My Journey with Medicinal Cannabis: Symptom Management
Where do I start? I really don't know how to start this article however, I feel that I need to write a bit of background history so you can understand how we got to where we are.
My confession is that I use cannabis for pain control and to help free my body from stiffness and pain. I have been using it since August 2017.
Cannabis is such an emotive topic
I want to say that the opinions and beliefs written here are all my own and are not the opinion of Bladdercancer.net. I am not here to judge or change anyone's views on cannabis use; I am here to share my journey - the why's and how's.
Teen Years: 1986, onwards
I first tried cannabis when I was around 19. I know this because that's also when I started to drink and smoke. I had run away from home at 16 after a particularly bad beating. I lived with my boyfriend and his family until things turned sour in the relationship, and I moved out and got a little bedsit.
I was a wild and troubled teenager, I had come from an abusive and violent home, and I wasn't prepared for the world. I found a job at a pub and made some friends.
It was 1987, and drugs were available. There was no peer pressure. I began to experiment using drugs and alcohol. I tried it because I was curious, and I could see how untroubled they looked when they smoked a joint.
Although I enjoyed the experience of smoking a joint, I much preferred alcohol. Smoking a joint made me feel incredibly relaxed and chilled. Alcohol made me feel that everything was ok and I was invincible.
On and off
Over the years, I have had an on-and-off relationship with cannabis. There were times that it wasn't suitable for my mental health, usually during a depressive episode, where far too much alcohol was drunk as well.
The one thing that it was able to do was calm my mind and switch off the constant chatter and chaos that seemed always to be present.
From my own personal experience, I know how it helps me with my pain and anxiety. It helps me move this very stiff and sore body.
Illegal in the UK
Cannabis is a class B drug, which means that it is illegal to have any, and the maximum penalty is 5 years in jail and up to a 2,500 pound [3,150 dollar] fine.
After my RC I was given tramadol as none of the other painkillers seemed to help.
Tramadol is an opiate painkiller given to those in severe to moderate pain; however, being pain-free comes at a considerable cost.
Something's gotta give: conflicting medications
My antidepressants were not compatible with these painkillers, so the decision was made to take me off my antidepressants. I was readmitted back to the hospital, within the first two weeks and I honestly thought that I had made the worst mistake of my life.
I couldn't keep any food down and my mental health was beginning to suffer. It hurt when I moved, and I was barely sleeping as I was used to sleeping on my side; however, at that present time, I was unable to lie on my side due to the stabbing pains.
I had to inject myself twice daily, and it was very traumatic for someone with a needle phobia as I had to pierce the skin. I also had to hold the needle in for the count of 10. This was all very traumatic.
I came home and told Tim that I needed to take my medication as I could feel myself falling down the depression rabbit hole. We knew that there was no other medication that the general practitioner or consultants [doctor] could give me, so Tim, our son, and I sat down to talk.
Honest and open communication
My son was adamantly against drugs. I knew this. So we approached that subject cautiously. Astonishingly, he gave me his blessing as he could see just how much I was struggling.
We would have to find someone to sell us the bud. This was a lot harder than we had first thought. I mean, come on, who knows how to find a 'drug dealer'? Isn't it something you can ask someone in the street?
Eventually, we found someone. They were discrete and helpful.
A Joint a day
To begin with, I started smoking a joint in the morning and the evenings, at the same time as when I injected myself. I would be filled with anxiety and terror.
However, around 20 minutes after smoking, I would be able to carry the function out and hold the needle in place for the count of 10. It still hurt, but it wasn't so bad.
It helped with nausea - I wasn't randomly vomiting everywhere anymore and didn't have those episodes of feeling sick all the time. I began to feel hungry and wanted to eat, which you need to do after major surgery to help your body heal.
Nourishment is the key, and I slept better. I really did. I know this as poor Tim would wake up and tell me that we had a warthog snuffling under the bed.
Small cell bladder cancer
I have always been advised not to get too complacent with my life as this darn small cell bladder cancer will return at some point. To be honest, we all, my oncologist included, have expected the cancer to return. It had spread to my hip and arm bones! We were told it wouldn't affect my prognosis even if I had the RC - it was always meant to come back - and quickly.
After the first year, I came clean to my oncologist and explained the why's and the how's. I asked him directly if he thought that the cannabis was having an effect on the cancer or the lack of cancer.
He smiled and said that he didn't think it would have any effect; however, if I believed it was helping, then that was all that mattered.
It has been 5 years since my RC and I remain 'no evidence of disease' (fingers and toes crossed). Both my oncologist and surgeon are flabbergasted. They remind me each time we talk about just how much of a miracle it is that I am still here.
Who knows if cannabis has played a part in keeping my cancer at bay, or perhaps I am just one of the fortunate ones because, as we all know, cancer doesn't discriminate. It takes whoever it wants. It is brutal and unforgiving.
Last year became one of the hardest years of my life, and I have had quite a few scary life-or-death years in the past, but this was different.
I felt so unwell, and yet I couldn't describe it. I was unable to sit up as it made me feel terrible. Lying down was manageable. All I could do was lie on the sofa and wait all day for Tim to come home. I slept a lot of the time, but sometimes my dear friends would want to pop by and say hello.
I started to have a few joints in the morning as my muscles were so tight and sore as the erythromelalgia progressed. Walking had become an issue. My ankles would feel like they were digging into my feet, so hot that they felt like they were melting - it was all very bizarre.
The joints helped me. They helped relax my sore muscles and free my painful hands from arthritis. They allowed me some freedom to potter for 10 to 15 minutes in the minimum amount of pain.
Intake and uptake
At this point in my life, I started to use cannabis most of the time. It helped me with getting small tasks done. It gave me a slightly better quality of life, if only to make myself get through another day.
My life had become my house, which felt like a prison. The days were so long and I couldn't concentrate on books or films. I just laid there. Bored, unwell, and so fed up.
It was also becoming increasingly difficult to find the money to be able to buy some grass as I had been unable to work, and during all this time, I was still so very aware that it was illegal! This was when I heard of Project Twenty21.
Stay tuned for more.
Has anyone in your family been diagnosed with bladder cancer before?
Join the conversation