Lost Your Words? Call Them “Chemo Brain”

Blogs-contributors, Your Brain After Chemo — By on November 6, 2009 at 12:38 am

You know it’s just on the tip of your tongue. It’s a word that has a “ka” sound in the beginning and a “tah” sound somewhere at the end. And you can almost see it, but then darn, it’s gone. Perhaps later, when you’re rushing to slap dinner on the table, that stupid word, so maddeningly elusive just hours before will pop right into your head, as if it were all just a silly misunderstanding between you and your brain.

I’m guessing that if you’ve had chemo and have experienced the fog that often follows, then you know what I’m talking about, right? It’s not that you can’t comprehend language, it’s that you can’t retrieve it. It’s like the arcade game with the crane where you try to scoop up the two-penny plastic key chain and then five-dollars-worth-of-quarters later, it’s stuck in the chute.

In a 2006 study of the psychosocial side effects experienced by 26 women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, language (including fluency, verbal repetition, reading, and writing to dictation) was the most severely affected cognitive process, followed by memory. (Source: F. Downie, Psycho-Oncology 15 -2006: 921-930). That’s not entirely surprising considering that chemotherapy not only may affect language but the speed in which we process information.

One of the people I interviewed for “Your Brain After Chemo” had this to say: “It is painful when people look at me with confusion while I am trying to talk. I know that I’m not making sense, and I don’t know how else to talk. When it happens I die a million deaths and feel very dumb.”

Have you experienced word retrieval problems during or following chemotherapy? Have you found ways to compensate? If so, what works for you?

Please check out Idelle’s book (with co-author Dr. Dan Silverman at UCLA). You’ll find “Your Brain After Chemo: A Practical Guide to Lifting the Fog and Getting Back Your Focus” on Amazon. Visit her website at www.yourbrainafterchemo.com.

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