Chemo Brain


I wasn’t sure why my grey matter had turned to mush but by the time I realised what was happening, I’d already begun withdrawing from everyone around me.

At some point, we all forget where we left the keys or why we walked into the kitchen.  It’s mostly preoccupation stemming from our busy lives.  It’s frustrating but we shake our heads and come back to the present moment to continue what we were doing.

When that foggy forgetfulness is so thick, you tire yourself trying to figure it out, it’s another matter.

Shutting down

After 6 chemo sessions, I notice I’ve become generally unhappy.  I thought perhaps I’d been spending too much time in my own head space.  I generally go through phases like that and know to interact more with people to snap out of it.  This time it didn’t work.

I was at work having a conversation about nothing in particular and I couldn’t articulate myself.  The usual hand gestures were all there but the words disappeared as they reached the tip of my tongue.  I searched for the words to explain what I meant but either the thoughts gathered in a long-winded epic that a child might spew out about a picture, or I just lost my point!  I certainly knew the words but they wouldn’t come out to play.  Even now, I have to pay attention to how I write this so that it comes across succinctly (I remembered THAT word!) and orderly.  Usually fairly quick-witted, I wilted.  Unable to offer up the chirps or contribute as meaningfully as I knew I was capable of, I just stopped.

Do not operate heavy machinery

A friend told me I seemed withdrawn.  It had become easier just to keep quiet and I interact less as a result.  In a light brainstorming session at work, I was extremely frustrated.  I couldn’t hold my own train of thought.  Even as I began to offer ideas, the tracks would fade before me mid-sentence and I knew I couldn’t think at this level.  It’s affected my self-esteem and made me more serious.  I don’t feel like myself.

The all-knowing “they”, in a margarine vs butter type of argument that sways either way depending on the season, reckon that multitasking might make us efficient but over the long term, it’s unhealthy to scatter our focus.  I forget the reasoning…  These days I manage tasks in front of me and tick items off to-do lists.  At least I can control what goes onto the list even if I can’t control my own mind.  I can’t tell you when it’s at its worst, only that after my week off of treatment, I catch a glimpse of what my brain used to be capable of and how I look forward to that clarity once more.

Oh, my point… Chemo brain is real.  Being able to allay my frustration and fear to a real reason is a massive relief.  Wikipedia and the American Cancer Society explain the pickling quite well.


6 thoughts on “Chemo Brain

  1. sheila

    HI Claudine
    A mutual friend sent me your blog as my husband has recurrent colon cancer and she thought we might have stuff in common. My husband has just done his 5th of 12 chemo treatments. I will be on the look out for chemo brain – although he is selectively forgetful all the time! Wishing you all the best and will be following you. Sheila


  2. Nina

    dearest Claudine, cognitive impairment must be one of the most frightening and frustrating aspects f or ordeals. I pray that soon it will be over. Love, mom


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