Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind (Lipska)

The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery
Barbara K. Lipski, Elaine McArdle, 2018
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
208 pp.

As a deadly cancer spread inside her brain, leading neuroscientist Barbara Lipska was plunged into madness—only to miraculously survive with her memories intact.

In the tradition of My Stroke of Insight and Brain on Fire, this powerful memoir recounts Lipska's ordeal and explains its unforgettable lessons about the brain and mind.

In January 2015, Lipska—a leading expert on the neuroscience of mental illness—was diagnosed with melanoma that had spread to her brain. Within months, her frontal lobe, the seat of cognition, began shutting down. She descended into madness, exhibiting dementia- and schizophrenia-like symptoms that terrified her family and coworkers.

But miraculously, just as her doctors figured out what was happening, the immunotherapy they had prescribed began to work. Just eight weeks after her nightmare began, Lipska returned to normal. With one difference: she remembered her brush with madness with exquisite clarity.

In The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, Lipska describes her extraordinary ordeal and its lessons about the mind and brain. She explains how mental illness, brain injury, and age can change our behavior, personality, cognition, and memory.

She tells what it is like to experience these changes firsthand. And she reveals what parts of us remain, even when so much else is gone. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—August 7, 1951
Where—Warsaw, Poland
Education—MSci., University of Warsaw; Ph.D., Medical Academy of Warsaw
Currently—lives in Annandale, Virginia, USA

Barbara K. Lipska, Ph.D. is director of the Human Brain Collection Core at the National Institute of Mental Health, where she studies mental illness and human brain development.

A native of Poland, she holds a Ph.D. in medical sciences from the Medical School of Warsaw, and is an internationally recognized leader in human postmortem research and animal modeling of schizophrenia.

Before emigrating from Poland to the United States, Dr. Lipska was a researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology in Warsaw. She has been at NIMH since 1989 and has published over 120 papers in peer-reviewed journals.

A marathon runner and a triathlete, she lives with her husband, Mirek Gorski, in Virginia. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
Barbara Lipska is the director of the Human Brain Collection Core at the National Institute of Mental Health in Virginia. Over the course of two months in 2015, she found herself on the strangest journey of her life. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma that had metastasized to her brain, a seemingly terminal condition that mimicked the symptoms of dementia and schizophrenia. Remarkably, her immunotherapy regimen was successful; equally remarkable, she has recreated that period of mental illness and cognitive trauma on the pages of this unusual memoir.
Toronto Globe & Mail

It’s not often a research scientist, especially one who studies mental illness and the brain, experiences their specialty first hand, and it’s even more rare with this sort of mental break, medical or behavioral. If you enjoyed My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor or Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan, this is the memoir you want to read in 2018.
KXSU Seattle

Lipska’s evolution as scientist, patient, and person explores the physiological basis of mental illness, while uplifting the importance of personal identity…. Lipska’s prose soars when narrating her experiences… her story is evidence that rich personal narratives offer value to an empirical pursuit of neuroscientific investigation.
Science Magazine

This is the story, harrowing yet redemptive, of Barbara Lipska, stricken at 63 with a form of brain cancer. The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, cowritten with Elaine McArdle, is the tale she lived to tell...If Lipska’s book is about "what it’s actually like to lose your mind and then recover it," it’s also about a new frontier in cancer care and the vertiginous trajectories for recovery being opened up...Imbued with scientific insight.… Pondering the term "survivor," Lipska finds the dictionary definition—someone who perseveres and "remains functional and usable"—resonant. Her mind and body battered, she wonders if she meets this standard. If this memoir is any guide, she more than measures up to it.
Weekly Standard

Lipska shares excruciating details of the drug therapies and other treatments she underwent…. Her exhilarating memoir reveals the frustrations of slow recovery, and that even with the best medical care there are no guarantees for good health.
Publishers Weekly

Most patients with similar brain cancers rarely survive to describe their ordeal. Lipska's memoir, coauthored with journalist McArdle, shows that strength and courage but also a encouraging support network are vital to recovery. —Lucille M. Boone, San Jose P.L., CA
Library Journal

Lipska knew a thing or two about mental illness. But she knew considerably more after she exhibited signs of the disease and came back from the brink with amazing insights.… Her story conveys deep understanding about the brain and how disease…can change our very selves.

A vibrant mental health expert's bout with brain cancer and the revolutionary treatments that saved her life.… A harrowing, intimately candid survivor's journey through the minefields of cancer treatment.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for THE NEUROSCIENTIST WHO LOST HER MIND … then take off on your own:

1. When Barbara Lipska's symptoms began with the day her right hand disappeared at the keyboard and her colleagues' faces disappeared in a staff meeting, how do you think her intimate knowledge of the brain as a neuroscientist affected her respons?

2. Talk about the many ways in which Lipska's disease caused changes in her behavior. Why did it take so long for her to recognize the alteration in her personality?

3. How did Lipska's illness affect her family? If you were a friend, or especially a family member, how would you have responded to those new, unpleasant traits?

4. Lipska has residual guilt about her insensitive behavior. Do you think it possible that she will ever come to terms with that guilt? What would you say to her?

5. Has reading this memoir given you new knowledge or insights into the workings of the human brain, especially the frontal and parietal cortex? What do you find most interesting about our brains in terms of how they work—and at times don't work?

6. Lipska says that mental illness is a brain disease, not a matter of weakness or lack of will power. What is the state of scientific knowledge about the causes and effects of mental illness? How much remains unknown?

7. Have you had personal experience with mental illness—either someone in your family or a close friend?

8. Lipska wonders whether or not she is a "survivor." Why does she question the degree with which she meets the definition? Do you think she's a survivor?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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