Yesterday I read an article published by a research group that studied the effects of chemotherapy and radiation on cognitive function in colorectal cancer patients. Very specific stuff and thoroughly researched by their own accounts.
Hundreds of participants with cancers in their asses filled out forms and questionnaires that purported to measure their powers of thought. Later on, they did it again. Think about that. All these people whom we can presume are rather distracted by the fact that a deadly growth has invaded the most private core of their bodies are taking tests to determine whether maybe they are a little scatterbrained. Can you guess the results?
There is a measurable decline in cognitive function among colorectal cancer patients. Surprise!
I still think I’m a pretty smart guy. At least nobody else is feeding or dressing me yet. I also know for an absolute, undeniable, rock-solid fact that the chemo messes with my head. I haven’t filled out any cognition related forms or questionnaires while those poisons course through my body, but I have been playing Scrabble with my sisters. When I’m on chemo, they kick my stoma.
Now, to be clear, I don’t know if Scrabble skills are a valid measure of my ability to think, but I do know my average Scrabble score drops dramatically during chemotherapy, as does the number of words I can rattle off that contain a q and no u. Once the chemo is done, my game returns to normal.
My personal findings are not entirely inconsistent with the findings of the researchers. They say there is no correlation between reduced or impaired cognitive function and the use of chemo-radiation therapy but they also say that there is a measurable decline as I mentioned earlier. You see, patients with colorectal cancer who had no chemo-radiation treatments had the same tendency to become hard of thinking as did those who were poisoned and cooked.
Does this mean “chemo-brain” is a myth? They seem to think so. And, after all, they are university trained researchers, right? However, I’m not sure the data they have supports that conclusion. Maybe chemo-brain is transient and doesn’t affect us in the long term. I hope there is some truth in that. Maybe they didn’t continue measuring those patients long enough for them to recover fully. Or maybe I’m not as smart as I think I was.
Whatever the case, their ultimate conclusion is that the cause of cognitive impairment in colorectal cancer patients remains unknown. So there. We don’t know what makes it happen but those cancer patients are a dumb bunch of stomaholes. That’s a healthy chunk of hard raised cancer research money well spent.
My opinion is that chemo screws with your head but it isn’t necessarily permanent. I also believe the emotional effects of having life altering and potentially terminal illness can mess with your head for a very long time.
Maybe we should all organize a Terry Fox run so these cancer-free geniuses can go back and retest the survivors.