I stare at six pristine pill bottles in my medicine cabinet and feel guilty. The memory of why I was prescribed these drugs comes back to my mind and outrage sets in when I remember why they are all still full and the risks taken to make them happen.
At 38, I was diagnosed with stage 3B ovarian cancer. A painful, exhausting battle awaited me – one I knew all too well because this was not my first experience with cancer. When I was 26, I had stage 1B breast cancer. When I was 36, I had stage 3B ovarian cancer. Two years later, I faced cancer again.
It was not a final diagnosis – and one that, like my previous experiences, I wanted to fight and survive, but which does not minimize the harshness of chemotherapy, the pain during surgery, or the extreme discomfort from radiation. Survival does not alleviate the physical strain a body suffers or negate the mental and emotional trauma a person suffers from being diagnosed with cancer, which in my case was compounded by the loss of my ability to bear children.
My first thought was, “I can’t go through the healing process again” as these were stacks of drugs that had a variety of side effects from constipation to delirium. I hated the post-treatment process almost as much as I hated the disease itself.
Fearful of these compound issues, I researched medical marijuana and whether it would be available as an alternative to my prescriptions. I was disappointed to find that Texas has one of the most restrictive medical marijuana markets in the country. At the time, hard-to-treat epilepsy patients qualified for the government’s compassionate program.
How could I not earn enough? Why was I denied the right to decide with my medical team whether medical marijuana could be part of my care plan?
I resigned that I would face the archaic follow-up plan that had previously been so difficult, but when I began the daunting task of informing family and friends of my diagnosis, something profound and selfless happened: Dear ones – my story, exactly knew and suffered – offered to get marijuana for me.
This meant they either had to travel to another state and bring it back to Texas, or someone in another state had to send it to them – both of which were in violation of federal law. These were respected professionals with families willing to risk a living for me. I was humble and in conflict. Was It Selfish To Want A Better Cancer Experience? Why were we made to become “criminals” by receiving a medically validated solution?
I reluctantly accepted.
Medical cannabis drastically reduced my symptoms: no more nausea, loss of appetite, slight tiredness, relieving pain, irregular bowel movements. I was able to focus on and finish projects that I started before my diagnosis and my depression subsided.
Now, three years later, the medicines I hoped never to take again remain unused in my medicine cabinet.
My story is evidence of how cannabis therapy can dramatically improve a cancer patient’s healing process and can be used as a legitimate and effective follow-up treatment plan. Unfortunately, this is also evidence of how outdated and problematic the medical cannabis laws are in Texas.
I was some kind of medical refugee in Texas forced to get life-changing drugs from another state.
Cancer patients deserve the dignity and freedom to work with their doctors to create care plans that work for them. You shouldn’t face criminal prosecution for researching a researched and proven drug that is legal in 37 states. You shouldn’t have to be in hospice care to be used compassionately by heads of state in Austin.
This year, lawmakers have an opportunity to save some of Texas’ sickest patients from a health dilemma. It’s time for Texas to take an overdue step forward and give all cancer patients legal access to medical marijuana.
Dorothy Paredes is a breast and ovarian cancer awareness advocate and a founding member of the Texas Cancer Survivors Coalition.