Chemo Brain

July 19, 2010

Well, I didn’t make it past Saturday before I started having a sore throat and I woke on Sunday morning with a full-blown throat infection. However a call to the Duty Doctor at Herlev resulted in a prescription for penicillin which did the trick and by Sunday evening my temperature was well back down and my throat a lot better. Fingers crossed it also takes care of any other lurking nasties.

So, so far I haven’t been able to enjoy the added physical well being that the postponed treatment should bring for a week, but I am enjoying a respite from the mental side effects of the chemo. And here I am NOT talking about the psychological aspects of finding out within a short period of time that you have a serious illness and having your life turned on its head by an aggressive treatment plan. No, what I mean are mental side effects like losing my ability to multi-task (indeed some days I struggle with single-tasking!), forgetfulness, and so on. Nothing had prepared me for this and it is probably the aspect I find most frustrating, because it actually feels as though my personality as changed. I’ve gone from being a super-efficient, pro-active multi-tasker to a passive ditherer with no initiative.  I’ve gone from travelling regularly all over the world to all kinds of weird and wonderful places, often on my own, to having a near panic attack at the thought of driving into Copenhagen. Of course, some (my family?) might argue that it also has its benefits in that I am probably also much more easy going and good natured than usual! My sister, who knows me better than most, assumed that I would be dealing with everything by being more of a stroppy cow (her words not mine!) than usual, but I’m not! At times, sad and upset, but never stroppy!

Here are some examples of what I mean…..

  • One day I got lost driving home from the hospital (where I have been a zillion times and it isn’t even a complicated route!).
  • Last week I was paying for something in a shop using change and I just couldn’t figure out the right money and the shop assistant had to do it for me….
  • In the supermarket queue I stood staring into space for ages wondering why the person didn’t get a move on and pay when finally I realised (after the checkout person nudged me) that it was actually me and everyone was standing staring at me.
  • Making dinner one night I needed to coordinate 4 different things and had no clue how to do it and my husband had to come and help and give me instructions.
  • Another night when we had guests my husband had singlehanded produced the dinner but asked me to help by putting the drinks on the table. I was totally blank and he had to tell me exactly what I should do.

While it provides lots of material for funny stories, this has been quite scary, particularly since no-one had warned me about it. However as usual Mr. Google came to my rescue and I found out that I am not alone and that chemo brain is actually quite a common side-effect.

I am finding coping techniques to deal with it:

  • Lists: I’ve always been a list writer, but we are into a whole new dimension here – 2 item shopping lists anyone???
  • Visualisation: I’ve used this technique for running before, but I’m finding it helps when I have to go somewhere e.g. visualise the drive into Copenhagen, the route and the junctions, where I’m going to park, buying the parking ticket etc.
  • Lowering my expectations for myself: I just don’t try to multi-task, I give myself longer to do things, I don’t expect to be able to produce complicated food etc.
  • Asking for help: This is the hardest one for me. I mean, I don’t normally ask for help – I GIVE help! I manage things independently! It is very humbling for me (and I am trying hard to mean humbling and not humiliating) to have to ask a shop assistant for help to count my money or to admit to my husband that I don’t know how to set the table and ask for his help. But it is also amazing to experience that it is OK to be dependent on others and that they are happy with that and happy to help me.

3 Responses to “Chemo Brain”

  1. Helena Says:

    do you still manage to go running?

    • Kirsten Says:

      Hi Helena! Yes! Apart from one run I missed because I had an infection I have managed to train 3 or 4 times per week – which includes one session on the exercise bike. For some reason it is easier to get my pulse right up on the bike than running. There is a big variation on how much I can manage, but I try to listen to my body and do the best I can….

  2. […] have to say this was something of a challenge in the chemo days. My chemo- brain was functioning under par at the best of times so it was a major challenge planning outfits that […]

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