Although chemotherapy saves lives – and for that we’re thankful—the drugs used to kill cancer cells may also impair normal brain function. For many of us, it’s like a one-two punch. As if a cancer diagnosis isn’t enough, we’re then found reeling from problems with memory, concentration, multitasking, and word retrieval. You may feel like you’ve lost your edge or that you’re no longer the person you once were.
Your Brain After Chemo:A Practical Guide to Lifting the Fog and Getting Back Your Focus, by Dan Silverman, MD, PhD, and Idelle Davidson, lays out the basics. You’ll find the research behind this phenomenon we call, “chemo brain.” Survivors will share their experiences (co-author Idelle Davidson is among them). Perhaps most important, you’ll learn strategies to improve memory and focus so that you can move on with your life.
We’ll be giving away an autographed copy on March 15, 2014. Till then, enjoy this excerpt!
A Vulnerable Time
You find the lump or the swollen lymph node, perhaps as you shower one morning. It has to be nothing, you tell yourself. The fear grows with each test: the mammogram and ultrasound where the technician will not make eye contact; or the body scans and blood work; and the biopsy. Then the waiting. Three days pass, then four. The phone rings and it is your doctor. Why is there suddenly no air in the room, you wonder? “I’m so sorry to tell you…” You glance at the clock. It is 4 P.M. and you think: On this date, at this moment in time, I have cancer.
It is not surprising that the American Psychiatric Association lists the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness as one of the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.
1. Some 3 to 35 percent of cancer patients suffer from it.
2. At least in the short term, your world spins out of control. The shock of the news may be almost unbearable.
You turn to your oncologist for help. Now there is an expert in charge, someone with a plan to make you well. You discuss the results of your tests and the type and stage of your cancer. The doctor recommends a chemotherapy regimen and runs through the possible side effects: hair loss, fatigue, nausea, perhaps mouth sores. But he or she may not mention one potential side effect that often is most traumatic of all: potential and often serious problems with memory and concentration that remain after you are physically well.