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Chemo Brain

thompsonhat.jpgAs Duncan notes this morning, Fred Thompson has indolent, non-curable lymphoma that has a high likelihood of recurrence. In which case it would have to be treated with chemotherapy:

I’m not one who actually thinks that presidential health is all that important, and certainly don’t think that such illness/treatment should in any way be a disqualifier.

I’m actually going to disagree here. While I appreciate the restraint of those who haven’t gone through the experience, as someone who just got out of a four month round of chemotherapy I do think there are serious questions that need to be asked about this. And I’d be saying the exact same thing about a Democratic candidate.

It’s one thing for a potential nominee’s family to be in chemotherapy (Elizabeth Edwards) but it’s quite another for the candidate himself. During chemo we joked that about 50% of my IQ had been shaved off, and I’d say that was a pretty realistic assessment. I couldn’t remember anything from one moment to another, had no ability to read an average-length newspaper article and recall what it said at the beginning by the time I got to the end. It also made me really emotional and affected my judgment. It was important for me for a variety of reasons to keep blogging but I could not have done the kind of detail-oriented, in-depth kind of stuff I used to do during the days of Plame any more than I could fly. My posts got short and I had to check them with people before I put them up to make sure I hadn’t made some big mistake and left out something huge. I’m only now starting to get my brain back and my concentration is still poor eight months after I started chemo.

People in cancer treatment want to live their lives to the fullest, and there’s no reason for anyone to question Elizabeth Edwards’ qualifications as a mother for supporting her husband during treatment except for sexist claptrap. But that doesn’t mean you’re qualified to do anything in the midst of it. The fact is that nobody is asking Fred Thompson about a condition that could very seriously impair his ability to run the country. And I think there are several good questions that Fred needs to answer:

  • Did your doctors call your cancer stage 4?
  • Your doctors already acknowledged your cancer is likely to return, do you think it’s fair to the American people to enter the White House knowing you will need more chemotherapy?
  • When was the last time you had chemotherapy?

While I understand that people’s experience with chemo brain may vary, it’s a very real phenomeon and its effects can linger 10 years after treatment. And if the job of the press is to help the public make informed decisions and not just fawn over candidates who clearly have some cognitive issues to begin with, they really need to hop to it.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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