Happiness shared is doubled, grief shared is halved; Swedish proverb
In this spirit I’m dusting off my blog and posting the ‘Baby Aspirin Challenge.’
An experiment: one baby aspirin a day for 150 days (the number of tablets in the bottle) to see if the anti-inflammatory effects of the aspirin can help my ailing post-radiation brain.
Today is an anniversary: ten years since my medulloblastoma (aka brain cancer) was taken out of my head. That is reason for celebration, but the surgery left me with severe balance and co-ordination deficits…the biggest thing was walking: I couldn’t without a walker. It took me more than a week to be able to sit up in bed. And then it took 20 minutes. Eating was difficult: spoon-to-mouth plus chew and swallow was a challenge. Vertigo, nausea, vision tracking…a pretty long list of things going wrong after surgery. But a month later, I was making real progress: no walker, spoon-to-mouth aim solid, etc.
Then six weeks of head and spine radiation: 4 weeks of head and spine, then a 2 week boost to the tumour bed. All of my rehab vanished. I thought so what, I did it once, I’ll do it again. But I didn’t. Not fully and not always reliably. I never need a walker, but my feet cross when I walk, or stumble over nothing. Or I wake up and the room is spinning (not just light-headedness, I see it spinning). Sometimes there’s just a fog; I can’t understand what I’m reading or find the chords on my guitar that I know I know how to make. And there are words I can’t find, or catch hold of…like they’re a bunch of minnows in a bucket; I keep plunging my hands in the water but they keep slipping through my fingers.
That’s the worst one, and what lead to this post. A couple of months ago at my last MRI follow-up my radiation oncologist asked, “Do you have any trouble word-finding? A lot of brain radiation patients find that to be a problem.”
I sat up nice and straight in my plastic chair and said, “No,” in some twisted version of never tell a grownup the truth…because they can’t help you anyway and worse, you might get in trouble.
A couple of nights ago I cracked — 10 year anniversary of brain cancer diagnosis, half a bottle of wine, a weepy movie and KA-BAM! Sloppy, sobbing confession of all the little things that are always going wrong with my brain’s vestibular system. My husband heard it all, tried to give me some advice, got yelled at for it, (I’m mercurial, ok?) then went to his computer to do an all night search on — here, you should know he’s an MD, Chief of Staff, former Chief of ER etc etc — post radiation microvasculature inflammation, and effects of low dose, daily acetylsalicylic acid (aka baby aspirin) on inflammation. Here’s what he found:
1. Years after radiation therapy there may be intermittent inflammation of the microvasculature. What the #%$&??? In English: When the tiniest of for our blood vessels — the ones dropping off the oxygen the red blood cells carry — get zapped with radiation, they get inflamed. The inflammation means that the passageway is too small and tight for any blood cells to reach the tissue (in my case brain tissue) to deliver the oxygen that body part needs. No oxygen = low /no performance of duties.
2. A daily low dose of aspirin (baby aspirin / 81mg ASA) reduces inflammation.
Will one baby aspirin a day calm my frazzled microvasculature so that it can deliver the oxygen my brain needs to function reliably every day? I don’t know…I’ll keep you posted.