Wednesday 7 June 2017

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Chemo Brain 2

This week the focus of our discussion was chemo-brain, a catch-all term for the 'brain fog' that many women experience post cancer diagnosis. Commonly attributed to the after-effects of chemotherapy and trauma, it may also be present for those who have not had chemotherapy, and in the longer term, hormone treatments and fatigue may also be contributors.

Chemo-brain has long been a controversial issue, however recent research has provided evidence to substantiate brain changes which are significant enough to show up on scans. Our members provided consistent anecdotal evidence for these changes.

Women at various points following a breast cancer diagnosis (our group supports women with both primary and secondary diagnoses) reported living in a brain fog and being unable to function as well as they did before. For many, this leads to frustration and anxiety, with many feeling less competent at work and in their home lives. A resulting loss of confidence was reported by many, with those who have to attend meetings at work struggling particularly. 

We forget names, we lose track of conversation, we feel lost and foolish when memory incidents affect us in public, although most of us are able to laugh at ourselves too! We are unable to spell, write, read, perform basic maths or remember why we walked into a room. Some have found clean washing in the fridge and have picked up other people’s keys in an effort to remember their own. Some have fallen, dropped things, knocked things over. Having a foggy mind can lead to a clumsy body, which may not be such a laughing matter. 

We make lists, use our phone alerts, take copious notes, muddle through. Sometimes those around us are sympathetic but many of us have experienced the frustration of others as they find us different to how we used to be. Some women practise letting go and have found some comfort in acceptance, feeling pleased that they can drop the veneer of being in strict control.

A key point made by several women is that they worry that their forgetfulness may come across as rude or uncaring. Many are hard on themselves, others more able to go with the flow. Some spoke of increased anxiety, others noted a reduction. All those who contributed reported a significant change in their ability to think clearly and a difficulty in adapting to their new state of mind.

Despite these troubling experiences, Naz was quick to point out that there is help at hand. The brain has a plasticity that can be altered by cognitive exercises, and mindfulness and relaxation can be very helpful. Strengthening neural pathways via systematic cognitive practices may help us to rebuild the weakened parts of our brains.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a diagnosis of breast cancer and you would like to join our private group, please contact us by Facebook message


Our thanks to Amanda for this lovely photo. 

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