Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
One survivor offers her suggestions to handle chemo brain as she copes with her almost-10-year-old chemo brain.
The science now matches what people like me who had chemotherapy, and five years of an aromatase inhibitor, have actually been experiencing and talking about for years — chemo brain. Unfortunately, chemo brain lasts longer for some cancer survivors than for others.
I do not offer this as a reason not to have chemotherapy. Chemotherapy was an important part of my cancer treatment. Sometimes I just miss my old brain, and I do think things have improved for me over the years. Still, I am more forgetful, and I struggle more to form coherent sentences since my cancer treatment almost ten years ago. I struggle more with fatigue too. And yet, I am grateful, completely grateful and fortunate to still be here. Life is good, but it is still important to understand how to deal with this life-altering side effect.
Tell your doctors. Make sure your regular doctors and your oncology doctors are aware of your chemo brain symptoms and ask for their suggestions. Symptom management is important for your quality of life. The doctors may also be able to help you to rule out other things that may be causing your brain fog, ultimately improving it.
Technology has arrived to help cancer survivors who struggle with chemo brain. There are games to exercise your brain and help improve your thinking. There are tips in online articles about ways to help you remember things, and I suspect there will be more and more offerings in this area as time marches onward.
Gratitude can help too. Isn't it always more helpful to count your blessings rather than your stressings? I try to actively practice gratitude most days. Doing this changes my focus from the things I have lost (breasts, hair, memory, energy) to the things that I do have (family, friends, some hair, being able to walk). I try to find new things to give thanks for each day. My belief system helps me to practice this gratitude.
Keep going. Do not use effects from your cancer and your cancer treatment as an excuse to shut down. Though do feel free to play the cancer card or chemo brain card when you need it. Remember, sometimes not everything is due to the cancer or cancer treatments. The truth is that I have always lost my train of thought at times and been a bit clumsy, sometimes the chemo just makes it harder to handle.
Enjoy your life. My grandpa, who made it to 99 years, used to say, "We each only get one little life. Enjoy your life, Barbie." He was right. Do not fret too much about chemo brain or days when you forget to do your chemo brain exercises. Live and appreciate each moment of every day.
Chemo brain is sometimes a side effect of cancer treatment. Try to address it versus fret about it, and above all, move forward with your life. As a two-time almost-ten-year cancer survivor, I would share that after everything you have already been through as a cancer survivor, you will find the right tools to get through this too.