Chemo Brain

A few months ago, after only a couple of sessions of chemotherapy, I noticed that I was forgetting little things, or wandering off in the middle of some task and never quite getting back to it.  If it wasn’t written down, it seemed to evaporate.  In short, I became a bit of an airhead.


This was alarming as no one on my medical team had warned me that part of getting cancer might mean becoming an airhead.  But it turns out it’s an actual side-effect of chemo (or of the cancer itself, they’re not sure) and it’s known in the medical field by the very technical term, “chemo brain.”   


There is even a tiny reference to it in the book they gave me at the hospital, confirming that yes, Virginia, there really is such a thing as chemo brain. It says this:


“Many women who have received chemotherapy for breast cancer will experience a slight decrease in mental functioning.  There might be some difficulty in concentration and memory.  This could last a long time but rarely interferes with a woman’s ability to do intellectual tasks.”


A cursory internet search backs up the book. Some sites describe the effects of chemo brain in detail and even offer suggestions for managing it.  As helpful as these sites were, I found myself amused by such gems as:


“Don’t try to multi-task. Focus on one thing at a time.”

Is this tip offered by someone who has ever held down a job?  No, really. Or even left the house?


“You may have difficulty completing sentences or finding the right word.”

Obviously this does not bode well for a writer.  As a writer it is of para… um, very big, very top importance that I retain the ability to… to… oh look, a bird.


And my favourite:

“Though the brain usually recovers over time…”

Pardon me?  What do you mean “usually” recovers over time?? I don’t think it’s really necessary to scare us airheads with that kind of talk.  Although we’ll probably forget all about it in a day or two. 


Some sites I found helpful:


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Filed under Living with Breast Cancer

0 responses to “Chemo Brain

  1. Gerry Ward

    O Wonderful, Brilliant, Intelligent, Challenging, Audacious, Outspoken and Champion Leanne! Watching from a distance and in awe of your blog and comments, I have to say that you were, I think, for maybe three minutes, one day, in all the years I have known you, an air-head. So, it is past. Chemo-brain too will pass, leaving you your normal remarkable self. I have lost count of the people I have recommended to your blog, and of the survivors who, along with you, can laugh out loud, along with you, as you describe your incredible journey. You are blessing lives and providing hope. How amazing is that? GTP.

  2. lcoppen

    Gerry!! So nice to know you’re out there keeping an eye on me and spreading the cancer-is-crap gospel! Your comment couldn’t have been more well-timed – it really bolstered my spirits on kind of a down day. Thanks for the support – it may be from a distance but I know it’s always there. Now, one of these days you’ll have to tell me which three minutes you’re referring to!!

  3. Dr.Eva Butler

    Dear Leanne, I am NOT a medical doctor, (in chenistry!) hence my comments are only a layman’s comments! But I am a cancer survivor and I had breast cancer twice.21 years ago and almost 7 years ago.I went through 12 months long chemo (during the first cancer) and 2 months long radiation therapy (during the second time)(as much about beiing a layman!!!)I was reading your “diary” and I want to reassure you as much as I am able! Your chemo-brain won’t be lasting! It is temporary, I became full professor at two universities, published and presented sscientific papers at international conferencies and lectured to many students after my 12 months chemo.You remain intelligent and clever, do not worry! Your eyebrow also will be replaced! You hair will grow again, however you might get a different hair quality and color, as I did! I had silky, ashblond hair and the new one became almost black and very strong like a foxterrier has!(By now it iS white
    Cheer up! And never give it up!In spite of those days and nights(mostly!) when you just hate to have cancer, when you feel to be humiliated by the illness. Don’t!You have the strenght, I feel it from your writing,you must fight, you can fight, you will fight!I AM Still doing it…..
    I will keep an eye on your days and hope the best for you! EVA
    PS> I heard your story via ANGELICA H

  4. lcoppen

    I like your chutzpah, Eva neni. I think I am headed for fox terrier hair like you (just to have hair will be a treat) and I HOPE I am headed for years of having cancer behind me, like you. You sound like a force to be reckoned with — and those are some of my favourite kinds of people. Thanks so much for your positivity & comments — esp the reassurance that my brain will come back along with my eyelashes!!

  5. Pingback: Chatelaine » Blog Archive » Still Cooking

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