Profiles in Cannabis: The Patients Behind the Plant

Story by: Pamela Jayne

Jim: Husband, Father, Full-Time Cancer Patient

So you think you’ve had a stressful year? Let me tell you about Jim and what he has been through since November 19th, 2009, when he was diagnosed with stage III rectal cancer at the age of 32. He’s been to over 100 doctor’s appointments, at least 20 Folfox-6 chemotherapy treatments, endured radiation daily for five weeks, and had surgery to remove the tumor, the rectum, other bits and small organs that were either damaged by the radiation or were surrounded by the remaining cancerous tissue. He also had his small intestine rerouted through his abdomen in order to give his colon time to heal, and at one point, he was taking 80 supplements a day. However, there are two other things that have also consumed much of Jim’s time in the last year: his family and medical cannabis.

Even before he was diagnosed with cancer, Jim began using medical cannabis to treat his painful symptoms, which at the time he thought were caused by irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis. “It was really more about relieving the symptoms. Marijuana was very effective, so I think that helped me to be more aggressive when I began going through the cancer.” In fact, he said the relief was almost instant.

Once the diagnosis was official, Jim became a full-time cancer patient, giving up his career in marketing and brand management. He was going to devote all of his time to regaining his health, not only for his own good, but for the sake of his wife and young son. “I don’t know how people hold down jobs and have cancer,” he says. “The thing that has made this easy for me is that my wife told me not to worry about anything else other than taking care of myself and getting better.” He also reflected on how fortunate he is to have good health insurance, and not have to worry about how to pay the endless stacks of medical bills that accompany the disease.

Jim explained how the Folfox-6 chemotherapy treatment turns something as simple as drinking a glass of water into an unpleasant task, because anything lower than your own body temperature causes terrible pain. I shudder at the thought of how much more unbearable this ordeal would be for him if it were not for medical cannabis. He told me about the many times when “I would be laying on the ground, about to throw up again, and my eyes would fill with tears causing them to hurt, which makes them tear up again and hurt even more. I wasn’t thinking, ‘Hey, I want to get high.’ I was thinking, ‘Hey, I am going to do this and it is going to take away this pain.’ It works. There have been times when I have been on the floor and only had one bud left that was set aside for emergencies, and I thought to myself, ‘Well, I haven’t been able to keep down water for 48 hours, so I guess this is an emergency! Literally, 30 minutes later, I would be eating chicken noodle soup or rice.”

Having dropped down to 150 lbs from 220 lbs, he was on the borderline of falling victim to “wasting syndrome”. However, it was the cannabis that kept Jim out of the hospital on at least two occasions, which is why he is so adamant about spreading the message that medical cannabis “isn’t a band-aid or an emotional fix. It’s not about how those poor terminal patients should be able to have fun any way they want.” And although Jim says he can count on his fingers and toes how many times he had smoked marijuana recreationally before he was stricken with cancer, he emphasizes how important it is for those who use marijuana recreationally to know that, “This is very real for a lot of us. It’s not a placebo effect; it’s the real deal.”

Before surgery, Jim intensified his use of medical cannabis by doing a round of the Rick Simpson method, which is a fascinating subject. “At the peak, you are ingesting between 1-2 grams of very high potency hash. It does have an extremely powerful effect, but what you do is start with maybe only a 10th of a gram and then work your way up to the maximum dosage.” He went on to say, “I figure that it’s not hurting me, and I’m appearing on the top end of the scale in regards to how I’m responding to the treatment, so that’s good enough for me.”

Knowing that he is a proud father of a three year old son and also lives with his two young nieces, I asked Jim how he felt about the societal perception that using cannabis, even if it’s medical, is somehow harmful to children. He said, “When you’re going through treatment, it’s not like you’re spending quality time with your kids. However, if you have the right strain and the right approach, cannabis gives you more of a chance to have a normal life with your kids. It allows you to help them with homework, cook them dinner, and change diapers.” He added, “I do not use it in front of them, but they know that it’s there and that it is my medicine. I walk around with a pump and a tube in my chest, and I poop in a bag coming out of my gut. They see all sorts of odd stuff. They understand that it is all part of what I have to do to get better.”

Jim is very passionate about sharing his preferred method of using medical cannabis, which is vaporizing. Not only is it better for the lungs and health in general, but he told me, “I don’t know if I would have been able to keep up with the amount (of cannabis) I needed on the really bad days if I would have had to smoke or eat it. Eating is very tough for me. People may not think of vaporizing as a conventional way to deliver needed medicine, but think about those who depend on asthma inhalers or the dentist who administers nitrous oxide through a mask. That is inhaling medicine; that is what I do. It’s really not as unconventional as it seems.”

We also spoke about how important it is for medical cannabis to be protected by law. Jim bluntly told me, “I would not live in a state that does not allow medical cannabis. I feel it would be harmful to my prognosis and may cause me to die sooner.” He is right. People have lost their battles with cancer and suffered through terrible indignities because of the state in which they happen to reside. One of Jim’s close family members recently passed away after a long battle with brain cancer. He lived in Arizona and died before that state finally voted in favor of allowing medical cannabis. “It is so painful to love someone and know that they could have been helped by cannabis, but other people’s opinions kept them from being able to spend precious time with their own children.”

Jim was overcome with emotion and understandably so, when he told me this story. It is incomprehensible that in modern day society we allow people to die slow and painful deaths because they are not legally allowed safe access to a plant that has existed for the purpose of aiding the ailments of man since the dawn of time. Like Jim says, “As time goes by, more and more people will personally come to know someone who has used medical cannabis and see the benefits with their own eyes. And they will also notice that nothing horrible happened – they didn’t instantly turn into dirty hippies or anything like that.”

Jim was very clear in telling me why he wanted to publicly tell his story. It is all about awareness for him. “I want everyone to know that cannabis is effective. It’s the real deal and not a joke; it’s not just people thumbing their nose at the establishment or some counter-culture concept. It’s about people who are at the VA hospital, people who have kids, and people who have all different sorts of issues, whether it is an injured wrist or a terminal disease. Cannabis makes a big difference in their quality of life and it only affects them in a positive way.”

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