“Chemo brain” is just one condition in a long list of medical conditions and disabilities that can affect a person’s cognitive functioning. Memory lapses, trouble concentrating and remembering details can be a few side effects of chemotherapy and unfortunately, can last after treatment has ended. Needless to say, it can be very disruptive — and challenging — for working patients and survivors.
Even when the physical side effects from treatment have improved or healed, many people may still experience the impact of“invisible” side effects, ones that aren’t readily apparent to others. Working with “chemo brain” can generally be stressful and frustrating and in a work setting, can possibly impact your job performance. Forgetting assignment details or deadlines, staying focused in a busy office environment or trouble multi-tasking are a few ways that it might present itself in the workplace.
If this is a challenge you’re facing, it’s important to figure out what accommodations might maintain (or improve) your efficiency at work. Maybe it’s being allowed to wear noise-cancelling headphones to limit distractions or using a device to record meetings or conversations. A recent article from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) highlights how reasonable accommodations at work can help if you’re struggling with memory difficulties. JAN, a program of the U.S. Department of Labor, is a great resource when it comes to learning more about accommodations and offers a searchable system that allows people to explore various options for different types of medical conditions in specific workplaces/job types.
Cancer and Careers offers a number of resources to help manage the symptoms of "chemo brain" as well as assist in having constructive conversations around addressing some of the challenges. Our Manager’s Kit is a useful tool for patients and survivors to have on hand when approaching the accommodations conversation and is designed for employers/managers who may have never supervised an employee with cancer before. Our article on ‘Requesting Reasonable Accommodations’ also includes an extensive list of questions to help identify possible modifications, as well as tips for how to ask for them.
The Ways to Counteract "Chemo Brain" at Work one-sheet offers a list of suggestions to help alleviate symptoms and increase concentration at work like breaking down tasks, creating a cheat sheet and using one notebook for to-do lists. Additionally, our Working Through Treatment webinar covers topics including workplace laws that protect patients at both the federal and state levels and how to use them and arranging reasonable accommodations in the workplace under the ADA.
Triage Cancer’s Quick Guide to Reasonable Accommodations After a Cancer Diagnosis can be another useful resource to reference.