A Neuroscientist Lost Her Mind From Cancer. Shes Not Alone.

Barbara Lipska was already a two-time cancer survivor when her hand disappeared in front of her face in 2015.

The neuroscientist and director of the Human Brain Collection Core at the National Institute of Mental Health specializes in studying schizophrenia. When she moved her right hand and it disappeared, she immediately predicted her eventual diagnosis.

I thought right away: brain tumor, she told The Daily Beast. But I quickly expelled it. I didnt have time for brain tumors.

Lipska, whose book The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery was published on April 3, had already faced her own mental health challenges in the wake of battling breast cancer in 2009, then melanoma in 2011. She sought psychotherapy at the recommendation of her daughter.

Shes not alone in needing help as a cancer patient. According to the American Cancer Society, feelings of depression, anxiety, and fear are very common in people with cancer, and up to one in 4 people with cancer have clinical depression.

I didnt have time for brain tumors.
Barbara Lipska, neuroscientist and author

The mental health issues Lipska started experiencing in 2015 were extreme. There was the vision issue, her disappearing hand, and the suddenly unrecognizable faces of colleagues. There was also her memoryforgetting where she lived while out on a run and an impaired awareness of having to urinate, leading her to pee her pants. And there was also her changing personality, breakdowns and overall failure to see that she was experiencing these things. Lipska, whose entire career revolved around these kinds of behaviors caused by mental health disorders, suddenly started experiencing them herself.

Lipskas brain tumors were metastases, secondary malignant growths in the brain that were a result of her melanoma. Her largest tumor was the size of an almond. According to the American Brain Tumor Association, melanoma is a common cancer to metastasize to the brain, along with lung, breast, and colon.

One of Lipskas doctors, Ayal Aizer, M.D., a radiation oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told The Daily Beast that there are a number of elements to consider when patients are diagnosed with metastases, namely the location of their tumors, which eventually defines how they manifest. Lipskas tumors inhabited her brains frontal cortex, which, she writes in her book, determines who humans are.

Even if theyre small, theres a psychological aspect of having cancer in the brain which is very difficult to digest and ultimately cope with, and in addition to that, some patients who have brain metastases actually have symptoms that can impair what we value most in life like vision, coordination or speech or walking and the ability to think clearly and digest information, he said.

It really can significantly impact the life.

Aizer said that a patients mental healthcare is dictated by what they want or express in their unique needs. Sometimes, patients like to stick to strictly medical facts when dealing with oncologists; other times, they want to have an all-hands-on-deck approach, with psychologists, psychiatrists, even family therapists. The goal is to help patients process their mental and neurological issues, digest it, cope with it.

Sometimes we can bring in speech and language and occupational therapists, and I think just having the opportunity to sit with a mental health professional in the office for an hour where were not talking about chemo or immunotherapy or radiation or surgery and its talking about what life is like, what challenges theyre facing and having someone to sort of listen, serve as a sounding board and come up with strategies to cope is really valuable, Aizer said.

Lipska underwent many different treatments for the metastases, like immunotherapy, radiation, steroids and targeted therapy. And slowly, her clarity came back bit by bit, but she was entirely unaware of how shed behaved, so much so that her family had to fill her in on her behaviors.

Today, Lipska is now in remission. Its been 16 months after the initial findings of her tumors, but shes aware there could be more cancer cells still in her body. Theres also the chance shell develop necrosis, an effect of radiation that destroys healthy brain tissue.

But mostly, Lipska is positive, thankful. Shes happy to have her memory and brain back and to have learned so much from her experience that she can use toward her own work.

Though shes regained her neurological function, she largely associates what she went through with what mentally ill people go through every day.

In the course of losing and regaining my sanity, Ive come to identify with other people who have known mental illnesses firsthand, Lipska said in her book, explaining that the symptoms she exhibited fall in line with diagnoses for dementia, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Despite conducting research on mental illness for over thirty years, I believe it is my own suffering that truly taught me how the brain worksand how profoundly frightening it is when our minds fail.

Lipska said her compassion for those with mental illness is one of the many things this experience left her with.

The brain is an incredibly complex mechanism and we have no idea what happens in people with mental illness, so theres more empathy, it gives rise to more tolerance and more passion toward research in this field and more passion to find a cure, which I spend my life working on.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/a-neuroscientist-lost-her-mind-from-cancer-shes-not-alone

Im menopausal, having great sex with my ex-husband and confused

A woman who split from her husband seven years ago finds that, as she struggles with her mental health, he is by her side and in her bed. Mariella Frostrup responds

The dilemma I have been having a dreadful time with the menopause for the past two years and a mental health team is now involved with my care. My husband and I split up seven years ago, but we remained close and see each other often. My husband has stayed the past couple of nights as Im in quite a scary place, but we ended up having sex, and lots of it. I have not had sex for a long time and our sex life when we were married was never good, it was a real chore for me. We talked so much and have felt totally relaxed around each other. Please tell me whats happening to me as I am meant to be having a breakdown, but I am having the most wonderful time with my husband. I had not slept for three nights before that when the psychiatric nurse prescribed me sleeping tablets. My mood swings are horrendous, yet I feel I have fallen in love with the man who has always been my rock. Its like I am seeing him for the first time.

Mariella replies Perhaps you are! Thank you for providing a sliver of tangible proof to back up my specious theory that the devil you know can occasionally reinvent himself. What a relief to the many frustrated couples out there despairing of ever rekindling passion. Thats the good news!

You are in the throes of a particularly malevolent menopausal period, in the care of mental health experts and on medication, the side effects of which I am entirely unaware. Its fair to say there are a lot of potential disrupters to your state of mind. Before you rush to your wardrobe to dust off your wedding dress, I suggest you share this latest development, not only with me, but with those professionals who are charged with your welfare.

It may be bizarre, but its certainly not shameful that you and your ex have rediscovered your mojo. But just as antidepressants can curtail your sexual appetite, so other forms of medication can heighten and exaggerate your physical and emotional responses. When the meds wear off you dont want to find yourselves facing each other across the kitchen table and wondering what on earth it was that propelled you back under the same roof.

Its early days, of course, but it has always struck me as odd that we have no expectation of passion resurfacing. In life we enjoy repetition in so many areas, and plenty of them are sensual food, massage, scents to name a few so why do we think that once an attraction fades, it will never take on a new form and appeal again?

Theres another reason I welcome your letter and thats because it mentions the menopause. Generally the only news were given on that front is bad most recently the connection between HRT and the increased risk of breast cancer a further addition to the grim tidings. Clearly the hormonal disruption that has affected your mental health so badly is nothing to go whoop about, but your reawakened sexuality definitely is.

There is an unfathomable mystery to this hormonal readjustment, despite being experienced by 50% of the worlds population. Much of it is down to the shroud of shame too often draped over the workings of womens bodies. The trickle-down effect of titbits of information from those brave enough to acknowledge the M word has led us to realise that hot flushes and flaring tempers are not the only symptoms. Anxiety, sleeplessness, mania, out-of-character behaviour and, perhaps, judging by your experience, a renewed and voracious sexual appetite, can all be thrown into the pot labelled natural symptoms. Surely its time for a serious investigation into the scientific truth and cultural taboos around the menopause a condition we understand so little about that its burdened with the same level of stigma as a terminal illness.

Im delighted that, in this dark passage of your life, light has poured in with the presence of your ex. Hes certainly worthy of reconsideration for being at your side during troubled times and in your bed these last few days. That said, the fact that you havent slept for three nights makes me worry about your capacity to make rational judgments. I suggest you continue to enjoy the pleasure of his company, but wait until the mist of medicine clears before you leap to any long-term conclusions. Also, be honest with the professionals helping you, because their ability to support you depends on understanding what you are feeling. And enjoy this gift of life-affirming passion and companionship from what seems an unlikely quarter.

Im not so sure our relentless march forward is in our best interests as a species. Relationships can be victims of bad timing or immaturity, compelling alternative distractions and many other changing priorities. So when we walk away from a person with whom weve shared chemistry, whos to say that a future spark cant reignite that inferno?

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to mariella.frostrup@observer.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/sep/18/i-am-menopausal-but-having-great-sex-with-my-ex-husband-mariella-frostrup