How Cancer Hurts, How Cannabis Helps
Nov 12, 2015 12:35PM
● By Rob Feeman
They’re the three words no one wants to hear, beginning with You’ve and ending with cancer. What’s unsettling sometimes is the matter-of-fact way in which those three words are often spoken. There’s no easing you into this. No deep breaths, sorrowful expressions, hand holding, commiserating. No softening of the blow. Blam! There it is. Just laying it right out there on the table for you. You’re old enough to take it. And you do. There’s really no alternative.
They explain the treatment to you. They go over the risks. You listen, but you know there’s not much you can do about it. There’s really no alternative. So you prepare yourself as best you can, be there for appointments when they tell you to be there, do what they tell you to do, and be grateful they’re doing everything they can to help you get better. They are incredibly skillful, the medical professionals who do this type of work every day. Nevertheless, a certain amount of freakiness—and quite a bit of pain, suffering, and exhaustion—ensues.
I was first diagnosed with Stage IV A/B head and neck cancer in September 2013. It came out of the blue. I’ve been a healthy person all my life, don’t drink (much), don’t smoke (tobacco). However, I do have a history of cancer in my family, on my mother’s side. It’s in my genes. I suspected I’d get it sometime. When I did, I was told almost immediately that it was terminal, but radiation and chemo would extend my life.
The radiation treatment to my neck and jaw was especially excruciating. My jaws tightened up so much I couldn’t open my mouth far enough to get food inside. I lived off a feeding tube for four or five months. The pain was overwhelming. Some days I could barely get out of bed. But somehow I made it through, was told the cancer was gone, and began my recovery—until April of 2015, when I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time in 18 months. This time it was a spot in my upper left sinus, under my eye. It would require another six-week regime of radiation and chemo, with only a small chance of survival.
This is not meant to be a sad song, because it’s not. Just events I happened to live through over the past two years. You discover a lot of things about yourself when you’re undergoing treatment for terminal cancer. You discover how much life means to you. Turns out, a lot. You discover where your core is—and that you indeed have one. You discover what you believe, and what kind of person you are. And you learn how to survive without eating food for four months, and what happens when your mouth and jaws tighten up so much you can’t fit a credit card between your teeth, let alone a toothbrush . . . or a hamburger. You adjust. You figure out how to survive. And you discover the value of a supportive family, good friends, and a positive attitude.
At one point into my first regimen of chemo and radiation treatment, a friend asked me if I was still smoking cannabis. No, I said, I stopped right after I was diagnosed. No point making my problems worse. He strongly disagreed. “This is the time you should be smoking!”
He was right. I was halfway through my treatment when I started smoking again, and it made an immediate difference. For me, a huge difference, one that made those weeks, and the long ones of recovery that followed, bearable. I realized, when I smoked again for the first time in awhile, how tense I’d become during treatment, how tightly I’d been holding my body, my shoulders especially. The pain and agony in my jaw were so intense I could barely deal with them. I was popping ibuprofen like they were Skittles. I had no appetite, no taste buds, no desire to eat. I lost 40 pounds over a period of six months.
But as I started smoking again, some of that tension left me, my appetite slowly returned, and the pain eased somewhat. It never really went away. It still rarely does. But cannabis took off enough of the edge so I could actually breathe deeply again, and eat, and sleep, and feel a little relief.
The recovery from cancer treatment has been long and slow—much slower than I ever expected. After the end of my first six-week regime of chemo and radiation treatments in early January 2014, I thought I’d be back to normal in a few months, three or four at the most. It’s been over two years now from when I was first diagnosed, and I’m still not fully recovered. Not even close. I still experience pain just about every day, eating remains difficult, and jaw damage lingers. The fact that I had to go through a second six-week round of chemo and radiation treatment in May and June 2015, for the cancer spot under my left eye, didn’t help. But, as of this writing, the cancer appears to be gone, and I continue to slowly improve, although with numerous setbacks.
Cannabis has—and continues—to help, if only to provide some relief from the lingering pain and discomfort resulting from the side effects of cancer treatment. If that’s all it did, I’d call it a miracle plant worthy of legalization nationwide, and advocate its widespread use by anyone who could benefit from it. But both anecdotal and official reports indicate that it can do so much more, possibly even serve as an alternative to some cancer treatments and even stop cancer in its tracks.
In August 2015, the National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, officially conceded that “cannabis has been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory” and “cannabis and cannabinoids may have benefits in treating the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer therapies.” Take a moment to read that again, because it’s a huge revelation by a highly respected national scientific institution, and one that has been largely ignored—except by those of us who advocate the use of medical marijuana for cancer patients like myself, and for those dealing with other types of medical issues. My use of cannabis doesn’t mean I’ll forego other types of traditional treatment, should the cancer recur, but it does mean I’ll look for every bit of help I can get, including potential cannabis-related cures for cancer in all their varieties, as a way to stay pain-free and cancer-free for as long as I possibly can.
Rob Feeman is the Chief Content Officer of Sensi Media Group and the editor of Sensi Magazine, a pro-cannabis lifestyle magazine, which launches with its first issue in the Denver/Boulder region in April 2016. He has more than 30 years of experience in magazines and media, and more than 40 years of experience with cannabis. You can contact him at [email protected].