If you're currently undergoing cancer treatment, talk to your oncologist about your signs and symptoms. If you've completed treatment, you might start by making an appointment with your family doctor. In some cases, you may be referred to a professional who specializes in helping people cope with memory difficulties (neuropsychologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well-prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Keep a journal of your memory lapses. Describe the situations in which you experience memory problems. Note what you were doing and what type of difficulty you experienced.
- Make a list of all medications, as well as any vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
- Take a family member or friend along or bring a recorder. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember all the information provided during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot. Record the conversation with your doctor so you can listen to it later.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your visit. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For chemo brain, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What is likely causing my symptoms?
- How long do symptoms typically last?
- What kinds of tests can help determine whether my symptoms are caused by cancer treatment?
- Should I see a neuropsychologist? What will that cost, and will my insurance cover it?
- What is the best treatment for my symptoms?
- Are there things I can do on my own, in addition to the treatment you're suggesting, to help improve my memory problems?
- Are there brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
- Should I plan for a follow-up visit?
- If I need brain radiation, can you do hippocampal-sparing radiation?
- Should I take memantine (Namenda) during brain radiation?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask any other questions that occur to you.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may allow more time later to cover points you want to address. Your doctor may ask:
- When did you first begin experiencing these symptoms?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- How do your symptoms affect your everyday life?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
What you can do in the meantime
Track your symptoms in a journal. Note the time of day and the situations when memory problems occur. Patterns in your symptoms may help your doctor better understand what could be causing your symptoms and the best way to help you cope.