Cannabis and Chemo
Monday, 23 October 2017
When I mentioned last week that one of my physicians had recommended cannabis, especially the CBD part, to help me sleep through the night, we both laughed acknowledging that it still feels odd – even in a state where it is legal – to be discussing with a doctor how weed might improve my life.
Quite a few commenters on that post mentioned how they have been using versions of cannabis to treat a variety of ailments, especially pain, for a long time:
⚫ Reduce joint pain
⚫ Doubles sleep time
⚫ For pain
⚫ Aches and pains recede
⚫ Got me off opioids
⚫ Reduces lower back pain
⚫ Works for sleep
That was a week ago and you, dear readers, impressed me enough that I hied myself off to the closest cannabis dispensary, about five miles from my home.
One of the “bud tenders” behind the counter, who was obviously well informed and very helpful, listened carefully to my questions, then showed me a variety of edibles with CBD but also, at my request, others that combine both CBD and THC (I don't see any reason not to enjoy a nice, little high for awhile before sleep arrives).
My choice was a box of ten small chocolate candies each containing a hazelnut at the center that are half CBD, half THC. It was like the old-fashioned, illegal weed I smoked for most of my life in that what constitutes a dose is flexible from person to person. Some people need only one candy, the bud tender told me, others need two or, sometimes, three.
For me, he recommended trying two and then adjust up or down from there – which is what I did about an hour before I wanted to go to sleep.
Hallelujah – it is the first time I've slept more than two or three hours straight in a year or more – nearly seven hours this time. Since then I've used one candy and that works as well as the two on the first night.
So. Sleep problem solved. And unexpectedly, a second problem solved.
After the lab had analyzed the blood the nurse had drawn from me when I arrived for my weekly chemotherapy infusion last week, I was told that because the reading for one blood component was so low, I was at high risk for infection.
So, they said, I would have a week off – also from the oral chemo I take at home twice a day – and see if the reading improves enough next (this) week for the infusion.
Well, that's fairly alarming. During the surgery in June, some cancer cells were found in three lymph nodes in addition to the tumor that was removed from my pancreas. I doubt those cells or any others are disappearing on their own which is the reason for the chemotherapy.
When I asked if this – time off from chemo for awhile - is a common occurrence, the nurse did not sound encouraging, at least in my interpretation. “Sometimes,” she said. The treatment - that is, the kind of chemo drug - might be changed or reformulated.
Until now, my reports in these pages about the progression of my treatment have been upbeat because I've felt that way. Now that the effects of the surgery have healed, I have felt so healthy that sometimes I've half-assed wondered if maybe someone made a terrible mistake and I don't have pancreatic cancer.
Of course, that's stupid and I know it. It's just that I've been so pleasantly surprised to feel so normal.
But as I left the chemo clinic without having had my infusion, my mood was considerably darker. What if that blood test number doesn't increase enough for another treatment? What if there isn't a different treatment if I need that? What if they tell me there is nothing more to be done? And so on.
I hesitated before writing that paragraph. I seems so raw compared to how well everything else in this odyssey has worked out so far. These new thoughts cripple me particularly when I'm tired which is pretty much daily, especially from mid-afternoon onward.
This is the first news I've had about my condition that frightens me. Well, hold on. Let me restate that: stark, uncontrollable panic is a closer description to what I've been feeling and that is true even while understanding that I have no facts to back up my fear. Yet. But these thoughts above and worse go round and round in my head like ear worms especially when I'm tired.
Then, for an entirely different reason, I tried those little chocolate candies laced with cannabis and it's a bit of a miracle. They give me relief from the long, wide-awake hours when sleep had been impossible and in the morning, because I'm fully rested, I can beat back the frightful furies (until I wear out in the afternoon) that otherwise take over my brain with questions that are not answerable yet.
Serendipity is the only explanation - I tried something for one problem and it relieves a second one too. So thank you - those who commented about your experience with cannabis for medical and sleep problems. You encouraged me to do something I might have otherwise skipped past.
Also, a neighbor who has tried a variety of medical solutions for his back pain was impressed enough with your comments that he is going to try some cannabis to see if it will help him.
Meanwhile, in case any of you, dear readers, live somewhere with marijuana dispensaries but like me, have been hesitant to check them out – or you're just curious - here's a short video tour of the one I actually went to.
In maintaining this blog's position as an advertising-free zone on the internet, in no way do I mean this video as a promotion or endorsement for the shop which I chose for no reason than it is near home. The video turned up while I was looking for something else and it is a good representation of what appears to me to be a well-run store.
Ronni, your anxiety regarding having to forego the fusion treatment for 2 weeks is understandable and is experienced by almost every cancer patient undergoing treatment. The chemo destroys cells good and bad and too fast for some to replenish to keep the immune system healthy. It is most likely the neutrophils that need time to replenish.
All that said and guessed at, good on you for getting the candy that helps you sleep and allay some of the understandable constant, circular worries.
Thank you so much for your honesty and being able to present to us the real time of your life. It only makes you and your blog more dear.
I envy the having access to a sleep aid. If it ever happens in my state, it will be over a lot of dead bodies and most likely the last state to vote for any semblance of access.
Posted by: S C Jones | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 06:27 AM
S C Jones, are you living near a border state? Or have trusted people driving from other allowable places? Or find whether there's a 'network' in your area, that's off the radar.
Do what you feel will help yourself. That's #1.
Hoping you succeed.
Posted by: Simone | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 07:36 AM
I have followed your blog for a good while now. I am not one to comment. This time I must comment. I know it sounds crazy, but when you were dx with pancreatic cancer my heart broke for you. Shortly after that I myself was dx. with liver cancer. I was rushed into radiation treatment, scared out of my mind etc. I can relate to all of the emotions you are having. I have been so consumed with my own self that I have not shared. I was told a month after my treatment that there was nothing more they can do for me. Yet, another blow. Yes, I sank in sadness etc. I tried to get an appointment with the Hepatitis Dr. after I was turned loose to get additional information and some questions answered. My interventional Radiologist told me to get back to that Dr. ASAP. He himself put a call into him. They can not get me in until March. "Really"? I feel very hurt, used, and pissed off all at once. They were quick to get me in for the money making procedure that did not work. Now, that I need them. They have no time. Anyway, that behind me now. I am glad not to have them in my life anymore. I am taking control of my own health. Health drinks. MJ for shrinking tumor. Our bodies can and will heal themselves. You are one strong lady. I admire your courage and determination. It sounds to me that you are on the right path of healing yourself. Don't let them scare the hell out of you. They are famous for doing that. Stay diligent. Get it done. All the very best to you my dear strong lady. If you are ever in a position where you may need to vent, scream, cry or carry on. You may email me at [email protected] com. Our friends and loved ones can only understand so much and get tired of hearing it. They just want you to stay strong, positive and not bring them down. So, I am here for you if you choose. I have access to CBD here, but will be making a trip to get the healing product of THC for the healing properties. I say take the week off from the chemo and love it. Giving your body a chance to heal its self. It will do that. Again, thanks for your sharing such a personal journey.
Posted by: Melanie | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 08:38 AM
Oh Ronni, I am so sorry for your set-back and will be glad when you can be reassured that the week off is not bad news at all.
Having had no experience with what you are going through I am unable to offer comfort, but my heart goes out to you. I can see why you felt panic upon hearing the latest, but I do think that they would not take you off chemo for a week if it would harm your progress.
And my heart goes out to all of your "on line" supporters who have shared their own fears with us.
I also live in a backward state dominated by right-wing Luddites who will never allow cannabis to be legal. A pox on their houses. I would like to try those candies to help with my constant back pain and frequent bouts of insomnia.
Posted by: Darlene | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 09:06 AM
I have written a long post and it won't let me post it. Is there a word limit that is restricting it? I see that it will accept this.
Posted by: Lyn Burnstine | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 09:46 AM
Ronni, I am still a devoted fan, even though my beloved Elderstorytelling is no more. Thank you for your honest and thorough reporting of your journey. Many times I comment in my head, but it never makes it to the post--why? Because I'm too busy burning the candle at both ends! Despite being almost 85 and having outlived the statistics for long-term RA (61 years) by 15 years, AND being kept alive by a pacemaker in my belly, I don't find enough hours in the day to keep up with my passions of writing, singing and photography (yes, I still sing in a chorus, and solo at open mics several times a month). However, the flip side is that I am in worsening horrendous, intractable back and neck pain, only slightly relieved by all the things I am trying--trigger point and cortisone injections, acupuncture, cannabis oil, self-acupressure with a Thera cane, heat, ice, and distraction (that's where the passions come in).
My rheumatologist has just offered medical marijuana and I have been debating it--only because I think it is very costly, and I'm kind of drowning in the costs of medical insurances and meds already. I do sleep well with the cannabis oil and acupuncture, but now after reading your blog, I plan to follow through with her offer--if it helps, it's worth giving up a few luxuries. Thank you so much for helping me make the decision. My heart is with you on your journey, Dear Ronni.
Posted by: Lyn Burnstine | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 09:46 AM
Ignore short post--it went through this time--Hallelujah.
Posted by: Lyn Burnstine | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 09:47 AM
It's expected that chemo will weaken your immune system, lower your white cell count, etc. That's why they do a blood test each time -- to monitor those things. Try not to worry about it too much. It makes sense to take a break until your system can recover a bit. My chemo (different drugs than yours) was administered once every three weeks to allow some recovery time between infusions, with each infusion followed a day later with a neulasta shot to help boost the white cell count back up. I know your regimen is different, but trust that the intent is to kill the cancer cells, not you. And if the MJ is helping both your sleep and your anxiety, hurray!
Posted by: Susan R (PiedType) | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 09:52 AM
OK here is how I see it. Don't worry be happy and enjoy your good health feelings. What is the rush?
What if they removed all the lymph nodes that had the cancer and you didn't even need the chemo? It does you no good if you plow ahead and then suffer deadly complications from lack of your immune system.
And if there is a bit of cancer still there-- plug along and fight it but what is the rush? Yes,yes, I know--spreading throughout the body. But there is such a thing about overkill in their treatments because they are usually fighting a major battle. It sounds like yours is more of a mop up process.
And if your cancer is rampant, you are not going to win anyway so why suffer needlessly with all the complications from a nonexistent immune system--You just get weaker and weaker and sicker from complications.
So just enjoy the rest from treatment and try to accept that the cards are in play already and you need to just continue having the best life you can, doing the best you can to be as healthy and happy as you can NOW and later.
And those wonderful nurses and doctors never want to bet on the first two examples. They want to kill those suckers to the detriment of your body right now.
Just my two cents worth of sort of wisdom ---
Posted by: victoria | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 09:59 AM
I am happy to hear the medical marijuana (MM) is helping you. And, I hope your blood test results improve and allow you to return to treatment.
I have a medical condition which could be helped by the use of MM, and I live in a state where it is legal. However, what prevents me from taking advantage of its availability is cost. As one living on a fixed (and not too abundant) income, the cost of MM is prohibitive for me.
Posted by: Shirley | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 10:19 AM
This journey you are on is damn well scary.
Anxiety can freeze your mind.
But some surprising tips arise, like using medical MJ.
Many oncology patients here have been prescribed medical MJ.
It is legally available at certain downtown clinics.
Hold on tight.
Your Montreal Fan
Posted by: doctafill | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 10:20 AM
Hi Ronni! I came to your blog to read about your experience with cannabis and was saddened to hear about the reason you tried it in the first place. I'm so sorry and wish you the best success possible in your treatment. But meanwhile, thank you for helping to spread the news about Cannibis in a positive way. I too have found that it is extremely helpful to sleep (and yes I combine the THC and CBD for best results.) It doesn't take much and it seems to ease small pains as well. I can't help but believe that ANYONE who suffers from insomnia would benefit from it rather than taking any other prescription drug. ~Kathy
Posted by: Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 10:34 AM
I think I'm convinced about MM, which is legal in my state. Like Lyn B., I have worsening back and (in my case) shoulder pain that for sure interferes with my life and also my sleep at times. I'm "only" 80 (soon to be 81) to Lyn's 85 but, unlike her, am no longer burning any candles at both ends. It probably helps that I can't sing, play an instrument, paint, dance or sculpt. One could say that I'm multi-UNtalented!
Not that I'm totally inactive--I'm not. I walk most days, keep house, do errands, care for our 3 senior cats, volunteer for a cat rescue/rehoming organization and write myriad messages of protest against The Orange Apparition's horrific administration. However, 80 is NOT the new 60 at least for me, although I'm still in relatively good health overall and am not facing a life-threatening illness (that I know of). If MM can help with pain and increase functionality, it may be worth a try.
Posted by: Elizabeth Rogers | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 11:13 AM
It's good to hear that you chose this route, and found it helpful. Perhaps medical and recreational marijuana will be more widely available in the not-too-distant future, given the projected numbers for those who might benefit in another decade or so. It's available medically in Illinois, but not otherwise. However, I suspect a very high percentage of the residents in the state access it illegally. It's too bad officials here can't become more enlightened and realize that the state could perhaps solve some of its financial problems by allowing it to be legally sold and taxed. Having clean safe places to purchase a regulated product, from educated and informed sellers (I love that term, bud tender -- how sweet and gentle) rather than having it all tied up with the criminal justice system, smuggling and gang warfare would seem to me to make much more sense.
Has the candy helped your appetite, and if so, could that possibly have a positive effect on getting your levels where they should be? Maybe they will yet provide a third benefit.
Thank you for sharing all this, Ronni. I hope you're feeling even better by now. Keep on keeping on!
Posted by: Cathy Johnson | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 11:24 AM
I live in a red state where they will probably never offer even medical marijuana, although one of our doctors, an oncologist, has expressed the opinion that it would be helpful to both my husband and me for our various maladies...
I have never purchased illicit drugs -- either a husband or boyfriend always got the stuff. I wouldn't even know where to go or who to ask. I'd probably wind up behind bars and they'd throw away the key! And I have no idea how much the stuff costs or if I could afford it. It doesn't seem fair that Medicare will pay for my opioids, but not grass...
What do other people do to find access? Particularly in red states? I can't really afford to move unless I win the lottery (and that's a snowball's chance in hell!).
Posted by: Classof65 | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 12:48 PM
There's a cannabis shop on every other corner in my neighborhood of Seattle, but I've been afraid to use it because 40 years ago when I used it regularly, it started making me nervous and paranoid - the last things I need. But now that I realize I can get an edible with just CBD, or mostly CBD, I am tempted to give it a try for my hair-raising anxiety.
The medications I am taking don't really seem to work, and I fear they will add to any memory problems I may develop. It would be nice to find something natural. So I'll just throw on a jacket and walk up the street - or should I walk down the street - to my local dispensary and see what they have. Thanks for posting about this!
Posted by: Regina | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 02:20 PM
Regina—grass today is not the same grass as 40 years ago—in states where it is legal, you go into a clinic and tell them your symptoms and the very well informed staff get you exactly what you need in the form best suited for you.
Tell them exactly what you need it for and try it.
Ronni—time for you to watch the series “Disjointed” with Kathy Bates on Netflix. I think you will enjoy it! Let us know if you do.
Posted by: Linda | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 05:02 PM
Thanks, Ronni, for once again laying bare your fears for all of us. I'm sending up a plea to the universe to bless you (and Melanie and all your other readers who are dealing with serious health issues) and treat you gently.
Posted by: Patty-in-New-York | Monday, 23 October 2017 at 05:08 PM
I also am fighting cancer. Triple Negative Breast Cancer - aggressive and high recurrence rate. I did chemo to shrink the large tumor and it worked....I just did nausea meds and nothing else. I had lumpectomy...again no pain pills because Percocet was given but made me itch. Lots of extra strength Tylenol and that was it. I am now getting radiation and using aloe on the radiation site...skin so far looks good. I have been told to try candy cannibis also but up until now I have not needed it. I do take Ativan to sleep in a very lose dose. I worry about my lower back which is hurting lately...I worry about recurrence as this cancer is ugly as MOST are and I am keeping it real by not getting too cocky even in light of clear pathology reports after surgery. I sometimes wonder too...did I have cancer? But all the experts who saw my tumor and my pathology said it all came up as malignant. My lymph nodes were clear which is great and I am happy but as I said, not feeling cocky about anything at this point. I also had very low blood count in chemo and was given a week off to get stronger which I did. I ate lots of protein, lentils, rested, hydrated and when I went back a week later, my blood count was up (still slightly anemic) but it was high enough to resume treatment. This is all very difficult for sure.
Posted by: Lin Gar | Tuesday, 24 October 2017 at 01:20 PM
At first, I thought you were going to say the cannabis chocolates fixed the blood problem!
(Like they say, the one thing you can do something about is your attitude . . . )
It would be pretty cool and miraculous if that happened too, though.
Posted by: Annie Gottlieb | Wednesday, 25 October 2017 at 05:02 AM
Thanks. Ronni, for this informative post. I've been encouraging my Sister-in-law via phone conversations with my brother, to try medical marijuana for her debilitating Interstitial Cystitis. She is in pain and sleep deprived. She lives in the Bay Area in California so MJM is now available.
I'm going to try to send my Luddite Hates Computers Brother a link and try to get him to read this blog. First I have to remind him that I set up a gmail address for him on my last visit. He hasn't used it . Sheesh!
I just realized I'm writing this after your"very bad day" so I hope you get the message.
Posted by: Tarzana | Wednesday, 25 October 2017 at 11:21 AM
Bad terrible days respond to cannabis nicely Ronni.
I’m glad you found some help with the wonderful hazelnut chocolates-I’m a fan of those myself.
I’d love to bring you a box of cookies and some Rick Simpson Oil I make for pain. A few drops in juice or ginger ale help with pain and sleep.
Let me know how I can help
Posted by: Elle | Wednesday, 25 October 2017 at 01:25 PM