One of the biggest challenges that I’ve had with this whole lymphoma deal is the changes in my cognitive status.

By: Robin Harry

It’s chemo and the brain
It’s chemo and the brain
I used to be a genius, but now I’m insane
If I forget your name, the cancer is to blame
It’s crazy, it’s chemo and the brain, brain, brain, brain…

One of the biggest challenges that I’ve had with this whole lymphoma deal is the changes in my cognitive status. I mentioned dealing with it in a previous blog entry(actually my most popular entry, thanks to Pinky and the Brain). It’s been a little over a year now since I finished chemotherapy, and while I now remember how to mail an letter (I’m not even kidding, I had to write step-by-step instructions for that once during treatment), I’m still a little fuzzy in the head. I have a lot of trouble remembering conversations that I’ve had, keeping track of details, and there’s a lower limit on the number of things that I can do at the same time. If I lose my train of thought – forget it, that train is never getting back on track. I’ve forgotten a lot of things that I used to know. Entire book plots. Basic biology information. Common acronyms. It’s quite sad, honestly, and extremely frustrating.

The phenomena is commonly called “brain fog” or “chemo-brain”, and a lot of cancer survivors go through it. Some doctors acknowledge it, some don’t think it exists. Which is ridiculous, because when a 29 year old woman with a university degree suddenly forgets how to mail an envelope, you’ve gotta admit that something’s going on. The problem was that it is too multifactorial to understand what really causes it. The combination of crazy toxic medicines, fatigue, depression, stress – all of these things on their own can cause cognitive impairment, so when all of these are rolled into one neat little cancer patient package, it just becomes a mess.

Well, earlier this week a group of scientists presented a study at a radiology conference,with findings of actual brain function changes in people undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. Finally!! VINDICATION, doubting doctors!! There is something going haywire up there. Basically, there seemed to be abnormal activity in the areas of the brain that deal with multi-tasking, planning, mental flexibility, focused attention (for us neuroscience folks, I believe those would be the frontal lobes?). While the population they studied is breast cancer and their chemo is different from us lymphomaniacs, it’s still a really fantastic finding.

Thus ends my nerdiest entry so far. I like to know things. While knowing doesn’t make my brain work better, it sure feels good to know that finally, there’s some evidence of it. Hopefully this leads to more research in the area. Or to put it another way, scientists will be hopefully be pondering what I’m pondering.

It’s chemo, it’s chemo and the brain, brain, brain, brain…NARF!


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