Chemo Brain and Anger: Coping with Emotional Side Effects and Mood Changes During Cancer Treatment

Chemo Brain and AngerCancer is a word that has become a common household name in the past few decades.

Most people today know someone who has suffered or is suffering from cancer. While it can be difficult for people to watch their loved ones suffer from this disease, it’s even more daunting for people who are going through it. Not only the disease is quite often extremely painful, but the treatment itself is also very difficult to go through and comes with a lot of side effects.

Some of the common side effects that are more widely known are hair loss, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, anemia, the immune-suppressed state leading to increased susceptibility to infections, and many more.

But one of the things regarding cancer that most people are not aware of is chemo brain and anger.

What is Chemo Brain?

Chemo brain, also known as chemo fog or cancer-related cognitive impairment, is a condition that develops either before, during or after undergoing chemotherapy.

According to the American Cancer Society and Mayo Clinic, the most common chemo brain symptoms are:

  • Difficulty with memory
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mental and physical fatigue
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Difficulty finding word during a conversation
  • Difficulty multitasking
  • Impaired reasoning and problem-solving skills
  • Poor attention
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Mood swings; ranging from depression, anxiety, to anger.
  • Reduced reproductive function.

Recommended read: 9 Cancer Patients Revealed Useful Items that Help Chemo Sessions
 
Dr. Samantha Mayo RN shares her insights on chemo brain and mild cognitive impairment in this video, as published by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada:


 
Chemo brain is not deadly, but it can affect the day to day life of the patient to a great extent. The severity of the symptoms can vary from person to person; from being subtle that it’s only noticeable by the patient, to very severe where people find it very difficult to perform very simple daily tasks. And this often results in mood changes.
 

Chemo Brain and Anger: Causes of Emotional Side Effects

Cancer in general causes a lot of frustration and anger. The idea of having a fatal disease, losing a body part over it, the physical pain from the disease and chemotherapy, hurting loved ones, the chances of recurrence and the survival rate– it can all have a very negative impact on anybody.

But if on top of that, someone is unable to perform even the menial daily life activities; the thinking, remembering and basic functioning, the anger and frustration only increases.

Cancer is a life-altering event and anger is one of the first emotions that most people have.

It is not very well understood how cancer and chemotherapy affect our brain and mood, but the neuro-inflammation caused by chemotherapy, chemical changes in the body, and psychological reasons all play a contributing role.
 
Recommended read: 93 Chemotherapy Side Effects Remedies that Improve Quality of Life
 
The video below elaborates more on “Why Can’t We Figure Out What Causes Chemo Brain?”:
 

 
 

Chemo Brain Side Effects: What You Can Do To Help Yourself?

Unfortunately, we do not know exactly how chemotherapy causes personality changes, but there are certain things that you can do to manage your anger:


1. Change Your Perspective

A study revealed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine indicated how the patient views the disease and what they feel about their symptoms and circumstances plays a very important role in the outcome of the results. This means that in addition to the medical and psychological intervention, having a positive attitude helps manage the rage and improves the overall quality of life.

With a positive outlook, you can fight cancer and chemo brain quite effectively.
 

2. Don’t Suppress Your Anger, Get Help.

Suppressing your emotions never does any good. Anger is natural, but if it is dealt with correctly, it will lead to further emotional distress. You will end up having an outburst on the people around you for all the wrong reasons.

Your suppressed anger can turn into anxiety and depression. This is why it’s important that you take help from a medical professional to deal with anger and other emotions.

According to research published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology –

Psychological intervention in terms of therapies, support from significant others, working a less stressful job etc are proven to show a better result in managing stress and even in elevating the immune status of the patient.

Indeed, as shown in the video below, research by The University of Queensland shows chronic stress can suppress the immune system’s response to cancer and reduce the effectiveness of immunotherapy treatments:
 

 
Poor sleep can also supplement to emotional distress, anger, and worsen cognitive impairment.

Therefore it’s advisable that you manage that as well, speak to your doctor and your family regarding your concerns openly, and seeking help is always a wise decision than to suffer in silence.

You can also try out the extremely popular DAMMIT Dolls for stress relief.


 

3. Take Steps To Manage Chemo Brain

A few things that will help you tackle the difficulties brought on by chemo brain are:

  • Getting organized by making a to-do list for daily, weekly and monthly task. This will help with completing the important tasks in time. Note it down whenever you remember, and check the to-do list every evening to see if you missed something important.
  • Deal with your emotions positively. Take appropriate steps to manage other issues like sleep difficulties, managing your stress, and maybe even switching jobs to a more flexible one to allow yourself to heal.
  • Take short breaks to charge you up, to deal with the physical and mental exhaustion.
    The better you get at managing the problem, the easier it will be to manage your anger.

4. Acceptance

Accepting that you have some degree of limitations in terms of physical and mental abilities is important. This will help you cope with the anger and build a lifestyle around it.

Chemo brain usually wears off a few months after the chemotherapy is done. However, the prognosis differs from person to person. Some people heal fast, while others may have some long-lasting chemo brain symptoms. Accept that you have it and that you will need help once in a while.
 

5. Prioritize Your Health With Actions

Start low impact exercises like yoga. Exercise will help stimulate the feel-good hormones endorphins. It is also a proven way to help with managing anger. Don’t stress yourself with high impact work-out; your body may not be ready for it. Speak to your doctor regarding what is advisable for you.

Meditation can also help in calming down your nerves and controlling anger.

You should also focus on your diet. You are at a higher risk of losing a lot of weight attributed to the loss of appetite, and nausea and vomiting. Getting a nutrient-rich diet will help you manage the drop in weight and will give you some strength.
 
Recommended read: What To Eat Before / During / After Cancer Chemo Treatment
 
The video by MD Anderson Cancer Center below shares more tips on behavioral and lifestyle changes that you can do to manage chemo brain:
 

 

What Can Caregivers Do To Help Cancer Patient?

Realize this that anger is natural and that it comes out of fear. What most cancer patients seek is support, and those who do get them, they have a faster recovery and a better quality of life. So your foremost job is to be there for your loved ones with cancer.

Be patient. Do not get angry at them for forgetting things or for the occasional angry outburst you might have to face. Make an effort to understand what they are going through and what their emotional state is.

Encourage them to seek medical help when they need it, and help them maintain a healthy lifestyle. Openly discuss your concerns, and encourage them to express their emotions as well.
 
Recommended read: 121 Thoughtful Gift Ideas for Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemo
 
The psychological support from people close to cancer patient makes it so much easier to cope with the anger, anxiety, and depression that come with cancer and chemo brain.

There are still many unanswered questions regarding the chemo brain and the other changes that cancer causes. But we can still make an effort to make our lives a little bit easier by actively taking part in managing the disease, and supporting our loved ones.
 
 

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