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Your New Normal: Chemo Brain

Welcome to “Your New Normal.”  Today we’re going to talk about chemo brain and how you can manage symptoms that occur from treatment.

Does your mind ever feel a little foggy after cancer treatment? If so, that’s completely normal.  There is actually a link between cognitive issues and cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and hormonal blockade.  Patients report a variety of issues, like:

  • Trouble recalling names
  • Focusing
  • Multi-tasking
  • Being able to finish sentences

In addition to cancer treatment, your brain function can also be affected by the stress, anxiety and depression that can come along with having cancer.

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Coping Mechanisms

Fortunately, there are so many tools you can use to cope with chemo brain.  Try adding a few (or all!) of these options suggested by the American Cancer Society into your routine:

  • Using a daily planner can be a huge help! Whether it’s an app on your phone, a calendar on your refrigerator, or a daily planner you carry with you on the go, writing things down can help keep you on track.  Review it in the evening to get an idea of what’s coming up the next day and again in the morning.  You can even use your phone to set alarms to let you know it’s time to leave for lunch with a friend or an appointment with your doctor.
  • Don’t worry about multitasking. This can be hard, but if you’re experiencing chemo brain, try to take each task one at a time so you can give it your full focus.
  • Avoid distractions. Have a project you need to complete?  Keep the television off or your phone away from you, so you can focus on the task at hand.
  • When you were growing up, did your mom say “a place for everything and everything in its place?” Mom’s advice can come in handy here.  Put your keys, phone, purse and other essential items in the same place every time you come home or get to work.  Creating an environment that’s free of clutter will help you easily find what you need.
  • Take some time every night to get ready for the next day. Set out your clothes for work on your dresser, pack your gym bag and gather items for work in a place where you’ll see them in the morning.
  • Make some time to move! Exercise and meditation can help with memory. One thing to consider is Tai Chi. Tai Chi has been shown to improve immediate and delayed memory, as well as word finding, attention and executive function.
  • Train your brain, in addition to your body. Doing word puzzles or Sudoku have proven to be helpful.  Have a smart phone?  Download some apps like “Luminosity,” which has brain training games that can help improve your memory, attention, speed of processing and problem solving.

Chemo brain can be frustrating, but take comfort in the fact that for many people, it’s not permanent.  If you or a loved one is noticing memory issues, be sure to tell your care team, especially if it lasts for a prolonged period of time.

Missed a blog post in my “Your New Normal” series?  Click the links below to read other posts!


Headshot photo of Dr. Deepa HalaharviAbout Dr. Deepa Halaharvi

Dr. Halaharvi is a board-certified general surgeon with over six years of experience. She completed the Breast Surgery Fellowship at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center and provides a surgical practice focused on breast care and breast surgery.

Dr. Halaharvi’s interests include teaching, involvement in clinical breast disease research and community outreach activities. She can speak 4 languages which include: English, Hindi, Urdu & Telugu.



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