Late in the fall of 2012, I went camping in the desert. In the morning, I trucked out to find a secluded spot to dig myself a hole to do my morning business. Afterwards, shovel in hand ready to refill the hole, I looked down at the red and brown striped candy cane poop I had produced. Beets? I did a mental scan. No, I had not had beets in the last few days. Blood? Weird. I went back to camp and decided to call the doctor upon returning to civilization. After a few tests, my family doctor referred me to a specialist for a colonoscopy. While I was terrified by the literature on irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease, everyone seemed assured it was just a hemorrhoid, or possibly a small, benign polyp. This was not the case. In February, 2013, two months before I turned 38, I was diagnosed with stage 3B Colon Cancer.
Colo-rectal cancer has an undeserved reputation for being a rare, old-man’s cancer, while, in fact, it is the third most common cancer behind lung and breast. According to the American Cancer Society, the overall risks of getting diagnosed are nearly the same for men (4.7 percent) as for women (4.4 percent). And while it is true that colo-rectal cancer is the second leading cancer causing death in men – lung cancer being first for both men and women – it’s third for women. My prognosis, however, was quite good. With surgery to remove the tumor, and approximately nine rounds of chemo, I had about a 70 percent chance of survival. I was young, fairly strong and relatively healthy, so it was determined I would receive what was known as the kitchen sink, a cocktail of chemotherapy chemicals so vile it killed the cancer, but it also left me crying in pain in a ball on the bathroom floor.
Every day I took pills that came shipped in a special container with radiation warnings on the box. Also, once every three weeks, I would go to the hospital for infusions, where I’d sit in a room full of other cancer patients and a large fish tank for six hours. In addition to various chemo drugs, I was also on pain medication and a large and mostly ineffective variety of anti-vomiting drugs. No matter what I was prescribed, I spent a great deal of time during the beginning of my cancer treatment unable to keep anything down. . My doctors told me that if I could not keep down the chemo, they had no choice but to take me off it. My chance of survival plummeted to 20-some percent without chemotherapy.
At this point, several friends urged me to try medical marijuana. I had smoked plenty in high school and my early 20s, but it had been years. After discussing it with my oncologist, I made an appointment to get a medical card, which, in Colorado, only certain doctors are certified to give out. After a brief appointment, it was then necessary to register with a local dispensary, then send all the paperwork to the state and wait for the card to come in the mail.
By June I was ready to shop. In 2013, Colorado had yet to legalize recreational marijuana, hence all dispensaries were medical. Most had an outer waiting area, and an inner room where a care provider would assist with your selections. At the suggestion of many friends, I went to the Telluride Green Room. Greg, the care provider, talked with me for nearly an hour about all my ailments. He carefully went through my medical needs and then discussed different products he thought might help. He taught me about the differences between indica and sativa, letting me know that indica could help me sleep and help me with my nausea, while the sativa would help with the nausea , but I wouldn’t feel as tired. We talked about CBD, one of the cannabinoids in marijuana plants shown to be most helpful for relieving pain. He showed me several edibles, suckers, and tinctures that I could take with me on infusions days. He also loaned me a home vaporizer because he didn’t want me to ingest smoke. Vaporizers heat cannabis to right below the point of ignition, causing vapor, but not smoke. It is an extremely efficient way to extract CBD and THC without getting carcinogens.
Throughout the summer of 2013 my health, and conversely, my quality of life drastically improved. With the aid of medical marijuana, I was able to complete all of my chemo treatments on time. I stopped needing any pain medication, and because of my new regiment with cannabis, I was not nearly as nauseated. Medical marijuana also helped with my appetite, helping prevent malnutrition, as well as helping me gain back some of the weight I had lost during treatment. In October 2013, I finished my final round of chemotherapy and was declared cancer-free. While I am not a scientist or a medical professional, as a cancer survivor I believe with every fiber of my being that access to medical marijuana was a critical piece to the success of my treatment. This last weekend was my birthday. I turned 42 and spent four days rafting, oars in hand, on my own boat, rowing myself ever onward, grateful to be alive.
Meggie J is a published poet and freelance writer living in the Four Corners. She is an avid reader, rafter, and connoisseur of cannabis. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.