It appears that we survivors have, at long last, been taken seriously about our reports of problems with mental functioning as a result of chemotherapy.
Mike Verano is a licensed professional counselor, licensed marriage and family therapist and thymic cancer survivor with over 30 years experience in the mental health field. Mike has had articles published in national and international magazines and is the author of The Zen of Cancer: A Mindful Journey From Illness to Wellness. In addition, he maintains the blog, Confessions of a Pacifist in the War on Cancer. He and his wife, Kathy, live in Lanexa, Virginia.
It appears that we survivors have, at long last, been taken seriously about our reports of problems with mental functioning as a result of chemotherapy. A recent article in Medical News Today leads with the title, Potential New Treatment Found for “Chemo Brain.”
Is it possible that those of us who have reported the mind slips of forgetting names for everyday items (a recent survivor shared with me that she could not remember “the name for the cloth that covers a table”) confusion, poor attention, difficulty focusing, etc. now have vindication? Could it be true that after being told that it is all in our heads, science has now found that it's in our brains? At first blush the answer seems to be “yes.” Unfortunately, the article, while promising in outline, is skimpy on the details.
My first thought in reading “new treatment” was, “Was there ever an old treatment?” If there was, I don’t remember it. But, then again, maybe that’s my chemo brain acting up. The other subtle point is that even the condition itself is placed in quotation marks. This is not standard treatment for a diagnosable ailment. We are not told, when that awful day arrived, that we had “cancer.” The quotations marks are explained in the sentence, "[Chemo brain is] something doctors learned about because patients were complaining." This is akin to the sentence, “My therapist says I suffer from being ‘too nice.’”
The article does take on a more scholarly tone as it describes the “damage” caused by chemotherapy medications to the brain cells protective layer and the decrease in the “feel good” hormones, dopamine and serotonin. It even gets a little creepy when it talks about the increase in hydrogen peroxide in the brain as a result of certain chemo drugs. Admittedly, I don’t know what hydrogen peroxide is doing in the brain in the first place, but its increase just sounds bad. As I read on, eagerly awaiting the good news, I was stunned to read, “These are the first studies to our knowledge that look at what happens to neurotransmitter release events as a result of these chemotherapeutic agents. It hopefully will open up some options for treatments down the road.” I found myself trying to scroll down the page looking for the promised treatment. Surely, no one, not suffering from chemo brain, would be as thoughtless as to promise relief from this frustrating side effect and end with “treatments down the road.” Really! What treatments and what road?
So, while we are, apparently, still waiting for a true treatment for chemobrain, we can take heart in the knowledge that our voices have been heard and something is being done. And, while we as survivors are once again being asked to show great patience while others decide if it’s “important for researchers” to develop therapies, let’s keep complaining. Let’s keep sharing our stories about what it’s like to live with a brain that’s been through the cancer challenge and perhaps the next article on the subject will begin with the title, A Chemo-No-Brainer: The Real Effects of Chemotherapy and A Proven Treatment.