By Susan de Castro McCann
Redstone Review Editor
LYONS – There is no doubt that chemotherapy is literally toxic to the body. It is also currently one of the few treatments available that put cancer in remission.
However there is new evidence that if patients have all the information available, and could somehow know all the effects of the drugs administered to them, patients might make different choices than doctors or caregivers would make for them.
Although there is no proof at this time, patients might opt for less aggressive chemo treatments if they knew for example that certain cocktails of chemo drugs could cause serious debilitating brain injuries even if it meant that the treatments might not be strong enough to keep the cancer at bay.
Carol Devenir, who lives in Pinewood Springs, found herself in that situation. She discovered the debilitating effects of chemotherapy on her brain after the fact.
But determined to work her way through her disabling condition, she wrote a book called Beyond Chemo Brain: Recovering After Surviving, which she hopes will help others understand the chemo brain condition and help them thrive.
Devenir started chemo treatments in 2005 after being diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer and doctors gave her a very powerful chemo cocktail. She had chemo treatments through 2006. “I was totally unprepared for the effects of chemo on my brain,” she said. “For a long time I couldn’t focus, I got lost frequently. I couldn’t filter out background noise. I was exhausted all the time. No one could tell me what was happening to me.”
In 2006 the doctors stopped her chemo treatments because the treatments were affecting her heart and other organs. She was living in Washington state at that time. From 2006 until 2008 she floundered around trying to cope with what seemed like a serious closed head injury.
“At the end of 2008 I got a book called Brain Lash: Maximize your recovery from mild brain injury, by Gail Denton, and finally I felt like someone understood what I was going through,” she said. “Gail Denton also had a closed head injury. So I decided I wanted to move forward and tell others what I was going through. I tried to talk her into writing this book and she finally convinced me to write the book with her help. I could only write for about 30 minutes at a time and then I had to rest for a long time.”
Prior to her chemo brain injury, Devenir worked for 17 years in city planning, wastewater management and energy conservation and waste reduction. She started a recycling project in Fort Collins. “I could not do any of that any more,” she said. “I lose my train of thought easily. I made an outline to write from and I found that having a peaceful environment was very helpful. I stayed with my sister for a while in Boulder and now I live in Pinewood Springs. The doctors were thinking that my symptoms were related to stress or other side effects. No one could tell me what was happening.”
In 2009 Devenir found a doctor in this area who diagnosed her with a closed head injury and she began taking a number of supplements and using homeopathy to help her brain recover. “This was very helpful,” she said. “I have been improving but I’m still tired a lot. I self-published my book because I could not deal with anyone else’s deadlines.”
Not everyone on chemo experiences the same symptoms as Devenir and it is not clear how many people suffer damage to the brain. The symptoms of chemo brain are similar to other brain injuries. “Because of the injury we don’t make enough cells or make them fast enough,” said Devenir. “The stem cells are damaged so they don’t reproduce new cells very quickly. Some doctors say that 15 percent of people on chemo suffer chemo brain; but some studies show that as many as 82 percent of people on this high dosage of chemo get chemo brain. One study showed that getting chemo for eight weeks ages the brain by the equivalent of 22 years. I had chemo for nine months. They wanted me to go on for six more months.”
The good news is that Devenir has no evidence of cancer. “I recently had a thermograph and I’m fine,” she said. “Now I finally feel that I’m fine.”
Devenir also found out that she is among 25 percent of the population who has a gene which prevents the brain from recovering quickly. “I think that we will understand the brain much better in the near future. I am hopeful for the future,” she said. “I grew up being a leader andBack to Top