Breast Cancer Resource Center Savannah, GA USA

Chemo, Emotional Lows, and Neurogenesis

Could chemo affect your mood at the cellular level? Hear Sandrine Thuret’s TED talk on neurogenesis and how it relates.

Cancer is a bitch.  I think we’ve already covered that!  Still, chemotherapy is one of the icky slimy warted-appendages to the beast.  You see, sometimes, depending on one’s cancer and personal medical necessities, a patient is recommended to have chemotherapy.  It is a systemic method of treatment, where drugs spread throughout the body rather than a targeted area.  I like to think of it as sending in the troops, encouraging them to leave no stone unturned in your body, and to round up and execute any terroristic-fast growing sleeper cells within: aka squish their camps and get rid of any and all cancer cells that may be hiding. 

I was recommended for chemotherapy because some speedy fast mutant cells had already made a beeline for the train station: aka some cancer cells had made it to the lymph nodes.  I had conflicting thoughts and emotions as treatment approached too.  I was determined and echoed in my mind that my body would not be a safe haven for cancer cells; nope, annihilate them! Still, I was unnerved.  How sick would I get?

It’s a pretty aggressive approach; and to be honest, it’s not suitable for every diagnosis.  Talk to your doctors; they do know best.  They know what they’re talking about here.  Both size of the tumor and lymph node involvement are considered when recommending this form of treatment.  Still, chemo itself is not a one stop shop.  There are different cocktails and dosages of such; not to mention, that every person’s body chemistry is different, and their reactions to the treatments can be different too.  I heard that diarrhea could be a side effect; or it may not.  Constipation could be another; or it may not.  (Talk about varying symptoms from one person to the next).  I kind of chuckled at those two potentials being such polar opposites.  Way for science to be thorough…and clear.  Seriously though, chemo and the effects that it has is not a one stop shop.

I’d like to consider myself an educated person; however, there was much about chemo that I just didn’t ‘get’.  We’re all familiar with the stereotypical chemo patient: you know, the one who lost their hair and has a weakened immune system.  A bald head and thinned-out or missing eyebrows can be a dead giveaway.  Patients often lose their hair, develop brittle nails (sometimes they fall off), or get neuropathy. Perhaps you’ve even heard of a patient talking about their loss of taste, feeling nauseated, or having bone pain or fatigue.  There’s more than just the physical changes though.  There’s much more to a chemo treatment than meets the eye. 

Hindsight is 20/20, and for me and my chemo side effects, that couldn’t be a more accurate cliché.   I didn’t recognize it at the time; however, upon reflection and review of my journaling throughout treatment, I can now recognize a correlation.   About a week and a half after each treatment, I hit an emotional low.  These lows came like clockwork.  It didn’t make sense to me at the time; I just hated every minute of it. 

I found it interesting though when someone shared a TED talk about neurogenesis.  Sandrine Thuret, a neuroscientist, explained that developing depression AFTER chemo made sense from her perspective because the drugs given were meant to target fast growing cells.  Check out her video below; she explains it quite well.  Still, it made me wonder if perhaps my emotional lows were a side effect of chemo after all… could it perhaps have been a consequence of the chemo messing with the hippocampus in my brain?  Could chemo have been affecting my mood on a cellular level?

 If anything, her presentation validated my uncontrollable emotional lows; and she gave me hope with her list of things that promoted neurogenesis.  With that trusty list in hand, I felt like I had more control.  See ya later sadness; hello happy days.  Sex, red wine, and chocolate: a roadmap for happiness?  Sign.  Me.  Up.  I’d give it a go!  In the name of science, after all…

Sandrine Thuret explains neurogenesis and gives a list of things that help promote it.