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Combating Chemo-Brain

This article was taken from "Coping With Cancer Magazine May/June 2003", by Jeffrey Kaplan, MD, MPS, FAAP, and Marie Kaplan

Cancer is very stressful, perhaps the most stress a person will endure. Add to this the effects of taking chemotherapy and the result is what many cancer survivors refer to as chemo-brain. For people with cancer, chemo-brain is a lack of coherence of thought, not remembering what they are talking about, failing to remember what they are doing, forgetting phone numbers, and asking questions only to repeat them 15 minutes later.

The following "Chemo-Brain Prevention Plan" may not apply to everyone, but it can act as a guideline to reduce stress for cancer survivors.

  • Put things in perspective. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "The first wealth is health." If you are a survivor, you are healthy compared to the alternative.

  • Remember that healthcare is supposed to be a caring profession. Memory loss can be organic, meaning it can have a physical cause ; sometime it is a natural cost of aging. If memory loss is severe, consequential, or progressive, seek advise from an empathetic healthcare practitioner - someone you can trust.

  • Find a way to celebrate life. See what remains beautiful, wholesome, and gives redeeming value to people. Look deep under the surface ; seek other's positive values, and never allow stereotyping or prejudices to get in your way.

  • Concentrate on what matters. Forgetting a phone number is not as important as remembering a birthday of a significant other.

  • Don't allow minor events to "rain on your parade" or become a setback. They are merely inconveniences.

  • Reduce complexity in your life. It might be a good idea to break complex tasks into orderly, manageable parts. For instance, do not paint the house before installing the new chimney.

  • Take a break. Try deep breathing exercises; even consider formal training in mind over matter exercises such as transcendental meditation or yoga.

  • Eat well and if you cannot sleep, at least relax.

  • Reducing stimulants such as caffeine (and other such chemicals) in a diet is always good.

  • Try not to become frustrated when forgetful, especially about things of little or no consequence.

  • Indulge yourself once in a while with agreeable things that give you pleasure. Go shopping. Sometimes aerobic exercises help.

  • Chew! Chewing is a stress releaser. Try carrots, celery, or gum. Eating complex carbohydrates may help release the neurotransmitter or chemical, serotonin, which in the brain is associated with  stress handling and calm moods.

  • Avoid addictive drugs including nicotine, a drug that smokers claim relieves stress - it doesn't.

  • Find and rely on significant others. Have the strength to say, "I'm hurting and feel very vulnerable (or stressed, or unstable, etc.)."

  • Align with, or reach out to, support or social groups such as a church, synagogue, or mosque; seek people with similar interests as your own.

  • Connect with others. The Internet, for example, puts people in touch with others who care, but are not prying.

  • Get Organized - Pocket organizers are valuable here.

  • Finally, treat life and life's stresses one day at a time.

500 E. Round Grove Rd, Suite 306
Lewisville, Texas 75067
214-488-8885 1-866-383-8885
FAX 972-316-8885

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and 9:00 to 3:00 Saturday
Closed Sunday & Monday.