At only 41, just months after marrying the love of his life, Stephen had gone to the doctor complaining of stomach pains and the inability to keep anything down. He re-emerged with a diagnosis: stage-3 pancreatic cancer, inoperable due to a very large tumor wrapping itself around a major artery in his abdomen. In essence, a death sentence.
He and his husband Wade’s savings were quickly bled dry by their $2,400-a-month insurance premium plus general expenses. Stephen is unable to work since his life has become a blur of excruciating pain, treatments, hope, fear and heavy doses of opioids like fentanyl and oxycodone.
Stephen first heard about the reported pain relief benefits of medical marijuana and CBD oil for cancer patients a year into his treatment. When he asked his doctors about applying for a medical marijuana card, their reluctance confused him. Still, he persisted and when he started using both, he found they controlled his symptoms as well or, in some cases, better than opioids. He also found out that no insurance company covers their high costs.
Politicians have been embroiled in contentious debates for years about the morality and logistics of legalizing medical marijuana despite reputable studies, like the Rand study, which supports its efficacy. In the meantime, people like Stephen suffer. I decided to document Stephen’s life because his story had something valuable to remind us all about the gap between the abstract moralizing of politicians and the needs of the people they represent.
Wade adds Osmolite formula, a therapeutic nutrition for patients with increased calorie and protein needs, to a drip every other night to help Stephen maintain a healthy weight. The procedure takes eight hours and is very uncomfortable. Lack of appetite and nausea leading to unhealthy weight loss are common for pancreatic patients. The use of medical marijuana has helped Stephen greatly with these symptoms.
When a patient visits Columbia Care for the first time, they meet with a pharmacist who takes them through a full consultation to determine what products they may respond to best.
“In the higher-THC products,” Reed explains, “there can be a euphoric feeling which might not be so bad for patients going through a hard time. It’s similar to the side-effects you’d get from other meds like Valium. I encourage patients to think of it that way. It’s just a side-effect similar to those of other medications they may have already taken. There is still that sense of taboo or stigma that goes along with marijuana. A lot of what we’ve been trying to do is to de-stigmatize it.
Rosemary Mazanet, an oncologist by original training, is chief scientific officer for Columbia Care. “When I think about the disconnect between the enormous promise that cannabis products bring and the fact that there’s such an air about it that makes it tawdry, it comes down to the fact that it’s federally illegal.”
Read the complete story in The Guardian