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by Jana 'Ultra' Rosenblatt**

Are you starting to wonder why you are reaching the end of a long workday and have gotten nothing done? Or, is it simply impossible to remember what you have accomplished?

Welcome to "CHEMO BRAIN"

For me, it started as a subtle and nondescript sense of confusion, until I heard other survivors talking about it and I asked my doctor. No, it is not our imagination, a sign of aging before our time or that we are insane.

"Chemo brain" manifests itself differently for everybody but apparently there are some common traits. For me, it is an inability to concentrate, a memory like a sieve and "brain drain". That feeling that your head needs a nap even though your body has energy.

All my life I have thrived, and others have benefited, by my ability to multi-task. That, coupled with my organizational abilities and attention to detail, has been the route of my employability in both the entertainment industry and interior design. So for me, the good news is that I am alive, but the bad news is that, at least for now it is not business as usual.

I have read that 1 out of 4 chemotherapy patients experience symptoms of Chemo Brain. I suggest that is more than that and it is being misdiagnosed because the symptoms are so vague. Memory loss, thinking and cognitive problems could be a result of depression, anxiety or exhaustion which would be an understandable side effect of the disease itself. Understandably, the people who are most likely to seek help for chemo brain related symptoms are highly functioning individuals who are most aware that they are not functioning up to snuff. There is an expectation that when their chemotherapy regimen ends they will be back to normal but often they are not.

For decades, it has been thought that chemotherapy drugs were molecularly too large to transcend the natural barrier between the blood vessels in the brain and the brain tissue itself. This barrier is one of the main reasons why many chemotherapy drugs are not effective on cancers that have spread to the brain.

Dr. Lawrence Shulman, chief medical officer at Boston's Dana Farber Cancer Institute says, "Chemo brain could be caused by the drugs indirectly, in that they can cause the body to pump out natural chemicals called cytokines that do enter the brain and may trigger significant decreases in cognitive function...And, some cognitive problems experienced by cancer patients might be caused by drugs given along with chemotherapy, such as anti nausea medications, steroids, sedatives and antihistamines."*

According to a study at Dartmouth Medical School (March, 2000), which included women who had undergone chemo for breast cancer and women with similar educational background and age who were treated for lymphoma with surgery and radiation alone, the breast cancer survivors treated with chemotherapy scored significantly lower on standardized tests for mental and physiological function. All the women were cancer free after 5 years and some had no signs of chemo brain. Most of those that did exhibit symptoms found they improved over time.

The problem with fully understanding chemo brain is that, thus far, no studies have been completed with long-term results, including women before, during and after chemotherapy.

Hopefully, research will soon be done that will lead to solutions for the symptoms of chemo brain. In the meantime, it is important to do what you can to combat them. First, consult you doctor with anything that concerns you. You could possibly be medicated for anemia or depression, both of which can cause the symptoms of chemo brain to be more severe. Anemia affects the amount of oxygen that goes to the brain. Depression affects your mood and ability to function. Both result in fatigue and affect your ability to think which exacerbates the symptoms.

Whatever the actual cause or combination of causes, it's happening to me! And, although I do not wish this on anyone, I am glad to know that I am not alone, it is not my imagination and that it may go away as mysteriously as it began.

Read about a Chemo Brain Day of Jana's

* From "Minds fixed on 'chemo brain,' by Judy Foreman, Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2003.

** Fact checked by Dr. Greg Olsen of Valley Hematology and Oncology, Sherman Oaks, CA.







Chemo Brain Suggestions & Links

A sample of a 'normal' chemo-brain affected day

Marianne the Innkeeper's Chemo Brain Day

Chemo Brain: Chick Tip!

Sure lady, you're crazy!!!

Teal couch days!


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