One of the most dreaded side effects of chemotherapy is often called “chemo brain,” and it refers to a sort of “foggy” feeling, impaired memory, and the general inability to think quite as coherently as you were able to before.
There’s no getting around it. Chemo brain is a difficult symptom to cope with, especially if you have a busy life to manage outside of your cancer treatment. But there are some things you can do to help yourself survive this unruly side effect.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of things you can try to keep your brain happy while you’re going through chemotherapy—and even afterward.
8. Get plenty of rest.
You know the feeling when you’re so tired that you can’t think straight. And you know chemotherapy is going to make you more fatigued than usual. So it naturally follows that getting extra sleep can help boost your brain health and keep you from feeling foggy throughout the day.
7. Do the most important things when you’re feeling your best.
For most people, even those who aren’t undergoing chemotherapy, there tends to be a time of the day when they’re naturally more awake and aware than the rest of the day. This time of day isn’t the same for everyone, and yours may not be the same during chemotherapy as it was before chemotherapy. But try to keep track of what time of day you feel the best, and schedule your most important daily activities for that time. That way, you can be as present and coherent as possible when it counts the most.
6. Outsource your memory.
Get a calendar. Make a to-do list. Buy some sticky notes. Whatever way works for you, make sure you’re writing down the things that are most important to remember and keeping them in a place where you’ll see and remember them. Also, a pill box is a super helpful way to make sure you’re remembering to take any medications or vitamins you don’t want to forget about.
5. Get organized.
Writing everything down is a good start, but if you really want to make sure you don’t forget anything important, you should also make sure all the stuff you’re writing down is well-organized. If you’re feeling fatigued and your brain is foggy, you’re not going to want to read through all your notes, and you’re going to miss that one oh-so-important thing and forget to do it.
4. Ask for help.
If you’re worried about missing an appointment, ask your doctor’s office to send you reminders. If you’re concerned you won’t remember all of your oncologist’s instructions, ask him or her to write them down. Friends and family members can also help you remember important things; all you have to do is ask them.
3. Keep your brain sharp.
If you want to keep your brain functioning as well as it can, make sure you keep it active as much as possible. Play brain games like sudoku or crossword puzzles, read anything you can get your hands on, and learn as much new information as you can about whatever topics interest you. The more you expect of your mind and the better you train it, the more it will deliver.
2. Repeat things.
Many people remember things better if they say them out loud. When you receive information you don’t want to lose, especially if you have no way of writing it down at the moment, repeat it back to the person who said it, or repeat it to yourself several times when you’re alone to make sure it really sticks in your head.
1. Get active.
Your brain isn’t the only part of your body that needs to stay active. Physical fitness is important too, and you’d be surprised at how big an impact that may have on your brain health. While chemotherapy and other cancer treatments often don’t make it easy to work out, ask your doctor what you should be doing to stay in shape, and do as much as you’re reasonably able to.
There’s really no way to completely get rid of chemo brain (although we hope you’ll be among the lucky group of people who simply don’t get chemo brain at all). However, there are some things you can be doing to ensure that the most important things on your to-do list don’t get missed.
Do you have any tips to add to this list? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?