Chemobrain

So maybe I’m a little forgetful, absentminded, and disorganized but I’ve always been like that, haven’t I?

The first time I heard about “chemo brain” I wasn’t too sure. At the time I was very tuned into the fact that survivors sometimes use their diagnosis and subsequent treatment and recovery as an excuse for some or all that is wrong with their life. When this does happen I’m sure there are a variety of reasons, some I’d agree with some I wouldn’t. Suffice it to say that I was doubtful about this chemobrain thing initially.

Then I realized how many times I left my keys at the office when leaving for the day, or forget to take my cell phone in the morning. This used to be a huge source of frustration for me, and sometimes it still gets me going but eventually I learned to be more relaxed about it, even laugh at myself.

I have been out of active treatment for over three years, so my current phase of chemobrain is not the one associated with active treatment. I’m post-treatment but am still unsure of my brain function. While I still feel as alert and sharp much of the time, there are a lot of times, and I mean a ton, when I don’t. I know my energy is hampered, not near as robust as it used to be, and I know that has a direct impact on my memory and cognitive function. But even when I’m rested, I seem to be missing something.

Now I’m not going to suggest for a minute that I never forgot my keys or cell phone before I had cancer. But I do feel as though my ability to remember those things at least half the time is challenged.

During treatment that is another thing entirely, but also something I don’t have as much experience with fortunately.

You see I’ve become a big believer in focus, as in focusing our attention on one thing at a time, as much as we can. For when our focus is segmented, we end up doing a bunch of things half-assed. Many people say they can multitask easily and I’m sure some can, but what I’m saying is that no matter who you are, if you are focusing on one thing then you can do that one thing better than if you are doing five things.

For me, I think the biggest influence on chemobrain is the fatigue. When I become tired, as I do much easier than before my diagnosis, then all my mental functions drop. My memory goes to crap, not for long term stuff, but it definitely keeps me from remembering the groceries I had to pick up on the way home from work. It also makes concentrating a big challenge, it takes that much more energy to do the same task compared to when I’m fresh and rested.

I learned many times, both during and after treatment, that when I let my battery run down too low bad things happen. From minor things like being an empty-head to more serious issues like getting the flu or an infection, I know that being rested is more important than ever.

At this point, over three years away from my second (stem cell) transplant I have learned that I actually need nine hours sleep a night just to recharge and maintain my mental capacity. When I get run down, I need more like 10 or more hours to recharge.

I’m sure there are studies out there that have further investigated chemo brain and cognitive function during and after chemotherapy and radiation, but I haven’t read them. What I know is from my own experience, and as with most everything that I’ve learned, if I feel it has value I try to incorporate it into my life.

So I’ll be getting to bed early tonight!

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