A distorted brain shown with a tv/computer glitch

Chemo Brain Solutions

I've written previously about my diagnosis with chemo brain (cancer-related cognitive impairment or cognitive dysfunction), and suffice it to say, learning that I had a 20-point IQ (intelligence quotient) deficit after chemo was pretty astonishing.

The impact of chemo brain

The deficits in word retrieval, multi-tasking, executive functioning, etc., were much more apparent to me than to my team. It took a physical medicine doctor evaluating me after a fall to discover that I'd been quietly struggling, quietly terrified about losing yet another part of myself.

The results of neuropsychological testing

So, I found myself working with a neuropsychologist and completing neuropsychological testing. I'd had some testing in the educational setting as a child, so I had a pretty good idea of what my IQ was at that point. They also used a variety of factors to estimate my IQ, like educational degrees, both mine and my parents, where I grew up, etc.

When the report came back, it showed that I'd suffered a 20-point IQ loss since undergoing IV chemotherapy. The results were both mind-boggling and a relief.

Potential solutions for chemo brain

Finally, there was objective proof that I wasn't myself. I was eager to explore solutions. Thankfully, the evaluator immediately shared potential solutions and that I wasn't stuck with these struggles forever.

Speech therapy

The first thing that the evaluator did was refer me to speech therapy. That confused me since I didn't realize speech therapists worked with cognitive deficits, but off I went.

My experiences with speech therapy

From the first few moments of meeting with the speech therapist, I was heartened to see and experience that what I was dealing with wasn't novel or strange. Cancer is the only context where I'm happy to learn that I'm unremarkable. It turns out my experiences were the "norm" versus standing out. And this experience was no different.

After each appointment with the speech therapist, I walked away understanding more about what my brain was struggling with. The impact of exercises the therapist had me doing during our sessions wasn't always obvious. Still, she had plenty of data and explanations for "why" whenever I asked.

Insurance coverage alternatives

My insurance company groups all kinds of therapy into 1 bucket. Then, the total number of visits insurance will cover are limited. I was already getting physical therapy for the many issues resulting from surgery to place titanium rods inside both of my femurs, so I knew I wouldn't have a lot of visits covered by insurance.

When I shared my concern with the therapist about continuing because of my insurance coverage, she was unsurprised. The speech therapist had an alternative solution for me.

It sounds like a fairy tale in this whole cancer experience, right? Not only was what we were doing effective, but there were also solutions for the financial toxicity that affects all of us in some way during this metastatic breast cancer experience.

Using a science-backed brain exercise program

Are you ready to hear about the solution I was offered?

After working with the speech therapist for a few sessions, I transitioned to using Brain HQ, essentially a "workout" for your brain. The service is not free but much cheaper than continuing speech therapy and paying out of pocket. The brain exercises and games progressively get more complicated. The program adjusts to focus on those areas of greatest struggle.

Keeping up with brain games

A few months after I'd been working with the speech therapist and using Brain HQ, I had another neuropsychological evaluation. After all that treatment, no part of my body will ever be the same. However, I regained about 15 of the 20 IQ points I initially lost.

I still have the same symptoms occasionally and don't always feel like myself, but I feel good about doing something about it. Now I religiously play those Brain HQ games every day.

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