There are numerous side effects you can experience after chemo. None are good. But chemo brain is probably the most frustrating side effect from chemotherapy. Here’s what you can expect.
The first chemotherapy(chemo) agents appeared in the first world wars and were used as mustard gases to kill soldiers. Since then, cancer patients from all over the world have opted to use chemo as part of their cancer treatment plan. Cancer cells grow faster than healthy cells. Chemo destroys these fast-growing cells and helps to keep them from becoming back. Chemo drugs can’t tell the difference, and they also kill healthy cells, causing many different side effects during treatment.
Side Effects From Chemo
Different treatments can cause many kinds of side effects that can happen during chemo or immediately after, such as:
- Mouth sores
- Metal taste in your mouth
- Leukopenia (raising the risk of infection)
- Cognition issues aka “Chemo Brain”
- Sexual dysfunction
- Fertility issues
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
- Hair loss.
For me, some of the worst side effects I experienced during chemo treatment were hair loss, neuropathy, vertigo, and bone pain.
A study published in Breast Cancer Research found that chemotherapy “causes long-term immune system damage, reducing levels of key immune cells in breast cancer patients for at least nine months after treatment, leaving them vulnerable to potentially life-threatening viral and bacterial infections.”
The Canadian Cancer Society provides an extensive list of late and long-term side effects of cancer treatment:
- Learning and memory problems
- Nervous system changes
- Mouth and teeth problems
- Vision changes
- Weight changes
- Decreased thyroid function
- Menopausal symptoms
- Fertility problems
- Digestive problems
- Bladder problems
- Bowel problems
- Heart problems
- Lung problems
- Second cancers.
One of the most frustrating long-term side effects, especially for adolescents and young adults is Chemo Brain. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), up to 75% of cancer patients have these cognition issues during chemo treatment, and 35% continue long after treatment has ended.
According to Dr. Heather Paulson, ND, FABNO, in her book Cancer Proof: 7 Natural Ways to Live Cancer Free, “there are several reasons why doctors think Chemo Brain happens, and even more causes of Chemo Brain are being discovered. The main contributors at this time are inflammation, oxidative stress, and damage to brain cells.”
I was the kid who sat in the front of the class with my hand always up ready to share the correct answer. I have always prided myself on being smart and having a great memory. I could multi-task and juggle and never miss a beat. I climbed the corporate ladder into high-level positions of authority. Everyone counted on me, and I never let them down.
Then cancer and chemotherapy happened. And menopause. And Hashimoto’s. I felt like my mind was in outer space with the brain fog. I had zero focus and concentration. I could barely remember something from the time I thought of it until I could get a pen and paper to write it down. There were days that a simple 15-minute task would take me over two hours to complete. I felt like I had literally lost my mind. My brain was broken.
Chemo Brain can include:
- Memory lapses
- Forgetting things
- Trouble focusing and concentrating
- Short attention span
- Trouble remembering common details
- Difficulty multi-tasking
- Taking longer to finish everyday tasks
- Slower processing
- Losing words and train of thought
- Trouble learning new tasks
- Difficulty retaining new information.
How Can I Recover?
This article hit on the basics of chemo brain. But please don’t stop there. We have several articles which will help to take you to the next steps and help begin the healing and recovery process.
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Love, hugs, and trying to remember what I was going to say…HERE.
- Bollinger, Ty. The Truth About Cancer
- Chris Beats Cancer.