One of the strangest side-effects of chemotherapy has to be so-called “chemo brain.” For the uninformed or for those, like me, who are suffering from it and therefore may need a reminder, chemo brain basically causes one to forget things. Or at least that’s what I thought that it did. It also manifests itself in effects ranging from deficits in concentration, executive functions, and multitasking, and a general feeling of cognitive fogginess. Fortunately I am not executive material so I should not have to worry about that ramification at least.
This is one of the few areas where my cancer intersects with Melissa’s field of neurology. I am especially glad about that as that makes her more understanding of why, when she tells me things, I have no recollection of them. (One of the few pluses of having endured chemo was the ability to blame pretty much everything on chemo brain. “What? I was supposed to fix that for you? I had no idea. You told me twice already? I’m sorry, honey, but I really don’t remember.”) On the negative side – and there’s invariably a negative side with anything cancer-related – she recently saw an interview with a doctor who has been studying this occasionally useful consequence of the chemo. Unfortunately, I asked her to share it with me before she read it. I read it, and now I wish the chemo brain would kick in so I could not remember what I just learned.
Chemo brain is just street lingo for what is properly known, apparently, as chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment. Or, for those who like acronyms, CICI. Just knowing the proper name of this issue is somewhat disturbing. What was more disturbing, however, was that my previous understanding of its duration of only one year is wrong – it could go on for up to ten times that length. That’s a full decade of not only not remembering where I put my keys but that I had the keys at all.
Even more troubling is the fact that the research shows that the chemo is more toxic to my brain cells than to the cancer cells. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I know the chemo killed off hundreds of thousands of cancer cells. How can anything have a more toxic effect than death? And as anyone who has talked to me for any length of time at all undoubtedly knows, I did not have that many gray cells to spare to start with.
Because CICI is understudied, there is a corresponding lack of knowledge as to how to treat it. The best this article could offer up is “cognitive training and psychoeducational intervention.” I have no idea what psychoeducational intervention is, but it does not sound like a way in which I would like to spend my time (and of course, when one has cancer, time is so much more valued, which is why I am not observing Daylight Savings Time this year). I do not really know what cognitive training is either, but I think it is doing crossword puzzles. Regrettably, another of the side effects of chemo brain is trouble finding words. So I guess that means not only are crossword puzzles out but so are my back-up cognitive training – word searches. I might just have to start watching Sesame Street again. Now, if I could only remember what I did with the remote.