Deneen Cook suffers from migraines and she is taking regular botox treatments which relieves the pain for months at a time. She’s now able to get back to enjoying time with her 10-month-old grandson Zachary Grahn.
Photograph by: Kim Stallknecht Kim Stallknecht , Vancouver Sun
For Deneen Cook, migraines run in the family.
Cook got her first when she was 19, and pregnant with her first child. Both her mother and grandmother had suffered from severe headaches.
“My grandmother died at 62, having never found relief.” Not for lack of trying, however. “She flew from Vancouver to Hawaii just to try acupuncture,” Cook said. This was in the ’70s, before the traditional Chinese treatment was widely available.
“She tried new dentures. She went to a prosthodontist who told her that her dentures were causing the migraines, so he made her new dentures that looked ridiculous. Those didn’t take away her migraines.”
Cook has been more fortunate. She’s found relief — through Botox.
Derived from Botulinum toxin, a protein and neurotoxin, Botox isn’t as well known for its therapeutic possibilities as for its cosmetic uses. However, people suffering from hyperhydrosis — an excess of sweating — as well as from migraines have reported benefits from Botox.
Migraines aren’t ordinary headaches. They are recurrent and severe, and caused by a genetically predetermined brain disorder. They may also be influenced by fluctuating hormone levels. Migraines are sometimes accompanied by nausea and increased sensitivity to light and sound.
“I had never felt such pain in all my life,” Cook said of her first one. “I thought I was going to die.”
She didn’t start getting them on a regular basis, every couple of months, until she was 30. By the time she was 37, they were coming almost weekly, and lasting three to four days. “There’s a migraine hangover,” Cook said. “You feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. You have nausea, you’re exhausted, you have muscle pain in your neck and shoulders.”
Treatment mostly meant pain-relieving drugs. “I would just go to emergency, and they would give me Demerol and Gravol and that would knock me out, and I would sleep through the worst of it.” She also tried prescription drugs and Excedrin Migraine.
“I would just recover from one headache, and I’d have about four days grace — it was like Snow White with the birds and the flowers and the sunshine. I would be so grateful. Every day I would literally say, ‘Thank you, God. I don’t have a migraine today.’ And I would just enjoy the day, waiting for the other shoe to drop and I’d wake up with another migraine. And it always came.”
She went for her first Botox treatment, from Dr. Gidon Frame at the Anti-Aging Medical & Laser Clinic in Kerrisdale, 11 years ago. Her original intention was to get rid of what she called “the tension wrinkles” in her forehead caused by the migraines.
But she noticed that after the first treatment, she didn’t get another headache for more than six weeks. She has been getting Botox injections ever since. With each treatment, she said, the interval between migraines lasts a little longer.
Health Canada approved Botox for treatment for chronic migraines in 2010.
“In studies, about 70 per cent of people with chronic migraine were 50-per-cent better,” said Dr. Gordon Robinson, a clinical professor and undergraduate program director in the division of neurology at the University of B.C.
“It’s arguably the safest treatment I use. It has no long-term side-effects. When it works, it lasts for about 12 weeks, more or less. The only real side-effect is disappointment if it doesn’t work.”
Cook, who co-owns the Lower Mainland franchise of the moving company Two Small Men with Big Hearts with her husband, now only goes for Botox treatments when the migraines begin coming in greater frequency. One every six weeks she can handle. She also sees a chiropractor as well as a massage therapist.
When the headaches do start coming more frequently, Cook can count on someone in her family to remind her that it might be time for another visit to the Anti-Aging Clinic.
She has two children, a daughter, 28, and a son, 25. Her son started getting migraines when he was in high school, but they’ve since disappeared.
Besides helping with her chronic pain, Botox has a bonus effect. “I can tell you, people don’t believe I’m a grandmother,” said the 48-year-old. “Everywhere we go, my daughter and I get mistaken for sisters. But I only get the Botox in my forehead. So I think I have some good genetics on my side, too.”
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