Saturday, 5 May 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Chemo Brain Top Trumps!

If only we could forget about chemo-brain.....

In our discussion this week, we played "Chemo-brain Top Trumps" and shared our brain lapses and tried to out-do each other!

Chemo-brain is one of our most engaging discussion topics because it feels so real, so alive, so forgetful. If only we could ever forget about forgetting.....

Oh, the joys of forgetting! But no, it's there, every day, just when we want to emphasise something important, just when we want to focus and concentrate on a line of argument, just when we want to name something, remember a name, or flag up an important point....

Chemo-brain, it emerged, affects us all, irrespective of whether we have primary or secondary breast cancer. Those of us who have not had chemotherapy also experience chemo-brain. We shared how often we run into a room to collect something, and yes, we've forgotten what it was as soon as we enter the room. We lose track of where we've put our keys, leave messages for ourselves or just occasionally, we might call our partner the wrong name! Whether our lapses are small or are large, they arise because of our inability to hold something (yes, it can be small) in our working memory. It can be funny, but usually it is hard, sometimes upsetting and very undermining of our confidence.

Why does chemo-brain happen?

Naz explained that chemo-brain happens after diagnosis and before treatment even begins. Most of the studies show that there are reductions in gray and white matter in the brain in areas that support cognitive functions such as working memory, attention and concentration. This is due to the impact of trauma, and the because the worries and fears that occupy our working memory take precedence, our brains end up having to work harder in the long run. We find that we take longer, we make more errors, we feel sluggish, and our cognitive functions are slow. The effects of chemo-brain are amplified through chemotherapy induced cognitive decline, as we have discussed before, and it's thought hormones may also impact on cognitive functioning.

Our discussion highlighted stress and fatigue make chemo-brain much, much worse and we feel we can become SO incoherent that we lose the ability to speak.

There's no doubt that chemo-brain was prevalent for all of us. Particularly hard is the lack of understanding from our families who unintentionally undermine us when our lapses stop being funny and start being annoying (as I'm writing this, my daughter has declined my suggestion that she write down the name of a book because "she has a memory"). We find it hard to talk about our chemo-brain at work and some of us shared that we feared being seen as less competent. Perhaps hardest of all, is the lack of wide recognition and support available to us which is why sharing and talking - and laughing when we can - is so important for our resilience.

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