Monday, March 8, 2010

Keeping Your Mind and Hands Active [From CLL Survivor Bruce Lantry, Rural Nebraska]

Chemo Brain was one of the most noticeable side effects of chemo for me, and one that was not even mentioned while I was going through treatment. It would have greatly benefited me to know about the problem earlier since it would have saved me some concern about the mental problems I was experiencing.
It wasn't until some weeks later that the head nurse from the clinic mentioned it. She said they were now training their nurses to discuss chemo brain -- what it is and what it does.  By then I had finally heard about this side effect during my hour-long leukemia and lymphoma telephone support group.

I went through the standard 6 months of treatment starting in March of 2009 for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.  I had very few side effects from the three drugs I was given, other than for the monthly nausea and, most noticeable for me, the monthly mental fog which I now know was, and is, chemo brain. 

I didn't have really strong symptoms of chemo brain but I had short term memory loss, somewhat mild motor skill problems, and for me perhaps the worst was the loss of mental focus.  My clinic had mentioned many possible side effects of the chemo drugs I was given, but the mental fog of chemo brain was not one of them.     

I noticed the various mental problems right after the first treatment and these side effects continued throughout the 6 months of treatment and beyond.  Many of the symptoms have lessened some over the past months, since I have done things such as working word games and puzzles, reading, and working on my lace knitting, all of which take concentration.  I also became involved in a folk painting class for cancer survivors.

Interestingly enough, at the end of chemo treatments, one of the more noticeable effects I had at that time was that I couldn't hold my hands steady, to read, to knit, or as it turned out, to paint.  We were working on painting fairly small papier-mâché boxes and I had to use somewhat small brushes and practice a lot so that my brush strokes didn't look so shaky.  I took my painting supplies home and practiced often daily in between the weekly classes. 

In the last couple of months, I have noticed that my brush strokes now show good control and that my hands no longer shake as they did before. I would guess that all that practice of brush strokes helped me to reestablish some brain muscle connections over those months.  I realize that these side effects do lessen with time, but surely this kind of exercise can only help to make the brain work again as it should.

    Bruce Lantry
    Rural Nebraska

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