Chemobrain or cognitive dysfunction has been a constant companion of mine since I completed active therapy for my cancer in ’97. I didn’t know it at the time but looking back at certain events, it was my chemobrain doing the talking. While I believe that my chemobrain has healed over the years I have learned to cope with my lack of executive function.
The New York Times blog post linked below by Jane Brody got me thinking about how chemobrain compares to “age-related cognitive decline.”
While most of the active examples of both chemobrain and ARCD are similar, the key difference is how we cope or manage our brains. By this I mean that while Jane Brody wonders if ARCD is actually a disorder or simply a function of old age, despite the lack of recognition of this side effect by conventional oncology, we chemobrain sufferers know that this side effect from chemotherapy is a a problem or disorder to be treated or managed as best we can.
Which brings me to why I am writing this blog post. The list below are my best chemobrain coping methods.
1) The Power of Habit– buy the book, read the book, live the book. Coping with chemobrain is a lifestyle. Habit supports the chemobrain lifestyle. Sure, doing things like making lists is important. But concepts from the book supported every therapy below.
2) Frequent moderate exercise. I agree with Jane on this one. FME also helps me manage all my side effects and helps me stay cancer free. Six days a week, every morning. Once I got in the habit, frequent moderate exercise was a necessity for me.
3) Supplementation– Jane focuses below on cardiovascular health but for me, it is cardiovascular, brain, nerve, and blood, health. Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D3, curcumin, green tea extract and other supplements have evidence-based research citing brain and other organ health. Like exercise, this supplementation is also anti-cancer. With food, without food, once, twice or three times daily. Supplementation becomes a habit.
4) Alcohol– this is an easy one for me. I have extensive nerve damage from peripheral neuropathy. I can’t walk too well sober much less after a few drinks. The less we chemobrain patients drink the better.
5) Routine– I don’t get why people have such a difficult time remembering where their keys or cellphones are. When entering your house, place your keys, wallet, cell phone, etc. in the same place each and every day. Maybe a bit boring but you will find them when you need them. Routine is another word for habit…
6) Poker- this is a fine-tuning of one of Jane’s recommendation below. Jane advises to both stay social as well as be well-educated. Can you recite what beats what in poker? A regular poker game with old friends accomplishes both.
7) A cancer survivor’s version of “intellectually stimulating activities.” I understand that the last thing that cancer survivors want to think about is cancer. However I can make a cogent argument for regularly participating in support groups, online forums, heck, even launching your own blog. Learning about and understanding the new normal, cancer issues or the many iterations of daily life as a cancer survivor will help you understand your currant and future world in ways you can’t imagine.
8) Brain Games- BrainHQ understand me. Or should I say they understand how my brain will heal. A brain game shows up in my inbox every morning M-F. BrainHQ keeps track of everything. Fun, easy, with a dash of competitiveness.
For more information about chemobrain or other side effects from your therapy, scroll down the page, post a question or comment and I will reply ASAP.
“One walking buddy suggested I call it delayed retrieval disorder. “It’s not that we can’t remember,” she said. “It just takes us longer, sometimes a lot longer, than it used to.” Then she wondered, “Is it really a disorder? Since it seems to happen to all of us, isn’t this just normal aging?”
AARP reassuringly writes in its Staying Sharp booklets, “As brain functions go, forgetting may be almost as important as remembering; it would be inefficient for our brains to try to retain every bit of information we’re exposed to throughout life.”
Nor are those who do less well cognitively suffering from a brain disease. “Just as you wouldn’t say that a marathon runner who slows down in his 80s has a motor disease, age-related cognitive decline isn’t necessarily pathological,” said Molly V. Wagster, chief of neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging. “We may just be slower to retrieve information, and slower to learn new things.”
… “the older brain retains plasticity; it’s capable of making adaptive changes. Certain regions of the brain operate in slightly different ways that may actually be better than at young ages.”
Preventing cognitive decline that can interfere with quality of life is a far better option than trying to reverse it…
First and foremost, “be physically active.” Numerous studies have documented benefits to the brain as well as the body from regular exercise…
Second, prevent or control cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure, smoking, obesity and diabetes. What is good for the heart also appears to be good for the brain. A diet relatively low in fat, cholesterol and sugar and replete in antioxidant-rich vegetables and fish are likely to be protective, as are adequate levels of vitamin D…
Drink alcohol moderately, defined as one drink a day for women, two for men, or not at all…
And get adequate sleep — a good seven hours a night — to keep neurons firing at top speed.
Depression has a negative effect on cognition at all ages; if you suffer from it, get it treated.
Be well educated. Even if you missed out on a good education early in life, it is not too late to engage in intellectually stimulating activities, including taking courses online or at a local college, reading books, participating in discussion group…
But Dr. Wagster emphasized that cognitively stimulating activities should also be personally rewarding or meaningful, not frustrating or just busy work…
Social interaction is a strong predictor of healthy aging…”
I’m a long-term cancer survivor living with chemobrain, chemo-induced heart damage, radiation-induced nerve damage and a risk of treatment related secondary cancers. I believe that omega 3 fatty acid supplementation helps me maintain my health each and every day.
I take one capsule daily of Life Extension Super Omega 3 EPA/DHA with Sesame Lignans and Olive Fruit to insure all I get all of the health benefits below and I encourage you to do so as well.
Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions.
It is a major public health concern, since it increases your risk of developing many other diseases. These include heart disease and diabetes (51).
Inflammation is incredibly important. We need it to fight infections and repair damage in the body.
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the Western world, and omega-3 fatty acids have long been claimed to reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease with symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing.
Menstrual pain occurs in the lower abdomen and pelvis, and often radiates to the lower back and thighs.
Good sleep is one of the foundations of optimal health.
Omega-3s can also protect your skin from sun damage. EPA helps block the release of substances that eat away at the collagen in your skin after sun exposure (101).