No more cancer, but a chemo brain: ‘Can’t come up with words’

No more cancer, but a chemo brain: ‘Can’t come up with words’

Someone who suffers from it herself is Frauke van der Pas. She has had breast cancer twice in a year and a half. Both times she has had chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Frauke has retained a so-called chemo brain from all the radical treatments. “I particularly suffer from sensitivity to stimuli, fatigue and I am no longer resistant to stress. And sometimes I can no longer find the right words for things,” she tells Editie NL.

From gloom to concentration problems

A chemo brain actually means cognitive problems in ex-cancer patients, which they may have left over from their treatment. For example, people have difficulty concentrating, are extremely tired, feel gloomy, are afraid or can no longer remember things. These are just a few examples, each of which can be very drastic.

That is also the case with Frauke. She can no longer work because of her chemo brain. Before she got cancer, she was a consultant for a housing association. “It’s very annoying, but your life just goes on. I’m not a sad hope, but some things are more difficult.”

Not to be tested

By the way, a chemo brain is not something you ‘have’, explains clinical neuropsychologist Sanne Schagen. “It’s not like you do a blood test or a brain scan and then know if you have it. It’s more like something we know is there,” she says.

And if you have something like this, you will get complaints such as a reduced ability to concentrate or severe fatigue. How exactly this is possible is not yet clear. Although it could have to do with the heavy drugs. “All that cancer medication reaches the brain. As a result, you can get complaints,” says Schagen. “One chemo seems to cause it a bit more than the other.” Even people without chemotherapy can suffer from it, although it is less common.

Treatment not yet possible

Because a lot is still unclear, no treatment is possible yet. “We know that chemotherapy can play a role, but not everyone has to deal with it.” The question is why one gets it and the other doesn’t. Sometimes it does help to tackle one of the problems, such as fatigue. “It is possible that the concentration problems will also become less.”

In any case, it is important to always take people with a chemo brain very seriously with their complaints. “In the past it was always dismissed as something psychological, but that doesn’t have to be the case.”

Frauke has already taken some steps. Last summer she went to an amusement park with her young children for the first time. “On a quiet day, and in a park where they can go on their own attractions. Then mom doesn’t have to come along,” she says. “I had to recover for two days afterwards, but it was worth it.”


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