Fighting Chemo Brain

One thing that scared me about cancer is a common side effect for people undergoing chemotherapy.  It’s called “chemo brain,” and it’s a lot like “pregnancy brain,” in that it is a general term indicating situational forgetfulness, lack of concentration, and the like.  It’s not serious, but it is annoying.  I thought I was coming down with it this summer, when I was on AC, but I’ve been very pleased with the Taxol in this respect in that I have NOT had any symptoms!  I feel as sharp as I ever was, and twice as strong.

I’ve done two things to combat chemo brain.  The first is writing. I’ve made a point of blogging throughout treatment, every day if I can, and especially the weekend after treatment.  I’ve written blog posts, reviews, emails, letters to the editor — whatever I can do to keep my mind sharp and the words in the right order.  Although it’s taken discipline and not always been productive, it HAS helped me achieve my goal of keeping my wits about me.  (I think.  If I’ve lost my mind, please don’t tell me!)

I’ve also started something else recently — don’t laugh — crossword puzzles.  The chemo fairies brought me crossword puzzle books in the first couple bags, and then New York Times crossword puzzle books again recently, and I fell in with them all over again.  I must have done 10 NYT crosswords this weekend (just Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays in this book), and completed them all, with only a word or two incomplete.  I feel awesome.

This week off from chemo has been good to me too.  My legs are working again, right down to the stubborn pinky toe, and the pain is gone.  I feel strong and in great shape and ready for anything — even chemotherapy again on Thursday! 


36 Responses to Fighting Chemo Brain

  1. ColleenZ says:

    WM — I check your blog often, not only to get an update on how you are doing, but also because I love the way you use words. Voracious reader that I am, I’ve gotten somewhat jaded. It’s not often that I am moved to tears by writing alone. Yet, the beauty of your writing has done this to me multiple times since I’ve started reading. Evidence of your distinct LACK of chemo brain is in every syllable you write. Thank you.

  2. Robin says:

    I think the next thing those chemo fairies should bring is a cape because you are a superhero for sure! Go get ’em WM!

  3. Crimson Wife says:

    Best of luck with your next round of chemo! I’m praying that you’ll have a complete and speedy recovery 🙂

  4. juliepippert says:

    That’s such good news! You have definitely kept yourself sharp, from over here! GL on Thursday.

    Using My Words

  5. Linda L. says:

    Great post! Writing and puzzles also work when you are 60 and you want to “keep thinking”.

    🙂 🙂

  6. Stella says:

    What great news that the pain is gone! I am so happy to hear that!!!

    I used crossword puzzles to study for my GREs and I did great! They are amazing tools at making your mind work and keep working!

  7. Kristin says:

    I’m so happy to read that the pain is gone. I loved reading of your dancing in the rain, but this sounds even better.

  8. YAY! And you are GOOD, I usually can’t finish the NYT crossword puzzles. I like the Boston Globe ones…they are not too hard, not too easy, and I grew up fighting with my Dad and sister to steal the paper when they weren’t paying attention and finish them first. Good luck this week!

  9. Char says:

    I’ve never succeeded at crossword puzzles, but this year discovered I love Soduko. It helps keep my mommy brain a little sharper, and helps fill my time while I wait for school to get out. Keep on writing…I so look forward to your words!

  10. Cheryl says:

    I am SO glad to hear that you are feeling better! I wanted to let you know that I have shared your blog with several friends at work this week. We have just had two coworkers diagnosed with cancer this month and everyone is wondering what to do to express our concern and to help. Your posts on how to help a friend give such concrete suggestions that we can use to support our friends as they go through surgery and follow up treatment. Your writing is helping so many people and impacting so many lives in such a positive way! Thank you!

  11. jj says:

    I have “mommy brain”…We should all have some sort of technique to keep our minds sharp…yay you.

  12. I’ve also heard that Suduku is a crazy-addictive mind sweat.

    And I have to tell you how crazy-happy it makes me to see such chipper words – not that I’d ever mind the fed-up ones, but I’m just so glad that you’re feeling good.

  13. Joan says:

    Yay, WhyMommy! SO glad that you are feeling better and ready to put one more chemo session behind you!
    Certainly no sign of chemobrain in your writing!
    I and so many others will be thinking of you tomorrow and adding our “Get out of there, cancer!” vibes to accompany the action of the chemotherapy infusions.

  14. mayberry says:

    It’s a little strange to say “yay, you get to have chemo this week” but I’ll say it anyway — one more down is one more down!

    I love crossword puzzles — and they definitely keep those brain cells moving. Enjoy.

  15. imstell says:

    So, so glad that you are feeling sound in both mind and body. Anyone who can escape the plague of chemo brain is my hero. I can’t tell you all the things I’ve forgotten. And when I finally DO remember them, they escape me again before I can write them down. Blast it all! On the plus side… I’ve gotten really good at writing notes to myself.

  16. Jennifer says:

    Soooo glad you are feeling better, and I agree with everyone else that your writing is sharp and reaches right out across the internet. Hope those legs keep cooperating and the crossword puzzles are fun!

  17. hotfessional says:

    Always brings a smile to my face when you sound so upbeat!

  18. Elizabeth says:

    I love crossword puzzles, so no laughing here! Like some of the other post-ers, I have also become addicted to Sudoku. And there is something so satisfying about completely filling in a puzzle. I am SO happy to hear that your legs are feeling better too. You rock, WhyMommy!

  19. Susan:

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    To learn more, go here:

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    If you would email me via my address on my blog and tell me where you’d like us to contribute in your name, that would be great!



  20. Marianne says:

    Ooh, I can’t finish NYT crosswords! They are TOUGH. I am addicted to Sudoku, though, and those give my brain a good workout.

    My nana was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a year ago. Since her diagnosis, my whole family has become hooked on Sudoku, crosswords, and all kinds of other “mental fitness” games, because it helps keep those pathways firing!

  21. Susan K says:


    Wonderful news. I’ll be thinking of you tomorrow.

    The unplanned hold has passed and the countdown can resume.

  22. ohthejoys says:

    I believe in the crossword puzzles!

  23. Betsy Henning says:

    You really and truly are amazing Susan. I’m so sorry that you’re going through all this, but oh my, what an inspiration you are. Your family, Whydaddy, Widget, and Little Bear are so lucky to have you, as are your readers. Your honesty makes me cry, your “mommy antics” make me laugh, your determination gives me hope.

    May God bless and heal! Love, Betsy

  24. ella says:

    Great news that you are feeling strong again.

    I do crossword puzzles to combat pregnancy brain and find them so addictive. Kudos to you for finding time to do them AND making time to write everyday.

  25. KillerBoob says:

    That is the best news I’ve heard in a long time.

    And by the way, your posts just get batter and better. i was sad when you said you cried, and remembered some of my own similar outbursts. i was oh so happy to read about your song and dance with Widget. And you’v emade me happy again today. You’re beautiful and i thank you for all that you share with us.

  26. kgirl says:

    crap, i’m not pregnant anymore and i’m not going through chemo – what the hell is my excuse?!

    glad you’re feeling better.

  27. MummyCha says:

    I wish my brain on a normal day could function as well as yours…
    You have a bunch of good reasons to feel awsome (the first one is that YOU are awsome!)
    Best Wishes

  28. Stimey says:

    You rock! What a happy post to read.

    And even though I love crosswords and do them often, if I want to complete one without cheating, I have to buy books that say “easy” in the title. Usually coupled with “fun”.

    You, my dear friend, are impressive in more ways than one.

  29. Jenny says:

    I think I’d be scared about everything!! Wow. You’re very brave.

  30. Lisa says:

    You go girl! Rock on!
    I’ve just started to pick up Sudoku (in my free time), although what I wouldn’t give to play a couple hands of Pinochle or Hearts! Maybe one day I’ll even get a few people to help me learn and practice Bridge!!
    On the writing note, are you sure you are a scientist? They aren’t supposed to know how to articulate, right???

  31. Ally says:

    You rock! You are sharper than ever, from what I can tell. And my hat’s off to anyone who can successfully complete a crossword puzzle.

  32. aunt Pat says:

    Glad to know you’re feeling better. My prayers are with you.

    Take care

  33. Ally says:

    Glad to hear that you’re back into Chemo tomorrow!

  34. You can do a Wednesday NYT crossword puzzle!? I bow to you!

  35. You can do a Wednesday NYT crossword puzzle??! I bow to you!

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