Unfortunately, most of us know someone who has battled cancer. Perhaps some of you reading have had that undesirable experience firsthand. Perhaps you’ve known a friend or a distant relative who was diagnosed. The unfortunate fact is that all too many of us have seen cancer’s ugly face up close, which means we have also seen chemotherapy’s.
Chemotherapy itself is a toxic process. Profound exhaustion, hair loss, potentially serious mouth sores, and more. This powerful cancer treatment is riddled with truly brutal side effects. But have you heard of “chemo brain”? Probably not. Until recently, doctors didn’t even acknowledge it as a real side effect. But it’s certainly real, and it can be the most trying side effect of all.
“Chemo brain” is the term to describe the mental haziness and forgetfulness that plagues many of those who undergo chemotherapy. Verbal memory is often affected, meaning words can get muddled up and writing can become less coherent. And things that seem like mindless mistakes, like leaving your wallet at work or accidentally pouring your coffee into a bowl of granola instead of a mug, can begin to happen with regularity. Chemo drugs are incredibly toxic, and that means that sometimes they can have a powerful effect on the brain that slows everything down.
But it is not just the toxins. Cancer patients, understandably, are usually highly stressed and anxious, whether just diagnosed or waiting to see if the cancer will come back. On top of chemotherapy, stress can also hugely hinder mental capacity. Unfortunately, it takes a long time for the body to recover from both the traumatic stress and the chemotherapy, meaning “chemo brain” can linger for months, even years, after chemotherapy has stopped.
But there is some good news. Research has shown that there is something natural that can prevent the worst of chemo brain—it’s nature. Interacting with nature, like taking a walk in a park, or mindfulness practices, like meditation, can reduce the severity of “chemo brain.” Mindful time spent in nature inherently lowers stress levels and increases immune strength, both of which chemotherapy patients need more than anyone. And while nature will not magically prevent the chemotherapy toxins from affecting your brain, a lot can be said for reducing the stress levels for someone in such a high-stress situation.
A walk out in nature and a little meditation on a regular basis is good advice for all of us. However, for those dealing with a cancer diagnosis, mindfulness activities can provide a huge boost.