Chemo Brain

I learned a new term today: chemo brain. While doing my PhD at Emory University, I took just about every class at the Medical School that didn’t involve  touching people but I never heard this term before today. A colleague of mine, who has been out on short term disability, stopped by my office today. He has been fighting a grueling battle with metastatic malignant melanoma that started a few years ago. He was on high dose interferon for about a year (while still working full time) which basically caused him to have all of the aches & pains of the flu during that time. Unfortunately, the interferon wasn’t sufficient to stop the melanoma from spreading. Over the holidays he had two major surgeries to remove metastases. One involved removing a lobe of his lung and all of his lymph nodes. The second involved going back into the initial site where the cancer had recurred. The surgeons did an amazing job as they had to remove a nerve in his arm that controlled his hand. They were able to rewire a different nerve to the hand and he’s been doing extensive occupational therapy to learn how to move his hand appropriately with the new wiring that has been laid down. He’s now also on a new regimen of chemotherapy drugs and claims that this new combination has reduced the side effects of his "Chemo Brain." Apparently, there are countless cognitive side effects to most chemotherapy treatments. I never knew or experienced this first hand until today. Although his symptoms have improved, in many ways I found my conversation today very similar to talking with relatives with the early stages of senile dementia/Alzheimer’s disease. He would appear to forget what we had discussed and our entire conversation repeated in its entirety three complete times. I cannot imagine what he or his family is going through or how they are handling this. He is holding onto the hope that he will recover enough to come back to work. I hope he makes it. The general prognosis for metastatic malignant melanoma is incredibly grim.

Note to self: see the dermatologist this year and have moles assessed.

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