Chemo Brain Symptoms

Where, oh where, has my little brain gone?

By Susan Chandler Kelley

Copyright 2009; do not reprint without permission

I’m listening to Jackson Browne’s “Next Voice You Hear” (which my loving hubby of 25 years is playing on the stereo).  I’ve always enjoyed Browne’s music. Not only was he a soundtrack to my misspent 70’s youth, <GRIN>  but he often managed to voice angst in a non-whiny way-it-is voice. As I listen, I ponder  chemo brain.

Pre -BigC, I sometimes moved thru an undefined existential fog. Post-BigC, I often moved thru a more defined fog. I know what is important; I just have trouble voicing it in an understandable manner sometimes. Such is the legacy of chemo fog, chemo brain, or as I often felt – chemo stupidity.   :-p

Previously I had been a fairly literate, knowledgable person with the capacity to voice my ideas in a cogent manner. Post-BigC – not so much. At the time, the askance, poor-demented-soul glances I often got from others fell at my feet like so many rotted banana-peels – unnoticed till you slipped on them.

I knew something was wrong; I felt like someone had flipped the “stupid switch.” I just didn’t know who/what flipped it or why/how. I mentioned it (often) to my oncologist – a wonderful doctor who I resoundingly recommend. She felt it was the result of the depression that exploded into my life after the diagnosis. However, tho’ the antidepressant  greatly helped the depression, it did nothing to assuage the feeling that I had somehow misplaced my mind.    >:-(

For someone who had grown up as the bookworm geekorama of the Class of 75, this seemed like the ultimate unfairness of cancer – as if cancer ever played fair. Now, 9 years later, the mental decline has finally stopped. Yet I have not regained the lost mental ability  – it simply stopped getting worse. I started researching it on the Net and happened  on a link from WebMD. My secret curse finally had a name: chemo brain.

There are  several articles about it, which I will discuss in a later post. The main points of these articles are these: It seems to be caused by chemotherapy in some way; studies have been done on breast cancer patients using MRIs which show that the brain undergoes changes (damage?) during chemo treatments; nearly all of those who undergo such chemo treatments suffer problems with memory, concentration, and cognition. Don’t get me wrong: If  I had it all to do over, I’d still take the chemo. Better a live ‘stupid-head’ than a deadhead. LOL Also, there’s something to be said for wholesale forgetting: I forgot some things that needed forgetting. As for the rest, I can always get loved ones to help me remember what I need (and want) to remember.

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