Over the past few months, a number of headlines in The New York Times have stumped me, said Susan Gubar. Tomatoes Have Devastated American Indian Families in Oklahoma, U.S. Workers Are Grounded by Deep Cats, Wall Saint Banks Woo Children of Chinese Leaders. Of course, those weren’t actually the headlines The Times had written. But why am I staring at the word ‘Tornadoes’ and reading ‘Tomatoes’? Looking at ‘Cuts’ and reading ‘Cats’? Interpreting the abbreviation ‘Wall St.’ as ‘Wall Saint’? After three cycles (or 18 sessions) of chemotherapy, I seem to be dealing with a weird sort of dyslexia.
“Chemo brain,” as defined by the Mayo Clinic, is a chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment or cognitive dysfunction. This mysterious phenomenon is often experienced by cancer survivors after receiving treatment, in the form of thinking and memory problems.
For some, “chemo brain” can be a temporary or fleeting encounter – bouts of hazy thinking or memory lapses that eventually resolve over time. Others, however, are transformed by these brain changes through a lingering and intense mental cloudiness. What is meant by “mental cloudiness?” It is the simplest task turned complicated, demanding pronounced mental effort. It is forgetting things that you usually have no trouble recalling, for instance, your best friend’s name. It is difficulty in concentrating, short attention span, trouble with multi-tasking, and even trouble with learning new skills. As Gubar describes, it is “a fuzzy hesitancy spiraled into blank enervation.”
Developing “chemo brain” can be a terrifying experience. These unwelcome changes in cognitive function materialize during a time of uncertainty and illness, a time of adjustment and recovery. Gubar explains,” I felt somehow exiled from myself, a mishap never mentioned in the cheerful brochures on chemotherapy displayed in oncology waiting rooms.”
This can be especially challenging for people who decide to return to work, or simply for those who try to resume their normal routine after treatment. In our practice of helping people with health and disability insurance claims, we see the effects of “chemo brain” quite often. With memory, information processing, multi-tasking, and executive function skills impaired, recovering cancer patients may not be able to perform job responsibilities at the same functional level as before treatment.
Kantor & Kantor has been successful in obtaining disability benefits for clients suffering from “chemo brain” who were not cognitively capable of returning to work. If you have questions about “chemo brain” and long term disability, please call us for a no-cost consultation.