Guest blogger and survivor, Cate Stasio of Posit Science, is truly thankful for today’s scientifically-validated treatment options for “Chemobrain.” Today on the blog, Cate share’s some monumental research and a great deal of heart on the subject.
When I received my cancer diagnosis, and discussed the fact that I was having difficulty remembering things and paying attention with my doctor, she told me it was “all in my head.” (BTW, this was less than 10 years ago.) Granted, her focus was on keeping me alive, and, while this conveniently was a mutual goal, I was struck by the fact that she could be so dismissive of the cognitive symptoms that were seriously disrupting my quality of life.
My fellow survivors, I found, were very vocal about the developing cognitive “inefficiencies” that made it difficult for them to multi-task or follow-through on work projects or family responsibilities. Like me, these cancer veterans were dismayed by the lack of solutions available for our slowed thinking abilities—all the note taking or calendaring in the world couldn’t compensate for our uninvited lack of mental agility. The Internet was rife with arguments over what caused cancer-related cognitive impairment; those 17 to 75% of us affected didn’t care about what started it, we just wanted to fix it. We dreamt about having some modicum of control over an illness that had the audacity to remind us frequently that, in many ways, we were helpless.
Around this time, the founders of Posit Science, Drs. Michael Merzenich and Henry Mahncke, were not just talking about “chemobrain,” they were rolling up their sleeves in an effort to alleviate it. As renowned neuroscientists, they hypothesized that some combination of stress, fatigue and medication/radiation treatment could weaken the myelin in the brain of a person with cancer; interfering with connections that help relay important information from one brain area to another. Under their careful guidance, Posit Science developed and was the first to study a suite of computer exercises based on the principles of brain plasticity; designed to help people with cancer think faster, focus better and remember more. Originally released at the International Psycho-Oncology Society in 2008, breast cancer survivors who reported chemo brain symptoms who used Posit Science training reported significant benefits in cognitive function and quality of life with resulting reductions in stress levels. By completing an hour a day of cognitive training, participants showed that they had the ability to fight back and recapture the brain function and sense of self that cancer had interfered with.
Additionally, Dr. Diane Von Ah, an avid member of the Oncology Nursing Society who has spent years looking for evidence-based interventions for chemobrain, this month reports finding one. In a study published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, Von Ah et. al. studied 82 cancer survivors reporting cognitive impairment. Participants who received Posit Science training showed significant improvements in memory, thinking speed, depression, fatigue and health-related quality of life. Additionally, Posit Science training recipients felt less anxious after completing training; with benefits lasting for months afterward.
People who read about my interest in chemobrain typically ask 3 questions: 1) Does chemobrain affect only breast cancer survivors? 2) How long does chemobrain last? 3) Who with cancer should use Posit Science cognitive training? Recent reports and personal experience have helped shape my responses to these.
A 2010 study by Harrington et. al. demonstrated that cognitive limitations, depression, and fatigue consistently persisted in survivors of breast, gynecological, prostate and colorectal cancers 10 years or more following treatment. These symptoms were present regardless of the types of pharmacologic or radiologic treatments endured. To me this says that no one knows who will be affected by chemobrain, or how long it will last.
My response to who should use Posit Science cognitive training is pretty straightforward (though I have to admit that I am such an advocate of it that I convinced Drs. Mahncke and Merzenich to let me work for them.) I think Posit’s cognitive training program is appropriate for anyone like me whose cancer diagnosis only increases their desire to be their best self for the people who love and depend on them. I think it’s for anyone with an Internet connection who can spare 15 minutes a day to think better on their feet and remember all the little things they’re still lucky enough to hear their kids say. I think it’s for people who, regardless of the stage of their cancer, can hear the words, “it’s all in your head” and find them empowering instead of belittling.
Those interested in subscribing to the program described in Dr. Von Ah’s study can do so by visiting www.BrainHQ.com. Posit Science will be honored to donate 20% of your subscription to Living Beyond Breast Cancer.
Like many cancer survivors who have been affected by cognitive impairment, Cate is thrilled that a scientifically-validated treatment option is now available. Upon submission, Cate let us know that there have been times in her life when bonds forged through LBBC were the only things that got her through the day, and she said, “There are no words with which I can properly express my gratefulness to you and the LBBC organization.”
Posit Science is the leading provider of clinically proven brain fitness training. Its exercises, available online at www.BrainHQ.com, have been shown to significantly improve brain speed, attention, memory and numerous standard measures of quality of life in multiple studies published in more than 60 peer-reviewed articles in leading science and medical journals. This includes a study showing positive benefits for people experiencing chemobrain. The company’s science team is led by renowned neuroscientist Michael Merzenich, PhD.