From Cancer to Cannabis: Mary’s Road to Recovery

By: Pamela Jayne

Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer by accident – a hit and run car accident to be exact. That traumatic and painful experience ended up saving her life. From December of 2007 until May of 2008, as doctors and nurses tended to her wounded body – a femur broken in two places, a severely broken hand and wrist, and the many other injuries that resulted from the violent collision – they discovered something else; cancer. The word that we all fear hearing when a doctor walks into the hospital room and says they have bad news. Receiving that diagnosis was like being hit by a two ton vehicle all over again.

Anyone who receives this news would be taken back by its severity, especially a woman who had led a very healthy lifestyle with no family history of breast cancer. Always active in her 40-year career as a flight attendant for American Airlines – playing racquetball, caring for her elderly parents, raising two children, and keeping up with her salsa dancing husband of almost 40 years – being blindsided by the diagnosis was a tough pill to swallow. She had never even drunk soda, for Pete’s sake! Nor had she smoked cigarettes, been an alcohol drinker, or a drug user. So of course she had “Why me?” moments after diagnosis and during treatment. However, rather than wallow in self-pity, Mary took charge by leaving Miami in May of 2008 to return home to San Diego and set out on her road to recovery.

In spite of her fears, Mary bravely went ahead with surgery later that year and continued on with doctor prescribed treatment to rid her body of the cancer. The medical procedures that Mary had to endure are not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. The surgery to remove the lump was quickly followed by six months of chemotherapy, radiation everyday for 30 days, and infusions every three weeks. Those treatments, as we all know, absolutely ravage the body. Enduring that process was a necessary evil for Mary to regain her health. The other necessity to her recovery was medical cannabis.

We have all read the studies and seen the statistics of how cannabis aids in the healing process of cancer patients, but numbers and percentages mean absolutely nothing until you have had the honor of seeing it for yourself – the healing miracle of marijuana. This leads us to the heart of the matter, which is the role that medical cannabis continues to play in Mary’s recovery and her willingness to speak openly and freely about her own very personal journey.

As the daughter of a minister, Mary grew up as a self-described “good-girl”. Although she was surrounded by the free-loving, pot-smoking, hippy culture of her youth in the 60’s, Mary never gave into peer pressure for fear of disappointing her parents. Not many people of that generation can say they did the same! While talking to Mary, it became very clear that she is not one to just sit back and go with the status quo. This woman’s life is a testament of willpower, gumption, and ambition. As the very first African-American flight attendant to ever fly out of San Diego, Mary knows what it is like to go against the grain. She told me, in hindsight, it was that very experience (among others) that prepared her for the challenge of a lifetime.

Not one to throw herself a ‘pity party’, Mary instead attended the Pink Party (www.pinkpartysd.com) the day after having a lumpectomy! Of course, Mary couldn’t help but brag about her daughter, who not only rushed to her side to care for her during recovery, but also took an extremely proactive role in the quest to aid breast cancer patients, survivors, and their families by becoming the fashion show coordinator for the Pink Party. The extraordinary woman gene definitely runs in the family!

Although soft-spoken, Mary is strong in spirit and steadfast with her belief in the healing powers of medical cannabis. Does that mean she sits around all day smoking joints while watching television? Not even close. In fact, she has never smoked marijuana. Her cannabis therapy comes in the form of food. She utilizes it in the kitchen by baking her own muffins, making her own salad dressing, and in any other way that provides her with the medicine that she needs to combat the side effects of her disease. Medicine and nutrition combined – au natural.

Being natural is incredibly important to Mary. As she said, “Do I want to take the stuff with all of those side effects, or do I want to consume my cannabis, which is just an herb? I made the choice to go natural.” Even so, Mary is very frank in saying that each individual patient must, “Take control of your own treatment. Do some research on your own.” That research led her to The Green Door Collective, where she receives her medicine.

I had to ask what it was like for her going into a collective for the first time. She said that she had no pre-conceived notions because she honestly did not know what to expect. She did tell me that she feels blessed to have met Hopper and the rest of the Green Door staff, and wants them to, “Keep doing what you are doing because what you are doing is right and it helps people.” She went on to say, “I am an advocate of being as natural as possible, and cannabis certainly (in my opinion) should be a part of accepted treatment. People need to start thinking outside the box when it comes to their own medical issues.” Mary also told me how she advises other women who are facing a breast cancer diagnosis. “I can tell you what I did,” she said, “but everyone is different. Be your own advocate. I, myself, was not comfortable letting someone else make that decision for me.” However, she was quick to add, “It is extremely important to have someone there for you, with you – someone to deal with all of the endless amounts of paperwork and bureaucracy while you focus on getting well.”

In Mary’s case, it was her husband Bob who fulfilled that role. He was also the one who helped Mary through the emotional ups and downs that come with such a devastating diagnosis and difficult treatment. She admits to having moments of depression and anger. After all, she was supposed to be having fun at this stage in her life. It didn’t take long for her to realize that she had to, “Take everything that is negative out of life because that only takes more energy away from you.” Even while she was weakened by the chemotherapy and radiation, Bob would take Mary for walks by the ocean where she could breathe in the fresh air, clear her mind, and forget about the cancer that was wreaking havoc on her body. The physical toll of the disease and treatment is something that no one should have to endure. Mary explained how tired she was all of the time. Not the kind of tired we all get after lunch or after a restless night, but a kind of tired she had never felt before. She said she felt, “Completely zapped of energy. I think the chemo even affected my memory.” She also lost all of her hair and had no appetite whatsoever. Of course, the cannabis helped with that, the constant nausea, and virtually all of the other side effects. That is why Mary has decided to speak out about her experience and tell whoever will listen about the benefits that medical cannabis has to offer. And if her employer has a problem with that, so be it!

Mary has worked for American Airlines as a flight attendant for more than 40 years. She has seen the many ways in which the industry has changed. Remember, she was the first African-American flight attendant to fly out of San Diego. When she first began her career, “stewardesses” were not allowed to have children, they were subjected to constant weight-checks, and had to quit working at the age of 32. One of the most poignant things Mary said during our conversation was, “That was then and this is now. Things do change.” Even though she was talking about the airline industry and how it has evolved and given its workers the rights they deserved all along, I couldn’t help but notice how that exact quote could be used in the context of patient’s rights. Mary expects to be released by her doctor to return to work in January of 2011, and when she does, she will be subjected to random drug testing. Does this mean she will stop using cannabis? Absolutely not. Although she has made it through the worst part of her ordeal, she plans to continue using medical cannabis on an as-needed basis. If the airline decides to fire her for medicating while off the clock and within the confines of California state law, well, that’s how she will make her exit. “With no regrets,” she said. “It’s time for people to stop doing what ‘they’ say you should do and start doing what your heart says you should do.” Words of wisdom from an amazingly strong, yet light-hearted, laughter-filled woman whom I feel honored to call my friend. I only wish I had more room to share with you all of the things she shared with me.

Update:

I have some wonderful news to report! While I was writing this article, Mary successfully completed her very last infusion, just days before attending the 2010 Pink Party hosted by the House of Blues in San Diego. Talk about coming full circle, she attended her first Pink Party in 2008 at the beginning of her treatment, the day after having a lumpectomy. She is truly an inspiration and I have a feeling this is not the last we will hear from Mary!

Author: NUG Magazine

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