Seven Signs You May Suffer From *Chemo Brain by Proxy

chemo-brain by proxy

I stood in the middle of the kitchen, a measuring cup in one hand and a carton of eggs in the other.  What was I doing?

Oh, yeah.  Cleaning the bathroom.

I looked at the items in my hands and shrugged before setting them down on the open oven door.  Silly me.  I had come into the kitchen for a rag!  I grabbed a rag and some cleaner from under the sink and laughed—must be Chemo Brain by Proxy again.

Funny, how I’d never had a chemotherapy treatment in my life, but somehow, I’d seemed to acquire the same forgetfulness that robbed Pedro of his intent and memory during his treatment.  Of course, he seemed to be over his chemo brain already….

“Anita!” someone called from across the church lobby.  I turned with dread.  I recognized the voice, but I couldn’t think of a name to go with it.  Maybe seeing her face would help….nope. “I was wondering if you got my message?”

“Uh, no.”  For the life of me, I couldn’t remember getting a message from any one.

“I called your work phone,” the mystery woman replied, “and left a message in your voice mail.”

“Oh, that explains it!”  I laughed nervously.  “The school put in a new phone system, and I don’t know my password yet.  How can I help you?”

“I wondered if I could set up a conference with you about Joel.  He seems to be struggling in English.”

Joel.  He wasn’t the only one struggling.  At least I know who was talking to me now!  “How does Monday afternoon sound, Mrs. Grant?”  Whew!  I’d remembered her name!  I set the appointment for just a few minutes after my last class ended.  I wouldn’t miss or forget the appointment…hopefully.

My phone vibrated in my pocket, and I fumbled to pull it out—it was Pedro.  I wonder what he wanted?

“Are you on your way?”

I hated questions like this…where was I supposed to be and why should I be on my way there?  “Um, no.  I’m still at school.”  Maybe I could figure it out without admitting my ignorance.

“Seriously?! You’re still there?”

“Yeah.”  I wondered if my voice sounded as defeated as I felt. Chemo Brain by Proxy strikes again.

“Just kidding.” Pedro’s voice sounded far away.  “I just missed you and wondered when you’d be home from work today.”

I felt a hard ball of rage burning deep within me.  Didn’t he know how hard it was for me to keep things straight?!  How could he tease me like this?  I took a deep breath and managed a hoarse, “Ha, ha, ha!” into the phone before  I said my goodbye and ended the call.

It seemed as if the effects of chemo were wearing off Pedro and wearing on to me.   And that ball of rage?  Where did that come from?  How long had it simmered and grown until it lurked at the surface, ready to spew out of me over a simple joke?

They say remission cures chemo brain.  What cures *Chemo Brain by Proxy?

#Caregiver, here are 7 signs you may suffer from #chemobrain by proxy. Get help! Click To Tweet

Seven Signs You May be Suffering:

  1. You often find yourself wondering what you are doing.
  2. Inability to get out of bed in the morning/or inability to sleep
  3. Feelings of moving through a fog.
  4. Inability to concentrate/restlessness
  5. Anxiety/Irritability/unexplained rage
  6. Weight gain/weight loss/fatigue
  7. Experiencing physical responses to reminders of your loved one’s illness (increased heart rate, sweating, tears.

As caregivers or someone who loves a cancer patient, we’ve all heard about chemo brain—that mysterious Swiss-cheese effect that happens to a cancer patient’s brain whilst under the influence of powerful chemo drugs.  If you’re experiencing some of all of these symptoms, I strongly advise that you make an appointment with a counselor, a psychiatrist or your family physician.

*Chemo Brain by Proxy is a term I coined to describe a chemo-brain like experience in a caregiver (I suffered from many of these).

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • I have chemo brain by proxy and my husband doesn’t even have cancer! He does however have an incredibly painful nerve condition called trigeminal neuralgia and being a caregiver certainly gives you brain fog of some kind or other. I think it comes on as they recover, because only then can we let go a little and our brains are so fried from juggling so much they need to take a long vacation from remembering or processing anything! Let me know when your memory comes back. Perhaps mine is hiding in the same place.

    • Anita Ojeda

      You make me laugh, Gilly 🙂 ! A lot of my memory has returned, but now I’m not sure if my memory lapses are caused Chemo Brain by Proxy or old age ;). Carol and I have decided, after many long discussions, that “Chemo Brain by Proxy” is most likely stress and our body’s reaction to it. I found that it absolutely got worse as Pedro recovered–all of that adrenaline that my body had been producing during the ‘fight or flight’ stages had nowhere to go. If I were a scientist, I’d figure out ways to help caregivers through the recovery stage–but since I’m not, I’ll just write about it and hope that my stories help other people realize that they aren’t freaks–just stressed-out caregivers. I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s condition, and I hope he’s finding some relief. Nerve pain is the worst! Blessings to you as you continue on your caregiver’s journey.

  • Oh Gilly! I’m pretty sure there’s a convention going on for caregiver brains. Unfortunately, the whole brain is not invited, only pieces go, with or without permission!
    Prayers for you and your husband.

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  • Larry Jipson

    Is It possible that It is real ?while my wife was taking the chemicals their was chemical smells in the air she was breathing ,she sweat a lot more are we getting a dose of toxin just by caring for them ?We ask a lot of question to the doctor about their condition but forget to ask about what the effects of the chemical would be on us .

    • Anita Ojeda

      That’s a good question, Larry! When the hazmat team has to clean up spilled chemo drugs, it makes you wonder why we don’t get more warnings as caregivers :). My theory is that the ‘chemo brain by proxy’s’ primary source is unrecognized stress–but a secondary source may be all of the toxins we as caregivers get exposed to as part of our caregiving.

      • Kathleen

        When my best friend got diagnosed with Lymphoma and started Chemo, his parents and I were all given handouts specifying the ways to protect yourselves from the toxic substances. The patient has his own towels and sheets which are washed frequently, all of his laundry is washed separately in hot water especially the first few days after an infusion, and he covers the toilet with a towel after he flushes to keep any toxins from getting into the air. It is actually possible for any of the bodily fluids (sweat, saliva etc.) to harm you if they come into direct contact, and ironically over-exposure by a caregiver to the toxic chemicals could potentially cause cancer down the line if you are not careful.

        I am surprised your doctors did not fill you in on this, but please read up on it and be careful in the future. I do not think your “Chemo Brain by Proxy” is caused by anything more serious than stress, but if you were not warned about the toxic substances of your family member you should be careful from here on out to protect yourself. I hope this is helpful.

        ~In the Same Boat

        • Anita Ojeda

          Thank you for your wise warning, Kathleen! Pedro’s doctors only mentioned the dangers of chemo once (when he started a protocol of high-dose methotrexate). That was eleven years ago, so I’m sure the doctors and nurses are much more proactive in their warnings these days. What amazes us the most is how stress mirrors some of the same symptoms of chemo brain. I hope that your best friend is doing well!

  • Larry Jipson

    If Its just stress why are the systoms exactly the same in care givers and do you think your doctor understates, misleads and evasive about the side effects? do you feel that your doctor mislead your husband about the need for chemo? I do.

  • Hurrah, that’s what I was looking for, what a stuff! present here at this blog, thanks admin of this site.

  • It’s real alright. Struggling, but just say “chemo brain” and smile when my memory is taking a vacation. Happy to be alive after cancer treatment; I can handle this!

    • I’m so glad to hear about someone else that’s going through the same thing that I am….I’m a 3 yr survivor & I still have “some” chemo brain…don’t laugh. My husband, my sweet caregiver, never had full blown chemo brain…but he now admits after reading the article that “yes” he had chemo brain. lol Thank you all for helping us realize that we aren’t alone…

      • Anita Ojeda

        I’m so glad that you’re doing well, Ginger! And I’m glad that we could be of service and help your husband understand that ‘chemo brain by proxy’ (aka stress) strikes all of us involved in caregiving. I hope you both continue to heal and celebrate life!

    • Anita Ojeda

      Congratulations on your victory, Jerri! And don’t worry, I’ve discovered that we’re not alone in our struggles. I’ll be praying for you as your memory comes back and your life returns to normal :).

  • Mary

    My hubby is fighting lymphoma off & on for 12 years now. He had chemo brain–still does, but I never called mine that. Just stress…..or I call it auto-pilot….when he has gone through treatments or bad periods, I go into auto pilot mode where I just go & go & go…..later on when things get better with him, it’s like I let down & the auto pilot shuts down & that’s when things hit me. It’s a tough road to be a caregiver.

    • Anita Ojeda

      Oh, Mary! That must be sooooo difficult. I’ll be praying for both of you. You are absolutely correct–being a caregiver is a tough calling. I hope that you find other articles on the blog that help you as you continue your long journey. I’d reach out and give you a big hug if I could see you–but a cyber hug will have to do! <>.

  • Christine Witt

    Anita I did really enjoy your article-I thought it was just me while my husband was going through chemo -his last was in Feb-one night in particular -he is in the kitchen throwing up and the cat is in the loving room throwing up -it was all I could do to keep it together -I remember looking to the heavens asking “are you kidding me?” thanks for the smile

    • Anita Ojeda

      Chris, it’s crazy, isn’t it, what we can actually handle! I’m glad your husband has finished his chemo, and I hope his recovery is going smoothly. I especially hope YOU are recovering and recuperating from the stress and adrenaline rush of being a caregiver to a seriously ill loved one. Thank you for stopping by! Anita

      • JaneAnn

        My husband is not on chemo but I have “chemo brain. I hope it is the stress from taking care of him for two years now. I need some sleep. Your blogs with Carol have been a great help to me even if mine isn’t about cancer. Any kind of caregiving is stressful.

        • Thank you for your kind words, JaneAnn :). I’m pretty sure that stress affects us the same way that chemo-brain does. My prayer for you today is that you find ways to relieve your stress on a regular basis.

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