Jamming the Signal: The Effect of Diagnosis on Cognition

The simple act of receiving the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease blew me out of the water. I’ve met quite a few people in support groups for whom the diagnosis was a singularly traumatic event.

And now comes a study of “chemobrain,” the cognitive problems associated with breast cancer therapies, that indicate that the therapies have little to do with it. The Australian doctors presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology earlier this month.
They found that women who were diagnosed as having breast cancer began showing signs of impairment of attention and learning prior to the start of chemotherapy. And most of the women regained most of the lost function by the end of the chemotherapy regime.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the delivery of a grim diagnosis causes problems in and of itself. My mind reeled for weeks after that day in December, 2001, as if the events of Sept. 11 were not upsetting enough. I know the diagnosis was similarly disturbing to Suzanne.
My capacity for evaluating the thicket of choices that confronted me — medication options, implications for my career and family — was definitely limited. Looking back on that time, I wonder how the choices I made would have been affected had I been given the chance to review some comprehensive info from someone who had been there and done that (memo to self …).
But I will be always grateful to my support group friends, who were (and are) there, month after month, eager to help the newly dazed as they search for a way forward.