Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Fog

Today's New York Times has a great article about chemo brain--a phenomenon that's apparently being taken more seriously these days.

During our one-week cram session to learn as much about breast cancer treatment as possible, Noah and I repeatedly saw references to chemo brain. The research was inconclusive, but many women report cognitive deficits--sometimes severe--during chemotherapy. The best study we read about, from the June 2004 issue of the journal Cancer (and mentioned here, about 3/5 of the way down the page), noted that many women reporting cognitive impairments had them before chemotherapy started, so it was unclear whether the cause was the toxins or just the preoccupation and anxiety that come with cancer. The newer research, linked above, is more grave: it appears that brain cells are killed by the chemo, and that the effects can last a very long time.

Of course, for me, this was perhaps the most frightening potential side effect. My identity is pretty tightly structured around intellect--which provides my livelihood, too--and the thought of losing mental acuity... You can imagine.

Like most people's, my oncologist was sympathetic but not especially helpful. "It could happen," was all she could really say, and she pointed us to that 2004 study, which offered hope in its suggestion that it might be emotions, not neurons, causing trouble for many people.

I did have chemo brain. You can ask Noah, who tried to be forbearing but occasionally had to point out that I was impaired. I lost words constantly. I was a bit ditzy and scrambled (good thing I had a platinum blond wig for those moments, so I could really be a stereotype). It was not as horrifying as I'd feared--more like mild aging, maybe, than a brain injury--but it was real, and annoying, and not the way I want to live.

And I'm really happy to report that it went away, very quickly after the end of treatment. I don't think I have any lasting cognitive effects at this point. I've been able to go back to work and put sentences together, both in papers and in front of MBA classes. That has been one of my many reliefs in life A.D.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

New direction

Hi folks!

I'm happy to say that breast cancer has increasingly become a background (rather than foreground) presence in my life. The rhythm of my days is no longer dictated by treatments and weakness. Sometimes, perhaps, I even leave it too far behind, caught up as I am in the headlong pursuit of tenure and the juggling of daily demands.

In any case, I find myself with less to say regularly about the cancer journey--and I'm glad of that, and hope it stays that way! But that doesn't mean I need to throw over the blog. I think I'll morph it into another common blog form: the compendium. I'm constantly struck by the constant barrage of news coverage related to breast cancer. I figure I'll post links here, and--when something is particularly interesting--even comments.

And never fear, those who prefer the logorrheaic blog, I'll still post when noteworthy things arise!

So, to begin:
Bad News
So far, John Edwards is my favorite presidential candidate for '08. And although I didn't love getting added to a fundraising list when I wrote a note of support, I've been pleased and impressed by how he and his wife Elizabeth have handled her recurrence of cancer. It was terrifying to hear about her. Many articles refer to her "particularly deadly" form of cancer, the "triple-negative" (estrogen-negative, progesterone-negative, her-2 neu negative). Well, I'm a triple-negative too, with the highest (worst) possible Bloom-Richardson score. News like this makes me seek refuge in the numbers, and hope I land on their good side: 80% chance I'm free, 20% chance I'm not.

Cute News
The LA Times yesterday carried an odd but somewhat heartwarming story about the recovery of 2000 wedding dresses, intended for a breast cancer fundraiser, then stolen, then found at the Mexican border.

Important News
Not that it's clear at all, but the news/debates on best diagnostic practices is worth attention: good summaries at