Chemo Brain – Tips for Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma Patients
Lung cancer and mesothelioma patients risk developing chemo brain symptoms due to the number of chemotherapy treatments they go through. Other treatments such as radiation, hormone therapy, and surgery also put patients at risk. Whether your symptoms are short or long-term, here are tips to make this time less stressful.
Cancer patients fight enough physical and mental battles throughout their treatments, and unfortunately, many are faced with yet another roadblock: chemo brain. A common side effect of cancer and the treatments that go along with it is chemo brain, also commonly known as cancer-related cognitive impairment.
What is Chemo Brain?
According to research from the National Institutes of Health, chemo brain affects 75% of cancer patients during treatments and 35% of patients after treatments. Chemo brain affects the brain’s cognitive functions, such as memory, concentrating, processing speed, and multitasking. Many patients compare this to having a mental fog that prevents them from doing daily tasks. That is why we have compiled a list of 5 helpful tips for mesothelioma and lung cancer patients can use to relive their symptoms and try to get back to their regular life.
1) Establish a Daily Routine
Many patients find creating a daily routine helpful when managing chemo brain. Lung cancer and mesothelioma patients trying to juggle chemotherapy medications, treatments, and appointments are probably overwhelmed. Setting aside designated times for these three activities will help build structure and balance during this chaotic time.
Doing crossword puzzles, number games, coloring, or reading a book is a great way to exercise your brain. These activities help repair broken circuits contributing to cognitive function struggles.
Implementing moderate exercise, such as walking, stretching, and yoga, helps relieve stress, fatigue, and depression.
Your brain is already on overdrive, so taking breaks during these mentally demanding activities is essential. Your brain needs rest so it can tackle the next task. Also, getting adequate sleep helps your body recover after chemotherapy treatments since, during this time, your body is trying to remove unwanted toxins from the treatment.
While practicing these activities, remain consistent because chemo brain makes it difficult to concentrate, remember specific words and memories, and multitask. This process takes time, persistence, and lots of patience.
2) Detox Chemo Brain with Memory Aids
A memory aid is an accommodation tool that helps people who struggle to retain, learn, or retrieve information. Using memory aids while having chemo brain helps ease and decrease your brain’s workload, especially when managing daily tasks becomes increasingly challenging.
Incorporating simple memory aids like calendars, sticky note reminders, and to-do lists can help your brain process information. Since forgetting things is a common chemotherapy side effect, lung cancer and mesothelioma patients benefit from these visual aids to help manage their appointment dates, medication times, and other daily tasks.
Chemo brain can last anywhere from 9-12 months after chemotherapy and can even be long-term. Getting into a routine, especially during each mesothelioma stage, will help make chemo brain and its symptoms easier to manage and live with.
3) Practice Mindfulness and Stress Reduction to Ease Side Effects
Although it is natural to be angry and frustrated while having chemo brain, holding onto these feelings is not healthy. Finding different outlets to manage your stress and emotions helps reset and calm your mind so you can focus on recovering.
When mesothelioma patients practice mindfulness and stress reduction activities, it improves their cognitive function and overall well-being. It aids chemo brain because you are replacing stressors with peaceful thoughts and activities that allow your brain function to improve.
Mindfulness slows down your cognitive brain functions and shifts your focus to the present. This might seem easy, but it takes deep concentration to clear your mind of stressors. Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine helps reduce depression and anxiety, increases positive emotions and feelings, improves relationships, and lessens caretakers’ stress.
Other stress-relieving activities include deep-breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation. These activities help patients push through mentally challenging times.
4) Seek Mesothelioma or Lung Cancer Support Group
Even though lung cancer and mesothelioma can cause isolation and loneliness, you are not alone. Joining a support group with others experiencing the same symptoms, treatments, emotions, and struggles helps patients cope with poor survival rates.
We encourage patients to talk openly and connect with others with the same experiences. These group sessions are a great way to learn coping strategies from other survivors and form new friendships with people you can relate to.
Aside from meeting with a support group, talking to a counselor, family members, and friends about your chemo brain symptoms helps reduce stress and ease pain.
5) Be Patient and Honest with Yourself
Cancer has no set timeline, nor do the symptoms and complications that come with it. Give your mind time to recover, cope, and adjust to the new way your brain is functioning. With patience and time, your memory and cognitive functions will improve. It is crucial to remember that this is a process and will not happen overnight.
Chemo brain affects each lung cancer and mesothelioma patient differently, so some symptoms might be harder to eliminate. Regardless, it is crucial to understand and accept that every chemo brain patient struggles with memory problems. Even if you consistently work on memory strategies, occasional lapses are natural and do not reflect your progress and growth.
We also recommend being honest with your doctor, family, and yourself about cognitive struggles. Acknowledging and explaining your symptoms allows the people around you to help you better.
Living Well with Chemo Brain
You are not defined by cancer or any chemo brain symptoms that come along with it. Remain patient and self-compassionate during this process to give your brain and yourself time to recover.
We encourage mesothelioma patients to stay proactive in managing their chemo brain symptoms by practicing the tips provided, seeking support and help from healthcare professionals and loved ones, and persistently working to improve their cognitive function.
You are not alone in this journey; with time and proper support, you can adapt and live your life. Visit our Contact Patient Advocate page to learn more about how we can help you.