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Dealing with Chemo Brain

What is Chemo Brain?  

Many people are familiar with the term chemo brain and what it is, but for those who have not heard of it, the National Cancer Institute defines it as “a term commonly used to describe thinking and memory problems that a patient with cancer may have before, during, or after cancer treatment.” 

Though the common term refers to chemotherapy/cancer treatment being the cause, there are other causes as well including:

  • Cancer itself (the stress of a diagnosis and chemicals that certain cancers release can both cause memory problems) 

  • Treatments besides chemotherapy (including radiation, surgery, hormone & immunotherapy, as well as transplant)

  • Related medications such as for pain

  • Complications from cancer treatment (such as infection, anemia, and trouble with sleep)

Given the numerous causes, it is extremely common for cancer patients to experience “chemo brain” at some point in their journey.   

What are the symptoms of Chemo Brain? 

Symptoms of chemo brain certainly vary from person to person, but the most common symptoms are typically:

  • Confusion, memory loss, and trouble recalling information 

  • Difficulty multitasking and concentrating 

  • Shorter attention span 

  • A general feeling of mental fogginess 

  • Difficulty learning new tasks or skills, and/or taking longer than normal to finish routine tasks 

No matter the cause or the scale of the symptoms, it can be incredibly frustrating to experience. Especially on top of the general stress and anxiety that cancer brings most people. 

While chemo brain is probably the most commonly known form of post-cancer treatment fatigue, it actually also manifests as physical fatigue, and even lesser-known, emotional fatigue. I wrote a blog post on this topic recently, which you can read here

Treatment for Chemo Brain

As frustrating and debilitating as chemo brain can be, there are many different things you can do to manage your symptoms.


There are certain lifestyle-related things that you can do to help combat chemo brain symptoms. Making sure you get enough sleep, exercise, and eat a nutritional diet with lots plant-based foods helps. As does meditation. Human interaction is also helpful to keep your brain stimulated, so try scheduling coffee dates or going for a walk with a friend.  

Help your brain out 

There are also certain activities that you can do to help keep your brain active and fight chemo brain symptoms such as doing puzzles and playing games. It also helps to keep your home and workspace clear of too much clutter because that creates fewer distractions for your brain. And if you keep a to-do list handy (such as in an app on your phone), you can jot down things right when you think of them so that you’re not trying to recall them on your own later. 

Talk to your doctor 

And of course, be sure to talk with your medical team about the symptoms you are experiencing. They will be able to help monitor what is going on and give you further guidance on how to manage your symptoms. 

My Experience as a Cancer Coach

I have seen so many clients struggle with this issue! People have high expectations that they will feel back to themselves right after they finish treatment and this just isn’t realistic. I always tell people to think in terms of a year from their last date of treatment before they will really feel like they are functioning like they used to before cancer. In the meantime, it’s ok to tell people that you are a bit fuzzier and more forgetful than before. People aren’t going to hold it against you.

Need to talk to someone? 

Dealing with chemo brain, and all of the other side effects of cancer and treatment is extremely frustrating and often overwhelming. As a cancer survivor and counselor myself, I found it very helpful to talk with a professional therapist about my experience. If you are seeking guidance in this area, I encourage you to reach out to me. I offer free consultations for those who are looking for a cancer coach and counselor and work with you to create a customized program that suits your specific needs 


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