Day 145 of the Baby Aspirin Challenge. I have some interesting things to report. I’ll start with later, pretty good stuff and finish with the earlier bigger thing.
Since Day 21 I have had no ‘balloon brain’: this is not a medical term, just the simplest way to label the sensation of my head floating and bobbing, dislocated from my shoulders. AND no visual vertigo: as in no horizon teetering or walls wobbling.
On Day 23 I ran down the stairs from the second floor to the ground floor — hands free. That’s a big deal because I usually take stairs slowly and hold the railing of press my hand against the wall. That little extra freedom of movement is a gift; a little bit of me (before brain cancer) being returned to me.
On Day 2 (that’s right, we’re going backwards) the really big thing happened: I woke up with the distinct sensation of clarity. I’d forgotten how that felt. For nearly 10 years, I’ve been tired and blunted and caught in the hazy veil of Chemo-brain. I assumed it was the price I had to pay. I had brain cancer and lived. So, no suck-holing.
I didn’t have Chemo and I’d never heard of Chemo-brain. But Chemotherapy isn’t the only cause of Chemo-brain. As Dr. Patricia Ganz (UCLA) puts it:
From many sources of data, we now know patients experience impairments not just after chemo, but after radiation, hormonal therapy, and other treatments.
IMPAIRMENTS: fatigue, slower or reduced memory, information processing and concentration. AFTER may be months or years after treatment — up to 20 years, according to Tim Ahles PhD and his colleagues at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre.
Did you catch that? twenty years. It’s been 10 years since brain surgery and brain / spine radiation. And yeah, I had full-fledged Chemo-brain. Now I have something closer to My-brain: clearer, less fatigued, and better focused brain function. I think I still struggle with word finding, but I’m a writer and finding the right word is always a struggle.
Dr. Ganz at UCLA is doing work in this area, and one of her team’s findings is a link between the fatigue and cognitive complaints (i.e. Chemo-brain) and inflammation…in the brain! Here’s how she described it:
…if somebody says ‘I’m really forgetful, I can’t find my words very easily, I can’t concentrate,’ when they’re telling us those things and it hasn’t gotten better 6 months or a year after their treatment, they’ve had some kind of injury.
An injury: it makes concentration and memory recall more difficult, and us more challenged. We have to work harder, but we are not intellectually deficient And thankfully we have Dr. Ganz and others looking into this. But they’re mostly looking at how to prevent it. (What genes or pre-existing conditions make this happen to as many as 45% of cancer treatment patients.) For us, the ones who have already done the treatments and have the brain-fog, prevention is not an option. We did it and we got it.
And this is where my not even remotely scientific Baby Aspirin Challenge may come in handy. My doctor-of-a-husband did research on this very thing and linked it to some more general studies about post-injury inflammation and baby aspirin. And that’s why I started taking baby aspirin: one a day for the last 145 days.
When I started, I was hoping for some improvement in my balance and co-ordination; especially the proprioception in the soles of my feet, but I got something better. Maybe you can too…and most definitely, pass it on!
research for this post was done via the National Cancer Institute. ‘Understanding “Chemobrain” and Cognitive Impairment after Cancer Treatment.’