Founder of Health Rising and Phoenix Rising
"The minds of people with chemo-brain lack the ability for sustained focused thought."
Post-cancer fatigue is common and so are cognitive problems but post-cancer fatigue is caused by the cancer or chemotherapy or radiation - and none of those are present in chronic fatigue syndrome. There's no reason, other, than the similar symptoms, to believe their brains are dysfunctional in the same way.
“A healthy brain spends some time wandering and some time engaged,” said Todd Handy, a professor of psychology at UBC. “We found that chemo brain is a chronically wandering brain, they’re essentially stuck in a shut out mode.”
A recent study, however, indicates they are. The study found two things:
- The brains of people with post-cancer fatigue just can't shut off and relax
- People with post-cancer fatigue have trouble sustaining focused thought.
Wandering Minds Spell Trouble
It's inability to do that causes at least three problems:
- a) precious resources that should be diverted to the task at hand are being diverted to monitoring unimportant things and
- b) it's hard to maintain one's focus on the task at hand; i.e. it's difficult to maintain sustained attention and
- c) it takes much more energy to do a task that it ordinarily would.
It explains the odd pattern of even seasoned meditators like Toni Bernhardt having to give up or dramatically curtail their meditation practices when they come down with ME/CFS.
That's a very fatiguing problem. We learned in the series on Donna Jackson Nakazawa's book that a "wandering mind is a fatigued mind". Even when the women were asked to relax their brains never shut down. It was as if the "on" switch was turned on all the time.Even when women thought they were focusing on a task, the measurements indicated that a large part of their brain was turned off and their mind was wandering.
We see the similar issues of systems being turned on all the time with with the increased heart rates in sleep in ME/CFS and in brain studies that indicate that after a task the brain doesn't shut offf as quickly as it should. All this fits, of course, with the idea that the sympathetic nervous system is chronically turned on in ME/CFS, FM and other disorders.
Why is a similar scenario - a scenario which, as in ME/CFS, normal cognitive tests do not pick up - happening in both diseases? It may be that toxic drugs or cancer or simply the stress of going through cancer trips similar circuits in ME/CFS and post-cancer patients. An fascinating study suggested that mitochondrial problems may be responsible for cancer pain. Could the same be true with chemo fog?
This study was good news for ME/CFS patients because it means another disease is looking at the same issues that are found in ME/CFS.