muddled mess I pushed myself too much. Instead of a steady decline in these exaggerated symptoms they would be more like a teenager trying to learn how to use a stick shift. I needed to slow down and take one thing at a time.

This second cancer and chemo would change my entire future life once again. I am still affected by what happened in the next five years.

chemo brain
Chemo Brain