A vibrant mental health expert’s bout with brain cancer and the revolutionary treatments that saved her life.
In 2015, Lipska, a veteran neuroscientist and triathlete who studies brains at the National Institute of Mental Health, found herself in a panic while out jogging in her suburban Virginia neighborhood. Without warning, she suddenly didn’t recognize her surroundings and became severely disoriented. Her confusion dissipated, and then she received a devastating diagnosis of metastatic melanoma in her brain. The resulting grueling two-month ordeal battling debilitating mental problems forms the core of this intensive memoir. The author briefly sketches the details of her history as a young, ambitious research scientist in Poland who eventually moved her family to America to pursue the study of brain illnesses and schizophrenia. In 2009, she underwent a mastectomy after a breast cancer diagnosis. In frank, unfettered prose, Lipska clearly demonstrates her courage, resilience, and pure dread in the face of disease and adversity. Of the three tumors found in her brain, one particularly “nasty raisin,” vexingly located in the folds of her visual cortex,” was bleeding. Though excised immediately, the author’s mental acuity deteriorated. Through urgent and vigorous passages, the author chronicles a valiant fight for her life, with radiation treatments and an immunotherapy trial, which caused a whole new subset of medical maladies. Toward the end of the treatment plan, her behavior went haywire, and she suffered cognitive impairment, rage, paranoia, and bafflement, all of which crowded out any semblance of rationality. Eventually, however, the treatments worked, and Lipska experienced a miraculous (and statistically rare) “second chance at sanity.” Throughout it all, the sheer irony of her ordeal never escaped her: “I am living through some of the processes of a disease that I’ve spent my life studying and trying to cure.”
A harrowing, intimately candid survivor’s journey through the minefields of cancer treatment.