'Emerging from the Haze' - supporting patients with chemo brain

Staff at The Royal Marsden have developed and launched the UK's very first course to support patients experiencing CRCI, or 'Chemo brain', with funding from The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

Supported by funding from The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, Clinical Nursing Research Fellow Sarah Stapleton and Occupational Therapist Tamsin Longley have developed resources to better support patients experiencing cancer-related cognitive impairment (CRCI). CRCI is a common problem for cancer patients and is often referred to as ‘chemo brain’.

Two women stood outside smiling. The woman on the left is tall and wearing a white uniform. The woman on the left is shorter and wearing a navy blue nurses uniform.
Clinical Nursing Research Fellow Sarah Stapleton (right) and Occupational Therapist Tamsin Longley (left) developed the 'Emerging From the Haze' programme.

What is CRCI or 'Chemo brain'?

During and following cancer treatment, people can experience changes in cognitive function known as CRCI. Despite sometimes being referred to as ‘chemo brain’, it can be caused by the cancer itself, as well as chemotherapy, other cancer treatment, and other side effects of cancer.

CRCI can cause people to struggle to remember things, concentrate, or find the right words, which can have a huge impact on daily life. Despite this, the problem often goes unreported by patients and can be missed by health professionals. 

Developing the 'Emerging from the Haze' programme.

First, Tamsin developed a course for patients called ‘Emerging from the Haze’ - an online, 6-week programme led by therapists at The Royal Marsden to provide tools and strategies to understand and optimise cognition after cancer treatment. The Royal Marsden is the first UK hospital to provide this service.

Tamsin and Sarah then used funding from the Charity to create informative videos for patients that explain their symptoms, how to talk to clinicians about it and how to seek specialist help if needed. They’re now also producing an online learning module for staff at The Royal Marsden to help them effectively recognise the signs of CRCI and refer patients for help.

Natalie Hall face

Dance teacher Natalie Hall, 47, says she has benefited hugely from the project.

Natalie underwent chemotherapy and a double mastectomy at The Royal Marsden after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

“My short-term memory was severely affected after treatment,” she says. “My brain felt so muddled that I was panicking the cancer had spread. I found it difficult to concentrate – and as I’m self-employed, it was vital that I could continue to work. I would regularly find myself in rooms not knowing why I was there. Once, I went to pick my daughters up from school and left the bath running at home, flooding my entire living room.”

Natalie was relieved to learn that her cognitive impairment was a side effect of cancer treatment, and she says the course helped instil a belief in herself and her capabilities.

“It has been amazing,” she says. “The tools and techniques I’ve learned are brilliant – they’ll stay with me forever. I still keep in touch with my group. It was reassuring to know other people were going through the same thing."

“I’d like to thank Tamsin and Sarah for putting their hearts into creating such an important project and The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity for all their support. It’s made such a difference to my life and really helped with being able to use my brain more efficiently.”

Read Natalie's full story here.

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