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.


Heidi and Sarah Face The Day said...

Even with a few brain cells gone, you'd still be one of the smartest people I know! I guess that's not the right thing to say here so let me just add that I am glad the feeling quickly went away after the chemo stopped. The body and the brain go so hand-in-hand. You got through all that bad-brain-bad-body stuff and your body and brain can now feel happier again and reactivate big time! Maybe all the blueberry smoothies have been doing their job too! I read that they boost brain cells! -SRA

Anonymous said...

hmmm.yeah, I guess it's impossible not to think about your intelligence when i think about you, but in reality, the stronger linkages to your "identity" for me [and I understand that it's different for you, and maybe some others] are to your heart. You were my first experience with unconditional love, long before I ever became aware of your intellect. And while you were always a smart kid, you were also a wise one [and yes, on very rare occasions a wise-ass one as well] and your wisdom came from your heart as well as your brain. You cried inconsolable tears when King Kong fell to his death because of your heart, not your head. and while I suspect your head helped you to understand different life experiences that you encountered [your mom and dad's announcement that they were separating...someone else pursuing Noah's interest and love when you already knew that you loved him...Kibble's heroic struggle with cancer...flying alone as a nineteen-year-old to Japan to begin studying at a foreign university...] it was your heart where the courage and love resided that actually not only got through the pains and the fears, but tempered your soul and spirit until you emerged the wonderful, sensitive, loving and alive person that you area. You could lose all your brain would still have a universe of folks who would still love and respect you. In awe and love, D