I am a breast cancer survivor. That’s the good news.
The chemotherapy that saved my life left me totally disabled. That’s the bad news.
I have a condition called Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN). When the chemotherapy killed the cancer cells, it left behind sweeping damage in my peripheral nervous system, stripping the myelin sheathing from the nerves in my hands and feet. The symptoms range from a mild tingling, to burning sensations, electric shocks, stabbing pains, and a dull bone ache that radiates upwards into my legs and arms. While many women develop this condition during treatment, the vast majority go on to full recovery as the nerves mend over time.
In my case, the damage is permanent. There is no cure, and the medical community openly acknowledges that the tools at their disposal are ineffective for severe cases. Each day I deal with pain -- sometimes mild, other times quite challenging. As a result, I am unable to work. My career ended after a 2.5 year struggle to reclaim my life following treatment. I use cannabis in form of high CBD oil to manage the daily pain. Here’s what you need to know about the medication I have chosen:
1. I am not a stoner looking for a legal way to get high. Cannabis is a medication
When my doctor decided I was unable to work, she tripled the medication I had been using for pain control. The cocktail of anti-seizure meds, anti-depressants and narcotics lowered my pain, but they also left me with unpleasant side effects: weight gain, short term memory loss, constant drowsiness, and an inability to follow conversations or to concentrate well enough to read.
Over the course of 10 months, my GI tract began to falter under the toll of swallowing 22 pills each day. I began to vomit, and kept vomiting for the next four months. My liver showed signs of stress. I threw up multiple times a day and was unable to keep down the pain medications. And yes, I did go through withdrawal, even though I did not abuse the prescriptions my doctor gave me. My body forced me to quit “cold turkey” which was extremely unpleasant -- worse than chemotherapy, in fact.
I decided to try cannabis because of the debilitating pain my condition causes. Much to my relief, it works. My quality of life is vastly improved, and I am not plagued with any side effects.
2. CBD oil has no psychoactive effects. Read: it doesn't make you “high”
Prohibition has made it culturally acceptable to be ignorant about what cannabis actually is. But cannabis is much more than THC, and its medicinal properties are just now being explored as legalization looms in Canada. Educating yourself about the difference between THC and CBD is uncomfortable for us both. Maybe now that you know I rely on this to get through my day, you could do some of your own research, assuming you want to understand why cannabis is an excellent and necessary part of patients’ treatment plans.
3. Your discomfort with this medication isn't my concern - and the jokes you make about it don't amuse me
No, I am not eating more chips now that I use CBD oil. In fact, I have lost all the weight I gained while using the prescription medications. This is important because relapse in breast cancer can be triggered by carrying extra weight. But hey - thanks for telling me that I look better as of late. That's because of the cannabis.
And no, I don't know if everyone who goes to a dispensary is "really" sick. Can you tell by looking at me that I am totally disabled? No. You can’t see the damage to my body, and I've gotten pretty good at covering up the pain I experience when I am in a social setting. So have most folks who live with chronic pain.
I never chose cancer. Nor did I agree to an exchange where my life would be saved at the cost of total disability. I have, however, chosen cannabis. It's working - and that's what matters.
Have you used cannabis for your cancer treatment? Share your experiences in the comments below
Photo courtesy of Get Budding.