Tracie Cone has always been a trailblazer. This award-winning journalist is the former California Newspaper Executive of the Year. She shares a Pulitzer Prize with fellow staff members at the Miami Herald for coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew and has twice been nominated individually. She has focused her writing on helping the underdog and empowering those without a strong voice of their own. Now she takes us on the fight of her life.
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Let’s Talk Pot

I'm always scared when I look back and see how sick I was during the throes of chemo hell. I'm in bed Saturday holding the tube that leads to my pot vaporizer.

Whew. That was awful. I awoke this morning at 6:30 as if a fever had broken. It was the bone pain, at last subsided enough to be bearable.

As I try now to sit upright on the Monday following the infusion last Tuesday, I’m still pretty achy in my hips, neck and fingers. I imagine this is what debilitating arthritis feels like. It’s nothing like the excruciating pain I felt over the weekend as the Neulasta shot medicine infiltrated my bone marrow, enticing white blood cells to grow. Chemo, as you know by now, kills white blood cells. White blood cells keep me alive. So I guess it’s a good tradeoff.

I tried managing my pain this time knowing that the prescription Vicodin my doctors offered would constipate me and cause toxic chemo buildup in my system. It’s a tradeoff. The pain makes me whimper and cry. It’s pitiful, I’m pitiful, but I took the pills anyway. I still can’t think straight, so this post will likely ramble…

(And thank you all for your constipation remedies but one can’t swallow FILL IN THE BLANK when one is nauseous.)

Why can’t someone invent a pain reliever that works for chemo pain that doesn’t constipate? (Vicodin barely masks it, btw)

Medical marijuana you say? I wish.

To date it has been the biggest disappointment of this chemo hell. That’s probably an overstatement, but I am surprised (and frustrated) that it has not been more effective FOR ME.

I’m a fan of marijuana in all of its forms, having been a child of the 70s. I’ve always thought it is benign and that the law enforcement effort put into arresting and imprisoning users was a horrendous waste of money. Because of this attitude, I’ve always thought that if I ever had to undergo chemo, I’d have it made. I’d just smoke pot and the pain and nausea would disappear.

I wish. What I actually found FOR ME is that it never helped ease my extreme nausea, nor did it relieve pain. So the few times I’ve tried it I’ve just ended up being high with cancer, not a place my head really wants to be.

First I should say I never smoked it during my treatment. That would be counterintuitive to my cancer treatment. It can’t be healthy inhaling combustibles, yet smoking it is supposed to be the most effective way to combat nausea.

One person on my medical team said that all of the studies she has read relied on smoked marijuana to establish the anti-nausea benefit, but inhaling smoke did not seem like a good option for me with my compromised immune system.

So Michelle tried making crackers for me out of organic marijuana grown indoors with vegan fertilizers (using a recipe for savory crackers I had enjoyed at my company Christmas party! That makes the AP baker an unbeknownst-to-her co-conspirator)

However, here is nothing more nauseating than feeling like you’re going to toss your cookies, and eating a cracker that tastes like marijuana will do that even to people not on chemotherapy. It will turn you off to crackers forever. The crackers just did not work for me (hey friends: watch out for our cheese plates; we have leftovers. Just kidding. That would be illegal.)

Desperate, we ended up buying a cheap vaporizer on eBay that heats the pot on a filament, thereby releasing the THC as a vapor. It does not burn the green part, which ends up turning a little brown but essentially leaves the marijuana looking the same as when it went in.

Using this the “patient” is inhaling only THC vapor, but not getting the anti-nausea benefits of smoke. The cheap vaporizer is a temperamental device that works with mixed results, as in sometimes it heats properly and sometimes it does not. It means that sometimes I ended up too high, and sometimes nothing happens at all.

While I didn’t want to be “high” (because nothing screams ‘party down’ like breast cancer and chemotherapy), there were lesser benefits for me. When it worked it helped me to sleep, took the edge off a bit, and it helped stimulate my appetite, especially during the period a few weeks back when weight was dropping unhealthily from me and I landed in the hospital.

Those are excellent benefits, because at the end of the day I feel like I’m a walking, toxic time bomb filled with chemotherapy, radiation, dyes and pills. I worry that those foreign manmade substances are adversely impacting my body as much as I worry about the cancer.

So being able to feel a little better, for even just an hour, without adding to the stew of pharmaceuticals swimming in my system is an immeasurable psychological benefit to me.

Medical marijuana hasn’t given me the extreme benefits I was hoping for, but if cancer has taught me anything, it’s to find hope and meaning in the little things.

One Response to “Let’s Talk Pot”

  • Bryan:

    Let’s talk pot indeed. I made brownies yesterday (LEGAL NOTE:I HAVE A LICENSE TOO) and they turned out great. The recipe yielded more than enough, I’d be glad to share. I’m sure the wasn’t what Mrs. Crocker had in mind but her recipe was perfect. Big love from me and Jon (who’s still pissed about the smell in the kitchen).


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