by Chris Bodenner
The reader who contributed the most powerful entry of our collection follows up:
Over the holiday, my children came home and I showed them “The Cannabis Closet” book, which got here a few days ago. I showed them the excerpt that I had written about their mother’s battle with cancer and her use of marijuana to alleviate the effects of chemo.
Our oldest son, who has his masters in nursing and runs the nursing staff at the local VA hospital, was surprised that I had not included her oncologist’s reaction to her using pot. To tell you the truth, I had forgotten about it. But he thought it was important that I write it out and send it to you. So, here it is. Sorry it's a bit long; I tried to shorten it up.
As I said before in my first letter to you, shortly after she started using pot, she did not suffer the nausea or the aches and pains any longer. She also got her appetite back and put on a little weight. Even her color got better. I also told you that after she began using marijuana she began to open up and talk about her illness and her final wishes. We spent a lot of long evenings on the couch talking and drinking hot chocolate. I will always look back on those evenings as some of the best times we spent together.
When we went to see her oncologist a couple of weeks later for her regular check up, he took one look at her and said, “Well look at you! You look wonderful! Those anti-nausea medications seem to be doing the trick.” She and I looked at each other, and I told him that the pills he had prescribed did nothing to help with her nausea – she still threw up eight to twelve times a day. I told him that she was using marijuana and that it had made a big difference – not only in keeping her from getting sick, but also in helping her get her appetite back and removing her fear of chemo.
He looked at her and asked her if that was true; was she using marijuana? My wife told him yes. His entire demeanor instantly changed. He said that was a load of crap and that he had read all the studies on it and that marijuana did nothing to help the effects of chemo and that she was “stupid” for using an illegal narcotic.
My demeanor instantly changed too, and I asked to speak with him in the hallway.
I followed him out of the exam room, and when he turned to face me I told him if he ever spoke to my wife like that again, I would deck him. I told him that regardless of his feelings about marijuana, it was helping my wife in more ways than simply helping with the nausea; it was helping her open up and talk about her illness – something she had not been able to do until now.
He was not moved at all. He said that if she continued to use marijuana he would refuse to stay on as her primary oncologist. He also threatened to inform our insurance carrier that she was self-medicating against his wishes.
I felt my blood-pressure going up and told him that I wouldn’t let him near her again if he was the last doctor on the planet. I stepped back inside the exam room and told my wife we were leaving. He followed me in and told her what he had told me – that he was going to call our insurance carrier if she did not stop.
I decided that I had heard enough. I turned to him and informed him, maybe a bit louder than I should have, that if he gave out confidential medical information without our prior consent, I would "sue him back to the stone age". And, believe it or not, that stopped him cold. I got my wife’s sweater and purse and helped her up. She was in tears as I led her out. I remember nurses and patients stepping in the hallway wondering what all the fuss was about.
We went out of his waiting room and across the hall into another oncologist’s office. This doctor had treated a good friend of mine until he passed away about a year prior. My late friend’s wife had nothing but good things to say about him and I think we had gotten a second opinion from him earlier in my wife’s treatment. He was a heavy-set, red-haired man who always seemed to be smiling.
I made an appointment with his secretary and a week later we were sitting in his office. He asked why we were switching doctors and I told him what had happened. He looked at my wife and asked her if she was still using pot. She said yes. He asked if it was helping. She said yes. He said, “Well good for you,” and he never brought it up again and continued to treat her until she passed away about six months later.
Marijuana helped us both through a tough time in her illness. Even if it was in her head, as the doctor alluded to, why would anyone in the medical profession take such a hard line on something that was obviously helping? I came to realize that the guy was an egomaniac and a control freak. Why else in God’s name would he take that hard of a stance?
I want to end this by telling you a little more about my wife's death. The cancer that she had migrated to her spinal fluid from the tumor in her brain, and once that happened, she was gone in 24 hours. Our children all made it up in time to say good-bye and it really did seem that she held on until they were all there.
When all the kids were around her bed and each of them had their hands on her, our daughter leaned over her and said, “It’s okay Mama, you can go now”. My wife took two more breaths and was gone. I watched all of this from the doorway and can tell you that I have never seen anything more precious or intimate in my life. It was how she would have wanted to go.
The church had 100-person capacity. Two hundred showed up. I estimated about a third of them had never met her; they were clients of mine and were there for me and the kids. And I can promise you that you have never seen a funeral like hers. People came forward to tell all kinds of “Jane Stories”. She was a wonderfully naive person and you could not help but love her. (Her daughter saw her talking on the cell phone in the backyard one day and noticed that she did not move or walk when she was talking. When she asked her why later, Jane told her daughter that she was afraid of roaming charges.)
One story after another. At times we had to wait until the laughter died down enough to continue. Jane was a teacher for many years and she touched so many lives. The marijuana use was just a blip in her long life. But I feel it played a huge role in helping her come to grips with her illness.