Chemotherapy and self-transcendence: an informal survey

Source: Wikipedia.
A common, if anecdotal, side-effect of chemotherapy is what people commonly refer to as 'chemo brain,' a kind of loss of concentration and mental fog following chemotherapy sessions. Now, there is finally scientific evidence that 'chemo brain' is not a merely psychological phenomenon, but is correlated to physical changes in brain activity. A study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America shows that "there are specific areas of the brain that use less energy following chemotherapy." In other words, chemotherapy can lead to reduced brain activity.

A friend of mine, who has indirect experience with 'chemo brain' symptoms in a close family member, raised an interesting hypothesis. He suggested that only patients who experience negative effects report it to their oncologists or general practitioners. Patients who experience a positive psychological change after chemotherapy, as his own family member did, are unlikely to report.

According to the 'filter' hypothesis of the mind-body problem, which I extensively discussed in this peer-reviewed paper, certain reductions of brain activity should allow for a de-localisation of consciousness and an expansion of awareness. Patients experiencing this usually report increased feelings of self-transcendence and spirituality, heightened creativity, psychic phenomena, and a host of other symptoms associated to non-local awareness. The question, of course, is whether, under certain (potentially rare) circumstances, 'chemo brain' couldn't lead to similar phenomenology. If it does, then we potentially have a huge population to study mind de-localisation through reduction of brain activity. Perhaps enormous volumes of data in this direction are out there, currently unreported.

It is not within the scope of this blog to launch any scientific study. But I thought I would try and do a little informal survey just to get an initial feeling for how promising a formal study in this direction might be. For this, I'd like to ask for your help in filling out the very short, multiple-choices-only form below, in case you have direct or indirect experience with 'chemo brain.' It won't cost more than a couple of minutes of your time. The partial results will be visible after you fill it out.

Though this survey is informal and non-scientific, I ask for your cooperation to keep the results as clean as possible:

  • Please do not fill out the form more than once (unless you know multiple patients who have undergone chemotherapy);
  • Please fill it out only if you have direct or indirect experience with 'chemo brain;'
  • I will publish the final results for everyone to see once there are enough responses. Please don't fill out bogus answers just to see the partial results. Have a little patience.

If you know people who have had direct or indirect experience with chemotherapy, please forward this article to them, asking them to consider filling out the survey below. This entire exercise will only make sense if we collect at least a couple of dozen responses. I count on your help to spread the word and mobilize people. Think of cancer boards, facebook cancer groups, twitter, and other social fora. I think the results, though anecdotal, could be interesting and help motivate a serious study at some point. There is a chance this effort could unlock significant new insights, so all help is welcome!

If, in addition to filling out the form above, you'd like to share your experiences with 'chemo brain' in more detail and nuance, please leave a comment below. Anonymous comments are permitted.

Copyright © 2012 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.


  1. After being diagnosed with breast cancer and going through chemotherapy and radiation I found myself prioritizing life decisions and the importance of family and friends.

    In regard to the question/statement about fear of death, I find myself being more concerned with aches/pains/irregularities for fear that they are related to more cancer and possibly death. I wish I could say that that has led me to a more health conscious life, but .....

    1. Thanks for sharing. I can fully understand the anxiety.

  2. I am headed into my third year of chemo for two brain tumors. Susposely the tumors are gone but now there are a couple of more areas of concern so chemo continues. I also had radiation on my head and brain area. After awhile you stop asking and just do what the medical professionals tell you.

    I have never been concerned about death from my prospective but for my wife of 49 years and my three great kids and two wonderful grandkids. I find myself less hyper, more at peace with myself but I also find it harder to do deep concentration or follow printed directions or even to stay tuned into a good book.

    I am very active with a two acre yard and a huge flower and vegetable garden. Whatever comes I will face but It Is Well With My Soul.

    1. Dear Bob,
      I lost my father when I was quite young. I was VERY attached to him but, against the odds, somehow I found peace a while thereafter. Whatever happens, your family will eventually find peace too, even though it may look impossible when you think of it now.
      We're all dying from the moment we are born... I am glad you are in peace with your own mortality. Those who have been on the edge and returned to tell the tale, tell us there is nothing to fear. Personally, I believe them.
      But regardless of that, right now, both of us are still alive. :-)

    2. Thanks Bernardo. I have watch some of your youtube presentations and read some of your articles, very impressive. I believe also that there is nothing to fear. I do believe in KARMA and think each of us are responsible for our actions. I am currently reading "Proof of Heaven" by Dr. Eben Alexander, M.D., A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife. It is a wonderful read since Dr. Alexander is a scientist and was a sceptic. Thanks again and love and light to you. I now often think of the words my brother said to me afer months of suffering, "I don't mind being dead but getting dead is painful". Blessings my friend.


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