Managing Chemo Brain
For all the readers and thinkers out there who have landed here to read about managing chemo brain...I am speaking directly to you.
I thought that I would read 10 books during my cancer journey. My thinking revolved around having all this free time during my 4 hour infusions. What better way to pass the time than to read a great book?
Or, I would read when I had free time during a blah week and had low energy to do much of anything.
What really happened
The pre-meds on infusion days put me in a stupor. I was so tired and exhausted that all I wanted to do was close my eyes. I was even too tired to watch the TV in my room. The best thing to focus on was the sky outside. My chemo chair usually faced a huge window so I could look outside. This was the first warning sign that my brain would be mush during the 6 months I was undergoing treatment.
The first week after my first treatment gave me blurry vision. Just blurry enough that it was hard to read - even with glasses. The only thing that I could do with ease was to watch TV. The best thing I could focus on and follow was a sitcom like "ER." I blew through all 15 seasons in 6 months.
How I accepted my chemo brain
Over and over, I told myself that this was a temporary phase I was going through in my life. These symptoms wouldn't last forever. I would be able to read great books again. Talking to myself this way helped when I started noticing other symptoms, like:
- Forgetting a thought as soon as it came across my consciousness
- Or worse, losing the thought in mid-sentence while telling a story
- Literally feeling "zoned out" on most days
- Finding myself staring out the window at absolutely nothing in particular
Each time I became aware of how the chemo drugs were reacting with my brain, I became so curious instead of freaking out. I knew these were powerful and toxic drugs. They were being used to stop the replication of my cancer cells quickly, and I told myself that these negative side effects meant that the drugs were working.
Remind yourself to rest and delegate
For those of us who are "doers," cancer will teach you to readjust your once busy life. Multi-tasking while undergoing chemo will be impossible. Your brain will forget things, and the more you fight with other people who want to help you, the more stress you will put upon yourself. Be willing to delegate because this will also be temporary. Your brain just can't handle all the reminders.
Six months after last chemo infusion
You will feel a lot like yourself again. Doing all the things you used to do and not missing a beat. What can help speed up the process is exercising. Getting your blood pumping at a level your body reacts to well so you can start getting rid of all the drugs that were infused.
While writing this article, I am 9 months NED and have zero side effects from chemotherapy. I'm happily reading again and living a busy and balanced lifestyle. I remember everything with clarity and sometimes even better than before cancer. That's because I have simplified my life!
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