Chemo Brain Antidote: Mental Aerobics

Now that I’m feeling stronger physically (I ran 8 miles the other day and then played tennis!), it’s time to up the ante on my persistently pervasive chemo brain.  Argh.

Chemo brain started about 15 minutes after my first infusion and has persisted, relentlessly. Some days it royally ticks me off.  Other days it panics me. It always gives me a hot flash. Seriously. I’ve been told that chemo brain can last for years. Really? WTF?

In my effort to take an active role in my own wellness, my goal is to do everything I can possibly do to counteract it.

On a side note, I’m always amazed by the number of people who tell me that they have some form of chemo brain, sans chemo.  I get it. This comparison is probably related to the frustration resulting from normal forgetfulness that happens in a busy, technology-filled life.

However, if I might offer a gentle piece of advice:  When talking with a person who has had cancer treatments, please don’t compare your forgetfulness to chemo brain, unless you have actually had chemo. I’m just sayin’…

With or without chemo brain, scientific evidence consistently points to mental stimulation and brain training as a way to maintain healthy brains throughout life. Further evidence indicates that anything we do to exercise our brains in a new way may help to develop new nerve pathways that can help to forestall the effects of Alzheimer’s disease (Silver Lining).

So, I’ve begun my Mental Aerobic training program.

Part of this Mental Aerobic training program includes introducing new things to my life, including:

  • Switching my hands. As many of you know, thanks to the lousy lymphedema in my right arm (where I had 15 lymph nodes removed) I have started playing tennis with my left hand. It takes so much more focus and attention playing this way.  And I love it. When I’m finished, I’m exhausted physically AND mentally!
  • Learning a new language. I have started taking French lessons with a girlfriend. We are doing conversational French, which seems to be so much more challenging than simply memorizing vocabulary words.  At one point last week, my brain was so taxed that I just started laughing.  You know that nervous kind of laughter?  Yeah, that was it.  Then I went back to parle-ing francais.
  • Taking piano lessons.I took piano lessons as a little girl and remember being miserable.  Probably because I had a very critical teacher.  Whoever thought that criticism is a form of motivation?  Not me!  However, I now have a kind, gentle and encouraging teacher who is highly motivating!  In addition to being fun and stimulating, these lessons do wonders for my eye-hand coordination (Silver Lining).
  • Trying new recipes. I still make easy peasy recipes, but I’m beginning to branch out in terms of flavors and courses.  And for those recipes that actually work, I share them with you on the weekly Friday’s Fixin’s post. Truth be told: one day last week, I was psyched to try two new recipes and they…well, they bombed.  Usually the HOTY (a/k/a Husband of the Year) eats whatever I give him; but this particular night he said, “Honey, sometimes it’s okay to order a pizza.”  I keep on trying, though!
  • Visiting new places. For our anniversary, the HOTY and I began our planning for the trip by saying, “Let’s go somewhere we have never been.” This forced us to get out maps and learn our way around a new town, which was super fun (Silver Lining)!
  • Reading new authors and genre’s.Fiction. Nonfiction. Academic Journals. Novellas. Poetry. The New Yorker. I try to read everything I can get my hands on (and share most of it here with you on the blog!).
  • Puzzles and brain teasers. I’m usually not good at these types of exercises.  And truth be told, they often frustrate the bejeezus out of me.  However, in my quest to exercise my neurons, I’m now doing puzzles and brain teasers (and often have to ask our daughter, a/k/a Finally Five to help me figure out the answers!).

Whether you have chemo brain or just some memory issues, I hope that you will consider trying some of the Silver Lining activities that at the very least will keep life interesting and fun!

All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind.

~Martin H. Fischer


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  1. says

    Thank you for this post! I'm going to dust off my Rosetta Stone (French) and create some new nerve pathways. Perhaps my future (like in a year) posts will be in French!