Clinical trial to improve the lives of people with “chemo brain” – CBS Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – There’s a clinical trial that’s less than a year old, but it’s making a huge difference in the quality of life for breast cancer survivors.
Valorie Checque, a patient of Dr Robert Ferguson, who works at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, spoke weekly by phone but never met in person. That’s because Valorie was part of a new telehealth and memory study, where everything was done at home. The study was a clinical trial for breast cancer survivors.
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For many, the fight after beating breast cancer does not end. Some people experience what is called the “chemotherapy brain,” where simple tasks can sometimes seem impossible to accomplish. “I was forgetting things, I was forgetting things that happened right away,” said Valorie Checque, breast cancer survivor and study participant.
Dr Ferguson says these memory problems can last for years, long after cancer treatment is finished.
“So remembering the words, what someone said or what you might have read,” said Dr. Robert Ferguson, cognitive behavioral therapy at UPMC Hill Cancer Center. “I’ve worked with people who have been fired from their jobs, not really understanding what was going on and why their performance was declining,” Ferguson said.
So he discovered a non-drug approach to help these patients. Eight weekly visits, by phone or computer, lasting 45 minutes.
“Training in the adaptation of memory and attention. It’s a big bite, so clinical psychologists love acronyms. We call it MAAT, ”Ferguson said.
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Think of it as “the brain exercise.”
“Self-learning and talking to yourself through tasks. Use vocalization to perform steps such as cooking. He says stress is one of the main reasons these patients may experience forgetfulness, and it’s something that study participant Valorie is familiar with and worked on.
“Make sure things aren’t such a disaster. Can’t think of the next word, okay say I can’t think of what I was going to say, can you help me with that word, “Checque said.
After KDKA spoke to Valorie, she sat down with Dr Ferguson to discuss her life since the trial. This is not part of the processing, as everything is usually done via a computer. But once Valorie was all done, she found what she learned that she still applies in her life today, like making a list for our interview.
“I made a little list for myself, I didn’t want to forget the points and the things that I do regularly. Valorie says she feels blessed with her physical and now mental well-being, perhaps even before she is diagnosed with cancer. It gave her a sense of relief and optimism for a future she looks forward to.
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