Cancer vs. Cannabis: A Ringside Seat
Hi, my name is Jack Daniel.
I have spent most of my adult life being self-employed with a labor-intensive career and an active lifestyle full of basketball, fishing, hiking, and camping with my family. I try to eat right and make sure that my kids do too. My dad named me Jack Daniel but the truth is, I don’t touch the stuff - he should have named me Weed.
In the spring of 2009 I was sidelined from work, and everything else, by very strange symptoms that shot an unexplained migrating pain throughout my body. I woke up one morning and could not move my leg to get out of bed, it was just dead weight. Fifteen minutes later, my leg was fine but my jaw was locked up and my tongue was numb while each of my teeth felt like they were getting tapped with ball peen hammers. Just as suddenly, that agony was replaced with an utter failure of my hands that left me unable to tie my shoes or open the door of my truck.
I made a rare sick call to work and, as you might imagine, I was pretty scared. But times were rough at that point in our life, having just moved back to California and trying to get our feet set. The financial collapse of 2008 had ravaged us and we were uninsured when this all went down.
My old family doctor agreed to see me for $200 cash, which came right out of the “RENT” envelope. The doc did little more than scratch his head, bonk my knee, take my temperature, and send me home with orders to “take it easy”.
To my gratification, all of the odd symptoms vanished as quickly as they had surfaced and back to work I went. One hell of a knee-bonk I guess.
ARE YOU A WARRIOR?
Fast forward to April 2010 and I am prepping for The Warrior Dash, a 5k obstacle course race for charity that I planned to run with my wife. Now, I have never been a “runner” but she asked me to do the event months in advance and I hastily agreed at the time.
The morning of race day, I woke up with the scary set of symptoms that I had only experienced once before. Half in denial of what I knew was something seriously wrong, and half in refusal to let my wife bust my balls for “chickening out” of the run with her, I made it to the starting line.
Within 10 steps of the start, I was fucked. The pain was brutal - everything hurt all at once. My lung capacity dropped instantly to about 5-10% of normal and each inhale brought a slicing sensation to my chest. Somehow, I made it to the end and I spent the next day in Urgent Care.
Long story (kind of) short, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. So picture a block of wood 5 or 6 inches wide, 5 or 6 inches long, and about 2 inches thick. That was the size of the tumor that the doc found wedged between my heart and my lung. It was in such an awkward location, and was growing so rapidly, that it was threatening to pinch off a major vein leading out of my heart at any time. They called it a potential “widowmaker”, I called it “The Malignant Pork Chop”.
THE ENEMY INSIDE
The size and aggression of the tumor explained the strange symptoms that I had felt twice before. The intricate web of nerves surrounding my heart was setting off alarms the only way it knew how, trying to warn me of the invader. After talk of cracking open my chest plate to surgically remove the growth was thankfully dismissed, I began an intense regimen of chemotherapy which I endured once every three weeks, usually for around eight hours at a time. This lasted from April through August of 2010 and, honestly, I had it easy. Plenty of my part-time roommates in treatment where there every day getting that poison pumped into their bodies. At least I got to bounce at the end of each sesh, even if I was a mere puddle of the man who had arrived earlier in the day.
At first, being young and relatively strong, I felt that the whole experience would be much, much easier than everyone else had let on. It was right around one month into my treatment that everything got blurry.
It was around that time that all food began to taste like aluminum foil.
That was also when my hair and eyebrows fell out.
The steroid regimen that made up part of my prescribed pill routine left my face and head bearing several deep, painful, crater-like pimples, the scars of which I now conceal under a beard but will follow me to my grave as a permanent reminder of puking up Prednisone.
Each afternoon, almost always at 2pm on the dot, my brain would quite literally shut off. Typically, I would realize that I hadn’t eaten anything all day either, but I could never force the food into my mouth.
I became very antisocial - losing one’s eyebrows will do that to a dude.
The oral meds that I was prescribed to combat the 24/7 nausea could not even scratch the surface of the discomfort I was experiencing. During one particularly nasty chemo treatment, a new nurse decided to try a new IV-fed anti-nausea drug but it reacted negatively with the rest of the cocktail they had pumping into me and my arm suddenly felt like it was on fire. I screamed in pain and they yanked the IV but I watched in horror as my vein collapsed into a stiff ridge of five painful bumps on my forearm. Just another day in Oncology, and like I said, that is trivial compared to what many cancer patients are facing as I sit here, and you sit there.
So it was then, right around my birthday in June, that I began finding more hair in my dinner, or on page of the book I was failing to effectively read. I kept finding them everywhere and realized that with a slight tug, I could remove entire patches of it. I shaved it like a crude mohawk and somehow that much remained as I endured the hushed gossip exchanged by other parents at my kids’ school. They didn’t know what I was going through, and I didn’t want them to.
WELL, HELLO OLD FRIEND
I was approached by an old high school buddy who knew I was miserable. He handed me a ziploc baggie filled to capacity with massive nugs of expertly grown Master Kush. Don’t get it twisted, I was no stranger to the plant. In fact, this particular friend and I shared countless bongloads of brick weed out of his acrylic Graffix rig after school back in the day, but now he was singing its praises about how it had helped his aunt in her recent battle with breast cancer.
Mind you, Prop 215 had been in place for over 3 years at this point, and the California medical marijuana scene was on the verge of rapid expansion, but it was still the wild west. Dabbing was not quite a thing yet for most cardholders, let alone much mainstream knowledge of the healing power of full spectrum cannabis oil.
But that one ounce of dried flower turned into 10 pounds of recaptured weight gain that had been stolen from me. This was due to an immediate improvement in my appetite and a return to a relatively normal sleeping pattern. Not to mention a much-needed attitude adjustment which did not go unnoticed by those around me.
Flipping through The Reader here in San Diego one afternoon, I was greeted by the back page crammed full of advertisements for medical marijuana dispensaries and I was intrigued.
I found an ad for a doctor claiming he could help patients like me gain access to these pot shops and before I knew it I had access not just to “street grade” weed like I was used to, but endless amounts of different strains in different categories, each purported to have unique health benefits.
I met people like me, either going through the battle, or who had come out victorious on the other side. Both inspired me equally. I was shown true compassion by the folks who ran the dispensaries I visited.
I had my final dose of chemo in August of 2010 and was declared cancer-free shortly thereafter. I submitted to full CT scans every three months, each one as clear as can be. Even the docs were somewhat shocked.
My deepened appreciation for cannabis did not vanish though, nor did many of the debilitating side effects of the chemotherapy - the half-life of which would continue to rock me for several months to come. But I regained my strength - and my precious eyebrows - and ended up volunteering in a highly respected dispensary here in San Diego called Pacific Green Pharms.
Patients would call ahead to see if I was on the schedule hoping to introduce me to a loved one battling cancer or to answer their own questions. The scar tissue surrounding my heart would often deliver a shockingly painful reminder of what once was, but for the most part cancer was becoming a foggy memory.
MMJ - MIRACLE MARIJUANA?
Was medical marijuana a cure-all drug?
Well, it certainly played a key role in alleviating my appetite and sleep issues which had literally been eating me alive. But it was a major mental boost as well, which as a benefit cannot be overstated.
Due to the crippling effects of the chemotherapy, my mind could no longer wander deep into the pool of my passions. But when I blazed the herb I could eat. When I ate I could think. I never had the energy to roughhouse as hard as I once did with my boy, but after a decent night’s sleep, we could roughhouse. . . a bit. Reading my little girl a book in bed at 7 or 8 o’clock was pretty much out of the question, regardless of how well-rested I was, but I could still lay beside her as she rested her magical little hand on my heart until she fell asleep.
I harshly realized that I may not be with my wife “forever” as I had once vowed, but I knew that I could and would be with her for as long or as short of a time as I was allowed. Before I discovered medical marijuana, all of those emotions were suppressed beneath the haze that chemotherapy had blanketed over me.
I am lucky that I hit the disease with all of my strength while I was young and motivated and in good shape. I know for a fact that all of that helped, despite the fact that my “fight” against cancer was more of a ringside seat to watch science - terps and cannabinoids included - kick the shit out of it.
But, I was there.
As a living organism my body reacted to cancer and the subsequent treatments and prevailed.
As a living person, I had to decide not how to react, but how to respond. It’s a fine line between wanting to scream for help from the rooftops and wanting to curl up in a ball all alone. Contrary to the old Reefer Madness insinuations, medical cannabis helped me to clear my mind and avoid those dark times alone.
They say that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. I don’t know about all of that. I do know that it is our experiences throughout our life that makes us who we are - strong or otherwise. One thing I did gain from my experience, for better or for worse, was acceptance into a special fraternity.
If I could take all cancer from all people once and for all, I would - and I’d whip its ass again - but I can’t. What I can do, and have to do, is tell my story, my very real story in hopes that I can inspire another patient or perhaps a politician.
Through my work these days I am proud to spread the good word about cannabis and call out every last asshole opposed to it. Nobody suffers FROM marijuana. You know it, I know it, let’s let the world know it.
This article is dedicated to the beloved memory of Luke the Brave