Resident lifts the fog off chemo brain with CTCA treatment

Ann and John July 2014 End of ChemotherapyTrivia night was always John Melotte’s specialty, especially if the topic was music. Beatles tune? No problem. Rolling Stones tune? No problem. But, those days are gone.
John was diagnosed with rectal cancer at the end of 2013 and received treatment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Southeastern Regional Medical Center (Southeastern) in Newnan, Ga. While undergoing chemotherapy, he began to realize his memory was slipping.
He quickly began researching memory problems as a symptom of chemotherapy and was shocked to learn there wasn’t much out there about chemo brain. According to the American Cancer Society, chemo brain is when patients have trouble concentrating, forget things they usually have no problem recalling or experience difficulties remembering details like names and dates.
“I would walk up to my wife and ask her a question, then come back half an hour later asking her the same question,” said Melotte. “She would look at me and say, ‘you already asked me that, don’t you remember?’”
During his treatment, John continued his daily routine, only missing one or two days of work at most. He knew being around coworkers and friends would be good for him in an effort to maintain a sense of normalcy and productivity.
“John has always been very quick, and I could just see as time went on that he wasn’t able to reason very well. I had to constantly try to explain more to him and remind him about things,” said Ann Melotte, John’s wife.
As he approaches the three-year anniversary of completing chemotherapy, he continues on his journey coping with chemo brain and still finds himself challenged by memory problems.
“I’ve been an aircraft mechanic my whole life, a very technical person, and now, somebody may come into my office I’ve worked with for years and I can’t remember their name,” said Melotte, who is a program manager for an airline company.
Whether dealing with a cancer diagnosis or coping with chemo brain, John recommends taking it one day at a time – but wants to offer additional advice to those who may be going through a similar experience.
“Having a strong support network and a primary caregiver who understands what you are going through is extremely important,” he said. “Whether it’s a spouse, family member or friend, their continuous support is what gets you through,” said John. “My wife’s positive outlook is without a doubt what helped me fight cancer.”
When it comes to dealing with frustrations associated with chemo brain, John says to find a hobby and something that will keep your mind working. Additionally, he adds that there are also apps on your smartphone that can provide help.
“I play games like Sudoku or solve crossword puzzles at least once a day, and while I’m at the office I’m working on spreadsheets,” Melotte said. “My mind is constantly active. You can’t let chemo brain take over.”
Jennifer Cargile, speech-language pathologist at CTCA at Southeastern who worked with John during rehabilitation, helps patients experiencing symptoms of chemo brain. Her advice is to minimize distractions and create an environment that makes it easy to focus.
“If you’re doing laundry, have a pen and a notepad handy so when you think, ‘I need to mail off that bill,’ you write ‘mail off bill’ on the list,” said Cargile. “If you’re at work and you say, ‘I’ve got to call Sue,’ put ‘Call Sue’ on the list. That way you finish what you started before you move onto the next task.”
John has not only taken Cargile’s advice, but also has adapted his own form of a “distraction list” at work.
“I have two whiteboards on my wall in my office so I can remember the tasks that I have coming up,” he said. “If not, I will just blow by them. We work on specific deadlines when certain things have to be to different departments, so I make sure I put it in my phone, on my calendar or on the whiteboard.”
Although John may not be the best trivia player he would like to be, he’s winning at something much more important: life.

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