So, is there a difference between “chemo brain” and “brain fog?” Well, medically speaking, no.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Chemo brain is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that can occur after cancer treatment. Chemo brain also can be called chemo fog, chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment, or cognitive dysfunction. Though chemo brain is a widely-used term, it’s misleading.”
The Mayo Clinic’s explanation continues: “It’s unlikely that chemotherapy is the sole cause of concentration and memory problems in cancer survivors. Researchers are working to understand the memory changes that people with cancer experience.”
So, there you have it! Right? Well, I am going to discuss another type of “The Fog.” It’s more like “Dazed and Confused.” (Geesh! I am really good with movie analogies, huh? Both great movies, but one was a horror movie and the other was a comedy.) Basically, that is what my story is like, too. Just add some drama, action, a bit of horror and, of course, comedy. Oscar worthy, right?
First we are going to talk about my type of fog, which isn’t the same as what the Mayo Clinic is talking about. My variety of fog came to me in November 2012. It started when the doctor said “Steve, you have breast cancer.” I instantly was in a fog, and I think it took about a year to get out of it. When he stated those words, I don’t remember leaving the office, I don’t remember him and the nurses telling me anything else. Nothing. All I remember is standing in front of the elevators calling my best friend Jamie in Columbus, telling him the results.
From that point on until six months after my chemo, I was in a weird place. I can’t explain it, but my thinking wasn’t clear. When I recall that time, it is just a blur. It happened so fast that I don’t remember much. Maybe it’s because I am blocking it, because I can remember other things before my cancer really well, but not much during that post-diagnosis time. I’m glad I kept a journal, but after a few weeks, I stopped writing in it. Not sure why.
Chemo brain is a very interesting phenomenon and it is true, no matter what others might say. Because, I really think chemo, that poison, did something to our thinking, our cognitive reasoning and so on. I can tell you a few things that have happened to me.
As I was looking at the letter “W “ I couldn’t say it. I didn’t know what that letter was to me even though I kept saying in my head, “This is so weird and wrong.” I even sang the alphabet song and got stuck after the letter “V.” I didn’t know what to say. It actually took me a few hours to figure it out.
Another time, I was at the grocery store to pick up some fried chicken at the deli counter and couldn’t tell the clerk that I wanted a chicken breast because I didn’t know what it was. I couldn’t get the word to come out. I had to take a step back, think about it, and then I was OK.
Other times, I left my house without any shoes on and it took me a moment to realize it. I had to put Post-it notes on my front door to make sure that before I left the house I had my cell phone, shoes on, iron turned off, and other things. Also, I couldn’t remember if I locked the front door even though I would say aloud that I was locking the door.
And I can’t remember the names of friends I have known for more than a dozen years. I can see their faces, but not their names. Maybe it is because I am getting older? Whatever it is, more research needs to be done. It is really frustrating and embarrassing, too.
But I can say this: Things have started to get better. It has been months since I had a major memory obstacle. However, I still find some trouble getting my words out. And for those who are still battling chemo brain, please know it will get better. I know it is frustrating. Hopefully, in time it will go away. But I honestly think I always will have some of it left in me.
In conclusion … crap! I forgot what I was going to say. Where are my shoes? I’m in my car. Wait, this isn’t my car!
Anyway, now I remember what I was going to say. Peace and love to all.
[My name is Steve Del Gardo. Breast Cancer Survivor. Warrior of Life. www.protectthepecs.org]
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