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Brain Fog and Cancer

Navigating the Haze with Lion's Mane

Chemotherapy, a common treatment for cancer, can often lead to a condition known as "chemo brain." According to the Mayo Clinic, this condition is characterized by a mental fog that can affect memory, attention, and the ability to process information. Symptoms of chemo brain can include difficulty concentrating, trouble remembering details like names or dates, and feeling mentally slower than usual. It can be a frustrating and disorienting experience, especially when you're already dealing with the physical and emotional toll of cancer treatment.

Meme about Chemo Brain showing buzz lightyear

During my own treatment, chemo brain felt like a silent struggle, as its effects were not as visible as other side effects of cancer treatment. It was a battle fought in my own mind, where the enemy is elusive and the terrain constantly shifts. It can come and go at random and present itself in so many different ways. Cancer-related cognitive problems are estimated to affect more than half of cancer survivors (LINK), although it wasn’t officially recognized as an issue until just a few years ago.

Here’s a “short list” of the signs and symptoms of chemo brain:

  • Being unusually disorganized

  • Confusion

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Difficulty finding the right word

  • Difficulty learning new skills

  • Difficulty multitasking

  • Feeling of mental fogginess

  • Short attention span

  • Short-term memory problems

  • Taking longer than usual to complete routine tasks

  • Trouble with verbal memory, such as remembering a conversation

  • Trouble with visual memory, such as recalling an image or list of words

Understanding Why. SPOILER - We really don't know.

The exact cause of chemo brain remains a mystery. Some researchers believe it could be due to the direct effects of chemotherapy drugs on the brain, while others suggest it could be related to the body's response to the overall stress of cancer and its treatment. Despite the lack of definitive answers, what's clear is that chemo brain is a real and significant issue for many cancer patients and survivors. The uncertainty surrounding chemo brain can be frustrating. But it's important to remember that science is a journey, not a destination. Every question leads to new discoveries, every hypothesis opens up new paths of exploration. And while we may not have all the answers now, every step we take brings us closer to understanding and, hopefully, overcoming chemo brain.

During my own treatment, I often reminded myself that we live in a world of “medical practice”, not permanence. To me, this meant that my doctors were still learning, and always will be. This didn't mean I didn't trust them, it just meant that I also needed to practice medicine. Every case is unique in its own way as every person and their physiology is different. This led me to be my own advocate and my own self-described oncologist for my specific circumstance.

Living with Brain Fog: The ups and downs and unknowns.

Living with chemo brain, or any form of severe brain fog, can feel like you're perpetually walking through a thick, disorienting mist. You know the world is out there, full of color and life, but everything seems muted, distant, and indistinct. Simple tasks can become daunting challenges. Conversations can feel like complex puzzles, with words slipping through your fingers just when you need them. You might walk into a room and forget why you're there, or find yourself staring at a familiar object, unable to recall its name. It's like your brain is a radio that's slightly out of tune, with everything just a bit fuzzy and distorted.

Chemo patient laying on a couch recovering from treatment.
Founder of Odd Balls, Jon Carter, "recovering" in-between chemo cycles.

The unpredictability of brain fog can be one of the hardest things to deal with. Some days, the fog might lift, and you feel almost like your old self again. But just when you start to relax, the fog rolls back in, thicker than ever. This constant cycle can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening. But amidst the confusion and uncertainty, there's a beacon of hope in the form of a unique mushroom: the Lion's Mane. This unique fungus has shown promise in helping to clear the fog of chemo brain, offering a glimmer of clarity in the midst of the haze.

Lion's Mane... or Brain?

In February 2023, a study led by the Queensland Brain Institute discovered novel compounds in the Lion’s Mane mushroom that may improve memory and boost brain cell growth. The focus was on the compound called H. erinaceus. This finding suggests that specific Lion's Mane compounds could potentially help alleviate symptoms of chemo brain, offering a natural and accessible solution for those grappling with this condition. From my own personal experience, there’s no science needed, but that’s not an acceptable form of justification… So keep the studies coming!

The potential of this specific Lion's Mane compound is exciting, not just for those dealing with chemo brain, but for anyone interested in brain health. Imagine a natural, edible solution that not only helps clear the fog of chemo brain but also boosts memory and brain cell growth. It's a possibility that brings a ray of hope in the elusive and painfully slow fight against chemo brain.

Lion's Mane Mushroom with benefits listed.
There are many benefits to Lion's Mane mushrooms, with specific compounds found to be more beneficial for memory and cognitive functioning.

Embracing the Lion's Mane.

As a cancer thriver myself, I've decided to embrace the power of Lion's Mane. I've incorporated it into my daily routine through potent extracts, like those available from Hamilton's Mushroom Extracts. And I'm not alone. Many others living with brain fog, whether from cancer treatment, a severe concussion, or other issues, are turning to Lion's Mane for its brain-boosting benefits with overwhelming success, study or no study.

Embracing Lion's Mane is more than just adding a supplement to my diet. It's a commitment to my brain health, a proactive step towards clearing the fog of chemo brain. It's a decision that has not only benefited me and helped me gain back my previous focus and clarity, but also opened up a new avenue of hope for others dealing with similar issues.

A man writing on paper with a pencil in a coffee shop.
This is not a picture of me, but it is a picture of the renewed focus and clarity that I feel from introducing the erinacines compound found in Lion's Mane into my diet post chemo-treatment.

Just remember, not all Lion's Mane is created equal. Search out the ones that have a higher potency of Erinacines or Hericenones. These are the specific compounds that are found to have the highest benefit for improving memory and cognitive functioning.

So, Why Not?

While the medical community continues to unravel the mystery of chemo brain, searching for funding to study the effects of a mushroom that someone can grow in their own home, why not indulge in a little Lion's Mane? It's a natural, accessible, and most-likely beneficial addition to our daily routines. And who knows? It might just help clear the fog. It did for me, and for dozens of others.

In the end, the journey through chemo brain is a personal one. Each person's experience is unique, and so is their path to managing it. But one thing is certain: we're not alone in this journey. And while we wait for science to catch up, why not explore the potential of nature's own brain booster: the Lion's Mane.

If you have experienced chemo brain or brain fog of any sort, or used Lion's Mane, please share your experience in the comments below!