What was this post about again?

Yesterday, The New York Times’ “Vital Signs” column features a piece about a study that analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It shows that, after controlling for variables like age, income and overall health, adults with a history of cancer have a 40 percent greater chance of suffering from cognitive problems like difficulty concentrating. Of the 6,000 or so in the survey, 8 percent of those who never had cancer had problems; compared with 14 percent who had a history of cancer.

In the cancer numbers games that I’ve been thrust into lately, only a 14 percent chance of fuzzy brain actually counts as decent odds. But really. It’s not enough to worry about heart failure, and chemo drugs that burn your veins and make your bones brittle and your skin dry out? That’s not even mentioning the dreaded hair loss, nausea, muscle aches, and the veritable ghoul’s carnival of other possible side effects. Now, I’ve got to worry about being a noodle head as well?

Actually, this study, led by a University of Miami researcher, shows that that the bubble head risk isn’t linked to whether you get chemo or not. Something about having cancer seems to heighten your risk of losing mental wattage. It might be the radiation, it might chemical changes in the brain that result from the disease, or it might just be the psychological stress of facing cancer, one of humanity’s larger bogeymen.

If I do end up with foggy thinking, at least I’ll have some sense of what’s going on. I’ve agreed to be part of a clinical trial that seeks to clarify the University of Miami findings. UCSF researchers will measure my cognitive function, before, during and after chemotherapy. Any day now, I expect I’ll get a call from the clinical trial coordinator about it.

I sure hope I’ll be able to concentrate well enough to read the UCSF study when it comes out.


About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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3 Responses to What was this post about again?

  1. Franklin Stone says:

    Heather – You could lose half of your brain function and still be ahead of the rest of us. Franklin

  2. Catherine says:

    Otherwise known as chemo brain. The anti-estrogen meds also affect brain power. Ah, but at least I’m alive and functioning fairly well.

    I love that UCSF has all these interesting studies you can enter. NYU didn’t really. I would have loved to do the cold cap (although it would have interfered with my sleeping through chemo txs–IV benedryl–which worked for me).

    Waiting to hear what they will recommend for you. There are ways to combat the side effects of chemo (I hope you know at least one pot head)–you will get through this.

  3. leftbreast says:

    Medical marijuana is legal here, so I can make pot brownies without fear of arrest. I’ve never really liked pot, and can’t inhale worth a darn. (Have never smoked.) But the group that Pete is beginning to call my “bosom buddies,” i.e. breast cancer buds, say that it really works.

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