If you’re lucky you’re not familiar with the phrase “chemo brain.” Unfortunately, as you may know from previous posts, my sister Debby has breast cancer. This is the second time around for her. The first time was in 2000. She found a lump. A small lump, she had a little surgery and the surgeon got “a clear margin” which means no cancer cells on the whole outer surface of the 1 mm lump they removed. And they tested the lymph nodes– all clear. Debby did a little radiation and a little chemo “just to be sure” as the doctors say, and poof, it was gone. She handled it so well she could have been the poster girl for the How to Survive and Thrive With Breast Cancer campaign. Heck, she even look fabulous bald.
By 2002 we were walking the Breast Cancer 3 Day 60 Mile walk in San Diego, and raised about 10,000 dollars between the two of us.
Well, in 2004 Debby had a little pain in her back. Thought she pulled a muscle, strained it at work or something. It didn’t go away. After visits to the massage therapist and the chiropractor– to no avail– she mentioned it to her oncologist at a check up. After he chastised her for not coming to him first, he set her up to get some tests, and before we knew it, she was diagnosed again. This time with metastisized breast cancer, the little evil cells having landed on her bones (her back where she felt the pain) on her pelvis, oh yeah, and in her liver, lung and a tiny spot on her brain. I don’t remember the exact sequence, it seemed to get a little worse with every doctor visit…. and before long she ended up in the hospital having seizures, on medication that left her legs looking like little toothpicks and her face puffy and round, “blowfish face” she called it.
She had gamma knife procedures, more chemo, more radiation… and at one point (a long point) she was so weak, her muscles so depleted, she could hardly get up out of a chair.
Now here we are in 2006. Debby still has breast cancer, but she’s doing a lot better. Not a hundred percent, but to look at her you’d never know. Except for the little lump on her chest, her port, inserted just under her skin so the nurse doesn’t have to keep hunting for a vein everytime she goes in for chemo. She still goes about once a month. “Chemo lite” Debby calls it.
Oh, and the point of this post, she has what she calls “chemo brain” which is apparently now a recognized side effect for some people who are on chemo:
CHEMO BRAIN NOT ALL IN YOUR HEAD
Article from the American Cancer Society:
“Researchers are learning more about “chemo brain,” the memory and concentration gaps that plague some cancer patients after chemotherapy.” More at the American Cancer Society Website….