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Rare side effect of common chemo drug, bleomycin, leads to Depew man's death

Researchers always looking to beat drug side effects
Posted at 4:00 PM, Jul 10, 2019

DEPEW, NY (WKBW) — There is a very rare and sometimes life-threatening side effect from a chemotherapy drug commonly used to treat curable cancers. 7 Eyewitness News senior reporter Eileen Buckley met with a Depew family whose 35-year-old brother died from a reaction to the drug.

“We had hope up until the day he died – we were all like – he’s going to pull through,” recalled Angela Murphy, sister.

Chris Bremer of Buffalo died just a couple of months after learning he was cancer free.

Murphy says her brother Chris Bremer of Buffalo died just a couple of months after learning he was cancer free.

Bremer was diagnosed with testicular cancer more than a year ago. His chemo-therapy treatments included a drug called Bleomycin.

But Murphy and her husband Michael say Chris knew there were risks. The drug doesn’t select the cells it destroys.

“It’s devastating – absolutely heartbreaking,” remarked Michael Murphy, brother-in-law.

“It’s hard to go to my family’s house - you know - you go there – where we grew up and the memories and stuff – it’s hard,” Murphy tearfully stated.

Chris Bremer of Buffalo and his family,

In very rare cases about 10 to 29-percent of patients will suffer a lung toxicity – that can turn fatal.

“It killed everything - literally in his lungs – so I mean – it cured his cancer – unfortunately his lungs suffered for it,” Murphy explained.

Bremer was having trouble breathing in April. His lungs were damaged, and he had to be put on a ventilator.

“Ultimately we’d love to see a change – in medical – you know something - a new breakthrough of something where you can safely treat people,” Murphy said.

“What you try to do with treatment is you're trying to find a sweet spot,” explained Jason Sprowl, assistant professor, University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy.

Sprowl studies adverse side effects of some cancer drugs.

“And then another thing we are looking at is genetics. Trying to say okay - will this individual might have genetics that make them a higher risk of having side-effects - so we can lower doses,” Sprowl described.

Sprowl says they learn more every day. Chris’s sister says despite her brother's adverse effect to the drug bleomycin, she believes he picked the right treatment path.

Note written by Chris Bremer's son Brayden.

“If they said – you know – he had a less than 10-percent chance of getting a bleo-lung – we wouldn’t of changed it -because what are the chances – it’s just so rare,” his sister reflected.

Bremer was not treated for his cancer at Roswell Park Comprehensive Care Center in Buffalo, but we asked Roswell for comment on the drug. Roswell issued the following statement:

"Bleomycin is one of the standard therapies available today for treatment for testicular cancer. Serious side effects with this therapy are quite rare but can be severe. I admire this family very much for opening up about this painful loss to underscore both the promise and the limitations of our treatments, as well as the importance of research to develop new and better therapies for cancer and other diseases.” - Ellis Levine, MD, who cares for patients with testicular cancer and other cancers in his role as Professor of Medicine at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, but was not involved in the care of this patient.

Bremer was taken to the Cleveland Clinic where he was treated for his reaction to the drug and where he died. Due to privacy policy, Cleveland Clinic could not provide a comment on Bremer's case.

Sadly, Bremer died on Father's Day leaving behind four children, his fiancée and parents. He was a landscaper, described as a hard-working and loving dad who would work from sun up to sundown with a smile on his face.

The family has created a GoFund Me page to help cover the cost of loved ones who traveled from Buffalo to Cleveland. So far they have raised $14,720 of $20,000 goal.