By Emily Williams
I was diagnosed with lymphoma in early July of 2010. I was already having a lot of trouble with nausea. I had lost 10 pounds, had no energy, couldn’t sleep, and was just plain sick.
Before I started chemotherapy in August, several people offered to get marijuana for me. I turned them all down for three reasons. One, I thought that modern medicine would be able to take care of me. Two, I don’t like the way marijuana makes me feel. And third, and most important, I didn’t want to put anyone at risk.
When I had my first treatment I learned very quickly that medicine wasn’t going to be enough.
There is an IV anti-nausea medication given before the chemotherapy drugs. At home I had two other medications, one a tablet that I swallowed and the other a tablet that dissolved under the tongue. I started chemo at 9 am. and got home around 1pm. By 3pm I had swallowed the tablet. By 4pm I was talking to the nurse asking him what to do because I was so sick to my stomach. I dissolved the tablet under my tongue. I laid down on the couch and tried to ignore the nausea and headache.
I started throwing up around six o’clock. I had three anti-nausea medications in my system. It is impossible to describe how sick chemotherapy makes some people. I am one of those people. I can tell you I was nauseated and throwing up. My head hurt. My body hurt. But none of those things will tell you how sick I was. I would gladly have the flu several times a year than one more day of chemo—and there were five more scheduled!
By 9 o’clock that night I was on the phone—hiding my activity from my husband in order to protect him—asking someone to bring me marijuana. When they got there almost an hour later, I barely made it from the living room into my yard. I wasn’t even able to prepare it for myself, I couldn’t hold the pipe steady, I couldn’t fill it. I could barely hold it to smoke it.
Cannabis provided relief within minutes
Within ten minutes of smoking it, my headache disappeared. The nausea disappeared. I sent my “Angels of Mercy” home with their medicine and I was able to walk into the house, up the stairs and get ready for bed. I was asleep within minutes of lying down and for the first time in several months, I slept for four hours without waking up.
The anti-nausea pills just weren’t working.
When I awoke the next morning, I tried to be a good patient. I took the nausea medicine. By nine, I was on the phone asking my friends to please come back. Again, within ten minutes my nausea was gone. I still felt sick and I couldn’t really do much, but I was able to eat and I was functional. This time I was smart enough to ask them to leave some with me.
For some reason I still believed that the medicines would work and after the second treatment I still tried to do without the marijuana. I smoked after I threw up the second time. And after the third treatment I tried a fourth anti-nausea medication, this time a patch that I put on 24 hours before chemo. After I threw up the second time I smoked the pot.
By the fourth treatment I had learned my lesson. I still had the IV medication, but I quit taking the prescriptions and started smoking the marijuana as soon as I returned home. I continued to vomit once after every treatment. I was still sick and getting sicker with every treatment, but each time I only threw up once and the marijuana alleviated the other symptoms. It also worked on the pain associated with shots I had to have to keep my white blood cell count from crashing. This was marvelous, as the Vicodin also made me throw up, and the Darvocet they replaced it with was taken off the market due to the risk of heart arrhythmia. The bone pain associated with those shots is amazing.
Then I got angry. If cannabis were legal, my family and I wouldn’t be at risk.
All of which leads to the part of this whole process that makes me angry. I was left to deal on my own with horrible, debilitating symptoms. I had to guess about dosage, about how to get it in my system, how to prepare it. I had to hope that the people who were providing it to me knew their sources and trust that the product was safe. I was left on my own to manage the worst symptoms of the prescription drugs that my doctors were putting into my system. I put my family and the “Angels” who helped me at grave risk—a risk they took because they loved me and couldn’t bear to see me suffer—while the medical community refused to talk to me about marijuana as medicine, because it is illegal. Had I followed their lead I would have continued to vomit for days. I would have been unable to eat even when I wasn’t throwing up. I would have been unable to participate in life for much of the six long months I underwent chemotherapy and recovery from the treatments.
The ineffective prescription medicines I was given to treat my nausea and pain also carried the risk of further damaging my organs, especially my liver—side-effects that marijuana doesn’t have. Yet, no one would even talk to me about using marijuana.
I made it through the first five treatments without losing more weight, which is remarkable considering how sick they made me. After my sixth treatment it took me three weeks to gain enough strength to be able to walk around my yard without resting several times. I lost five pounds in the first week after the last treatment. This happened because I stopped using marijuana after the first three days. I stopped because I knew it was over and I would survive no matter how bad I felt. I stopped because I was worried about my family and friends. I stopped because I was stupid. This was a medicine and I should have continued to use it until my symptoms were gone. Had it been legal and had I had the support of my medical team I would have continued. And I firmly believe I would have recovered more quickly and retrieved a semblance of normalcy long before I did.
Hope for the future in 2016!
As I contemplate the, I hope remote, possibility that my cancer might return, I am terrified. Having gone on record as a medical marijuana patient, the risk— high then and especially now—to those I love, to those who would be willing to help me, is far too great for me to use it again. I sit here writing this, with the worry of having chemo again, knowing that I will go through it without marijuana…what a cruel choice to force on someone who is sick and simply trying to survive.
– Emily Williams