Saturday, January 16, 2010

Can't Find Your Words? Say Chemo Brain.

Another guest blogger

By Idelle Davidson
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 some 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 where you maneuver levers to grab a prize.  You just can't get the prongs low enough or tight enough around that plastic key chain before it slips away.
In a 2006 study of the 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 function, 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 woman 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, please share what has worked for you.

Bio: Idelle Davidson is an award-winning journalist, a cancer survivor, and co-author (with Dr. Dan Silverman at UCLA) of YOUR BRAIN AFTER CHEMO: A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO LIFTING THE FOG AND GETTING BACK YOUR FOCUS (available in bookstores and on].

Mel is the producer/co-host of The Vic McCarty Show.  Listen Live Monday-Friday 10am-noon eastern time on

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  1. I have to sometimes visually picture in my head what I am trying to say, its really frustrating. Most of my friends know whats going on, but when it happens around people I don't know they give you the look like what are you stupid? Frustrating.

  2. Thanks for bringing this up. I'm getting so used to it, that I forgot I'm not supposed to have long pauses in the middle of words. I was having Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy (HBOT) twice a week and felt like it held me together pretty well. I stopped it for several months while going through herceptin, and seemed OK. It's just since starting Arimidex recently that the chemo brain is worse than ever. I'm going to try the HBOT again and hope it helps.