An effective alternative: Medical marijuana helped me through my breast cancer treatment

Oct 20 2016, 4:13 am

Written for Daily Hive by Judit Saunders, a metastatic breast cancer patient, loving wife, cannabis consumer, and proud Albertan.

Five years ago, my life changed completely. I went from being a 26-year-old paediatric nurse, living a carefree existence fuelled by possibility, to a cancer patient burdened by fear and uncertainty in one afternoon.

When my doctor called on that fateful day, it was to inform me that the relatively unconcerning lump in my breast was, indeed, breast cancer. It was a moment that would ultimately divide my life from complete innocence to harsh reality. Everything moving forward was delineated between “before” and “after” cancer.

The journey has been long. It has been peppered by peaks and valleys. The highs marked by an incomparable showing of support from friends and family, the lows marked by the diagnosis two years later that the cancer had returned – and this time there wasn’t a cure.

It was metastatic and had found its way to my bones and brain. I was 28, staring down a death sentence, and learning to live with a ‘terminal’ label. While the emotional roller coaster has been exhausting and consuming, the physical journey has been equally difficult.

Cancer treatment is as stubborn and fierce as the disease itself. The side effects causing a perfect storm of pain, insomnia, and loss of appetite, to name a few. And for every narcotic prescribed unveils a new side effect to combat.

The battle with cancer drugs has felt endless and fruitless.

Until one day, when cannabis was recommended to me. At first, as a trained pediatric nurse, the idea of using cannabis was alarming, but as a 28-year-old woman with a lot of living to do, the possibility outweighed the concern. I wanted to live this life pain-free.

I wanted to sleep at night again and I wanted to gain weight to be a healthier version of myself, capable of taking on the long battle ahead.

Cannabis offered the promise of all three. Not to mention the outlier possibility of tumour reduction and stabilization.

For just under three years, I have been using medicinal marijuana, and this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, together with Tilray, I want to educate breast cancer and metastatic breast cancer patients about their rights to try complimentary therapies and obtain a legal medical cannabis prescription in Canada.

For patients who are interested in obtaining medical marijuana there are a few steps to follow, according to Health Canada’s program:

  • Step 1: Consult with a Healthcare Practitioner
  • Step 2: Obtain a Medical Document from your Healthcare Practitioner
  • Step 3: Register and order with a Licensed Producer (LP)
  • Step 4: Receive shipment of your marijuana for medical purposes

In addition, here are some tips for the first meeting between a breast cancer patient and their doctor.

  1. Prepare a list of current medications
  2. List the symptoms and side effects you would like to manage, i.e. nausea, insomnia, pain, anxiety
  3. Are there any potential side effects to consider when introducing medical marijuana with your current medication.

In order to facilitate the prescription, a patient’s healthcare provider must complete a medical document on their behalf. Patients can then contact an LP like Tilray to receive a registration form. The medical form and registration form will then be submitted directly to the LP.

The journey isn’t over. But I’m functioning more like the carefree 26-year-old before she received the call that afternoon. There isn’t a magic bullet. I know that. But it doesn’t have to be an uphill battle every day. Especially when an effective alternative is at our finger tips.