One of the worst side effects of Chemotherapy for me was what is considered “Chemo Brain”, one of the side effects of Cancer. I heard about it right after I was diagnosed, but I really had no idea what it entailed. I was thinking maybe it would not affect me as I have always considered myself to have a brain like an elephant. I could remember almost everything that ever happened to me. I really did not want to lose my ability to remember as I still have thousands of photographs to scrapbook, and most of the details are in my brain!
Losing Track of Time
Unfortunately for me, I did develop Chemo Brain shortly after my second chemo treatment. It started out slowly, and progressed from there. I guess as more toxic drugs were injected into my body, my brain was adversely affected. First, I lost track of time. I could not tell you what day it was. Sometimes I was off by as much as 2 or 3 days. That progressed to the point that I actually even lost a week or two in time. Not only did I lose track of time in days or weeks, I actually lost spacial time. I could not remember the time, and I had no idea how much time had passed during the day. Before Chemo, I could pretty much judge time within a few minutes. If I rested and knew I only had 30 minutes, I could get up within 5 minutes of that time. After Chemo, I no longer had this ability to judge time. Actually, I was so sick most of the time, this really did not matter during the time I was so sick. I also had my husband, who took care of everything! He made sure to keep track of everything for me as he knew I could not.
The next thing that happened was I could not remember names! It did not matter how long I had known someone, their name would escape me. Sometimes I could not even remember my husband’s name or my son’s name. This was VERY FRUSTRATING for me as I love both of these men with all my heart! And I could not even remember their names. At least I still knew they were my family. Luckily, neither of them got mad or upset with me because I could not remember their names. They would just tell me their name and then all was good.
As more and more drugs were injected into my body, things got even worse. I could not remember words when I tried to speak. Sometimes words just would not come out and other times, I would get words mixed up or the first letter of words mixed up. It really made for some hilarious conversations. My son, husband and myself had some really good laughs at some of the things I said. I wish I had written some of them down!
Daily Habits – Forgotten
I also could not remember if I had eaten, taken medicine, made appointments, or even gone to the restroom! I could not remember telephone calls or even some of the discussions Jeff (my husband) and I had during the day. Jeff had to monitor me constantly to make sure that everything that needed to be taken care of or done on any given day was completed. I finally got in the habit of writing things down immediately, and we had some semblance of normalcy with that method. If I completed things, I would check them off immediately. If anything was left on the list, he knew to take care of it.
Loss of Recall
Another problem I had was recall. I could not recall anything that had previously happened to me. If I was in the hospital, I could not tell you when I was in the hospital, for how many days, and very little of what happened while I was in the hospital. This was just one area where I experienced this problem. This problem seems to be the worst. I still have major problems with recall to this day. For example, today I went to the store. When I came back, I unlocked the door with the keys. I left the keys in the door. Several hours later Jeff asked me where the keys were. I could not even recall or remember where they might be. Eventually, after batting around where they might be, I said maybe I left them in the door. BINGO!! There they were. Thank Goodness we live in a fairly safe neighborhood!!
Temporary or Permanent
I found “Chemo Brain” to be extremely scary. When you are in the midst of all this confusion, you have no idea if you will recover from these lapses. Fortunately, I had experienced some of these same symptoms 8 years earlier when I underwent extensive anterior/posterior spinal surgery. I did recover from that surgery, but it took over a year. Now I wondered if it would take that long once again, or if I would have permanent memory loss due to the Chemo Brain symptoms. I experienced all of these the entire nine months that I was undergoing Chemo, and they continued for over a year after that!. I still have temporary lapses of memory to this day. But the lapses usually only last for a couple of days.
Computer Work – Forget About It!
I also struggled with any work that I needed to do on the computer. I would sit down to do something, and then I could not remember why I was there! Sometimes I would sit for close to 30 minutes just staring at the screen. I kept thinking that maybe it would come to me. Most of the time, my reason for sitting down escaped me. After 30 minutes of just staring, I would finally give up. This could happen five or six times a day. It was extremely frustrating as I could not accomplish ANYTHING!!
Severe Headaches – A Pain in the ****
I also suffered from some really severe headaches. I think most of them were caused by all of the stress that I was going through. Battling all of these symptoms every single day was quite stressful. Also, when one is in the midst of these problems, you have no idea if they are temporary or permanent. That is the really scary part. One has no control over how the drugs will affect the brain. I have always suffered from migraine headaches. Once again, these headaches surfaced during Chemo. Because I have battled these all my life, I have a special medication I keep on hand in case I get one. I had to get several prescriptions for the drug because I was having migraines every few days. Migraines stop people in their tracks. People cannot do anything when in the grips of a migraine. I had to stop immediately when I got an aura and take the medicine. Then I had to lay down for at least 20 minutes in complete darkness. Most of the time, it only took one pill and 20 minutes and the headache would go away. However, as my treatments progressed, so did the headaches. I then usually had to take a pill, wait 20 minutes, and if the headache was not gone, I had to take another pill and lay in total darkness and totally still for another 20 minutes. This seemed to do the trick. I never took more than two tablets. I found out many months later, while discussing this with my doctor, that I was supposed to wait two HOURS between pills. Oh, well. No harm done!
These are the problems I experienced as side effects of Cancer and Chemo Brain. Please remember, EVERYONE’S EXPERIENCE is different. Just because I had these problems does not mean you will have the same problems. You may have one or two of them, or you may experience all of these as I did. There are also other problems that can develop, and you might experience different side effects. I hope that this information will help you, or someone you love, in some way.
If you have any questions, PLEASE send me a message. I will be glad to answer any questions or help in any way that I can. Cancer is a horrible disease, and with Chemo Brain, it can be very difficult to get through. I want to help in any way that I can!