~ by Regina Nelson ~
Several years ago, I had breast reconstruction surgery for a number of health reasons and included silicone implants—but it has kept me abreast of my breast health (sorry had to insert that one) because it drove home the importance of good breast health leading me to annual mammograms and regular self-checks.
In the past three years much in my life has changed. One of the most important things is that I’ve gotten involved in the cannabis community, as a patient, an advocate and a researcher. However, my life’s circumstances have put me in the position of starving college student (just hours from PhD candidacy) and non-profit leadership (still struggling to pay the bills) — so, I find myself, and have for some time, without health insurance. “Obamacare” would be welcome, as I wait on a lottery type list for Medicaid in Colorado. As a single adult without dependents (my children are all adults—I’m a grandma now) my health needs, like those of many others, are not important to my nation.
About seven months ago I found a small lump in my left breast. At first, I wasn’t sure if the implant had ruptured, the lump was soft, but it began to harden as time went on. You see, I had no options for a mammogram—the only “free” ones offered in Southern CA, where I was temporarily living with my youngest daughter, required I be at least 50 years old to qualify for the health assistance. I am only 49.
Then about four months ago, I noticed a small hard lump in my right breast, almost under my arm—more concerning than what I thought was probably just a fatty tumor in my left breast. I was concerned and spending a lot of time convincing myself all was well… nothing to worry about.
The truth is I had a theory: I’d noticed the soft lump in my left breast in January about two weeks after I had started a high THC oil (cannabis oil)—RSO or Rick Simpson Oil— low dose treatment and I thought perhaps as my body’s endocannabinoid system was improving, my body was fighting off ‘bad things’… I can’t quite explain it, but it felt that way. I did not follow the RSO protocol of 60 grams over 90 days that seems to be fairly common knowledge in the cannabis community and a recommendation from the Rick Simpson folks. Why? Well, first, I had no access to it. When I found it in a dispensary in CA at $60 for 3.5 grams I was elated (far less expensive than I’d seen before—I’ve seen $80 per gram in NM at a dispensary) so I spent what I could and left with 7 grams, all I could afford. That’s the last RSO I saw in a dispensary for over 9 months. I also had no access through friends or even contacts I have within the cannabis industry—it’s difficult to get, but critical for patients.
Using a dose of this high THC oil, “the size of a grain of rice,” every evening for 90 days did a number of good things for me. First, it stopped the bladder spasms I had been suffering with for over 2 years; spasms that caused me a great deal of pain. Medical tests that were excruciatingly painful revealed no abnormalities. Several physicians assured me this was common among women my age and suggested I take one of three prescriptions to control the pain and spasms. Each of these prescriptions would exacerbate my digestive issues and anemia—so I refused and continued to medicate only with cannabis, which managed the pain I was experiencing. Doctors assured me I’d need to take the pharmaceuticals they recommended for 3-6 months before I’d know if they might work—and, by the way—I would probably will lose a big patch of my hair too. No thanks! I saw no need to take pharmaceuticals that have adverse effects if I could continue managing my symptoms with cannabis. Vaping, dabbing, and edibles all helped control the bladder spasms, but the RSO stopped the spasms after only 3 weeks of use. I haven’t had a cramp or spasm in months.
Second, I began to sleep again. Chronic illness often leads to insomnia or perhaps insomnia leads to chronic illness, I don’t know but they go hand in hand. I love sleep, I had missed sleep after years of insomnia, and it felt so good to sleep again. A four hour night, then a six hour night…within three months I was regularly sleeping seven to eight hours a night. A miracle!
Though I was still struggling with nausea, vomiting (again unexplained by doctors except it ‘might’ be related to past prescription use), and weight loss—I began to feel better, I gained energy, and I was moving toward improved health. However, the lumps in my breast didn’t go away they grew and began to get harder constantly reminding me of my healthcare crisis. In fact, over the months my left breast became a bit misshapen and seemed to bulge. Extremely concerned about a ruptured implant I asked a friend, a nurse, to check the lump. She seemed fairly confident the implant had not ruptured but was quite concerned about the lump. When I mentioned I also had one in my right breast and she checked it, she was freaked out. Yet, without health insurance there wasn’t much to be done about it.
In a couple of ways I am blessed by genetics. First, breast cancer does not run in my family—and given that I also breast fed my children, my statistical chances of breast cancer are reasonably low. Second, I am fortunate that in my lineage runs Cherokee blood because Indian Health Services has become my only option for healthcare.
Given the circumstances of my research I have just found myself relocated right into the heart of Colorado: Denver. And, luckily, Denver has an IHS office! Not only that, but I able to schedule an intake appointment within a week—shockingly great news for IHS. The Nurse Practitioner was thorough given the circumstances (it is IHS) and went out of her way to get a mammogram scheduled—getting the Imaging Center to waive the must be 50 rule, since I am only 3 months from that magic date anyway (May she be blessed).
She also was quite concerned about the right lump, much more so that the lump in my left breast that had begun to soften again. Noting the right lump had a number of concerning signs and was about 2 centimeters—she tsk’d me for not having it examined sooner but acknowledged there wasn’t much I could do given my zero income and ‘still can’t qualify for healthcare assistance circumstances’—but she took action (again, may she be blessed).
Two days before this exam, I began a high CBD treatment program. This particular program, offered by River Rock Wellness in Denver, offers a number of dosing options from their Sour Tsunami and other high CBD strains. Mark and I have been following our progress daily taking note of a number of wonderful side effects including greatly improved sleep and energy. My mammogram was scheduled for day 16 of the treatment program—exactly 13 days after I saw the Nurse Practitioner.
My hope when I walked into the Imaging Center today was that the tumor on my left breast really was just a small (much smaller than 2 weeks ago) fatty tumor that would continue to fade away. But, truthfully I was worried about the lump on the right side—so worried, I hadn’t checked it lately…just tried to shove it out of my mind until I could ‘know’ something—and well, today, I knew I’d know…
In the two weeks, since I began the high CBD program my breasts had not been checked since day 3 when I left the NP appointment. Today, when the nurse asked me to identify where the lumps were, the one on the left felt like jelly under the skin—and the one on the right, well…the weird thing was I couldn’t find it. After some discussion, I identified the area I knew it to be in and the nurse placed a sticker in the approximate area—and then we began.
Good news, the implants look great—no ruptures! The better news—neither the technician nor the doctor could find any sign of a lump or mass in either breast. The small, really soft bulge that remains on the left breast is caused by 1) weight loss (doctor suggested I eat a box of Krispy Kremes), and 2) a small wrinkle in the implant. The relief I felt was palpable… but it took a bit for the shock to wear off. Truly, it still seems unbelievable… I think I am still in shock.
When I walked out of the office, Mark joined me in the waiting room and as we exited together, he looked at me expectantly, and I began to explain what the doctor didn’t find. He was also shocked… he had felt those lumps many times and had been tracking them pretty closely – he was very worried. He is certain that just a week ago the one in the right breast remained—small but hard, about the size of a garbanzo bean. He asked several times, “Are you sure?” Yes—saw the ultrasounds myself. In fact, I have a follow up in three months, just ‘in case’ because the doctor was a bit surprised as well. Guessing, Mark will check it out later tonight, he’s better than most medical professionals and a lot more fun—but it really is gone.
While I sat waiting for the mammogram and then for the ultrasound that followed I saw at least 15 women come and go; all nervous to some degree, even those ‘routinely’ engaging in this healthcare ritual. This is only one office among hundreds across our nation—perhaps thousands—all busy five days a week. How many women, especially those who have a ‘concern,’ wouldn’t give CBD a chance if they knew about it? It’s not toxic, it’s only mildly psychoactive, and well, it gets results. And those who know they have cancer or a family history of cancer—why would they not only give it a try? In a short period of time it’s started doing exactly what science suggests it will in my own body—it is helping my body find homeostasis: balance. This article is already too long to go into a good discussion of the values of THC or CBD—but me, I am sold on cannabis—and know we have much to learn about its medical efficacy and how these cannabinoids engage synergistically with our body’s own endocannabinoid system.
I am truly blessed today—because in a society that seems to care little about healthcare for people like me (the ill and poor), a cannabis healthcare provider cared for and about me. Cannabis is not covered by health insurance, though many hundreds of patients I’ve met spend far less on it than they had on pharmaceuticals each month. Yet, when they replace the prescriptions that are often covered by medical insurance for cannabis they must pay and they must pay cash. As I’ve mentioned, I currently have no income, so my cash is seriously limited. CBD treatments, even CBD strains of cannabis, are expensive, typically more expensive than high THC strains—and if I haven’t said so in clear enough terms, they’re hard to find.
Just a few weeks ago I was introduced to the first comprehensive high CBD treatment program I’ve discovered to date—and across several states. River Rock Wellness in Denver has come up with a program that combines high CBD strains of cannabis with amino acids—offering a number of active CBD products. After listening to my circumstances they offered to sponsor my medication at a significantly reduced rate (May they be blessed). Each day Mark and I receive emails, messages, and texts from patients all over this nation, many are begging us for help—they are desperately searching for a treatment plan just like this. Some have cancer, others MS or other terminal or chronic illnesses and all are in pain. Their messages break my heart and they motivate me—healthcare as we know it has to change—and the drug war has to stop! Innocent people are brutalized everyday over a plant—a plant that is nutritious and healthy for the body.
I am blessed because for the first time I have access to medication that is truly improving my health; medicine that is forbidden in many states, even medicalized states because policy makers and others outside of this community have no real knowledge of cannabis as medicine or the many fashions it is used as a medicine. It’s time they learned!
It’s taken just about all I had to get here: physically… mentally… etc. I am weak and I am still recovering my health… I am not well, but, today I have hope—I have experienced my own miracle of sorts and dammit, I needed it! I am sick and tired of being sick and tired! I want to be well! And, I want to help others get well! No one should suffer if their pain can be so easily removed.
I’ve been given opportunity and with that comes responsibility. You can bet I will be sharing this story and encouraging other patients with similar experiences to share their stories as well—it’s time for a change…our healthcare system is broken.
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