Cancer treatments for are known to be hard on the body and especially hard on the mind. Recently, significant attention has been paid to a medical condition called chemo brain, and its effects on the survivor and caregiver.
What is Chemo Brain?
Chemo brain [Link updated 9/7/2017] is the term used to reference the alteration in mental status that a chemotherapy patient has sustained throughout the course of treatment. While the etiology of the condition is still unknown, symptoms include confusion, memory loss, and difficulties in concentration, articulation, and remembering images. The patient moves slower, and completing tasks takes longer than the patient is used to. The condition is believed to be temporary.
The Effects on the Patient
Chemo brain can limit a person and severely impact self-esteem. Fatigue can keep a person in bed for days, and create a feeling of isolationism. Memory deficits result in forgotten events and appointments. Being unable to function at prior capacity leaves them frustrated, and often depressed, and can lead to more detrimental effects if the depression becomes crippling.
The Effects on the Caregiver
The caregiver is highly taxed while caring for a family member or loved one recovering from cancer. Very often, they do not fully understand that the person will suffer effects of treatment for up to two years. When the case is one of mesothelioma, which often carries a poor prognosis, they feel cheated that the effects of the treatments to prolong a family member’s life have made them incapable of fully enjoying it.
The mental alteration can be a source of embarrassment for the family member, as well as a cause for frustration. As the caretaker often puts much on hold to care for the patient, their needs are frequently neglected. Significant dates, such as anniversaries, or frequently needing to remind someone of things they have been told many times before wears down patience. The feelings of agitation cause a sense of guilt and depression in its own right.
Chemo brain is another example of how cancer cannot only affect the lives of the patient, but of the family also.
Kate Flaherty is an outreach and awareness coordinator for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. She has a passion for cancer awareness and education, including complementary and alternative therapy options during comprehensive treatment.
The Caregiver’s Voice invited her to share insights on how treatment for Mesothelioma Cancer results in brain impairment.