Cannabis and Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy Relief in Sight: A Conversation with Jeanette Bokland, author of “Medical Marijuana Helped Me Survive Cancer Treatment

Marijuana took away my nausea, so I could eat healthy. It took away the severe restlessness and anxiety, so I could relax.

It allowed me to eat, sleep and be up and active when I was awake — all of which are critical to recovery. It didn’t get me “high;” it made me feel halfway normal (as opposed to the prescriptions, which left me feeling drugged and weak). It gave me the strength to continue with chemotherapy when I had reached a point where I really couldn’t tolerate it anymore.

For me, the medical marijuana was a miracle drug, a life-saver. I wished I had used it from the beginning because it was so helpful. And according to our current law, I should go to jail for it.

From “Medical Marijuana Helped Me Survive Cancer Treatment” by Jeanette Bokland, a nurse working in medical software 
Huffington Post, Oct. 22, 2014

About two and a half years ago, you published an essay on Huffington Post describing your use of medical cannabis during your cancer treatment. You live in a state where medical cannabis was not legal at that time. What made you decide to tell your story?

“Colorado yum-yum” (our code name for the edibles) saved my life. The effects were so stunningly subtle, yet pivotal in the decision to find the strength and will to continue treatment. My story had to be shared.

My first chemo treatments, nicknamed The Red Devil, left me increasingly severely nauseated. The prescriptions provided to me left me feeling quite sedated. The combination of sedated-nausea threw me into a very dark, depressive state. I can best describe it as being assaulted by the Dementors — the joy-sucking beasts in the Harry Potter novels. The world went to black and white for me. I spent a lot of time researching what happens to women who don’t complete treatment… I just couldn’t take anymore.

My decision to try the edibles relieved my nausea, appetite-loss and depression-giving me the fortitude to finish my treatment.

What kind of response did you get to your post?

The response to my story was overwhelmingly supportive.

Funny story: Just after I finished treatments, I applied for a job with a consulting firm I knew. They are a very conservative group, but my initial interviews went very well with the HR staff, and they were setting me up with follow-up interviews. On a Friday at 4:55 p.m., I got an abrupt call that they were no longer interested in speaking with me, and my file was being closed.

I was so gobsmacked. My wife suggested I Google my name. First several articles quickly identified me as a lesbian with breast cancer who admits to using medical marijuana.

As a cancer patient, did you talk about your use of marijuana with your physicians? How important is it for a patient to be able to openly discuss cannabis use with a health care provider?

I did discuss it with my oncologist. He gave me a patronizing smile and let me know he was not supportive. We never talked about it again.

I think I shared in my article my heartbreaking request from a friend who was dying of ALS and wanted me to “hook him up.” He could not speak and could only type out his desperate plea for help. Although I gave him all I had left, I was not willing to traffic more for him over state lines. I was so guilt-ridden and really resented that I was put in a position to help myself only, not others.

I did inspire a woman who was also in a chemotherapy treatment to try cannabis to alleviate her symptoms. It did not go well for her! Because she didn’t have a reliable source, she went to her grandson to get her a joint. Because she did not know the content of what she was smoking, she became paranoid. She told me she sat on her kitchen floor, hiding from the flower delivery man who was attempting to drop off flowers. She was convinced it was an undercover cop.

You’re on the board of an organization, Libby’s Legacy Breast Cancer Foundation, that is doing some work with Melissa Etheridge. Can you tell us a little more about that?

We had the good fortune of meeting Melissa Etheridge last fall. She is an activist and a proponent of cannabis and organic living. Since that meeting, she is now a co-founder with us of the Pink Garden Project, a shared organic garden for breast cancer survivors here in Central Florida. I believe we will have more conversations about this as Florida evolves in its cannabis use.

Read Jeanette Bokland’s full post: “Medical Marijuana Helped Me Survive Cancer Treatment”

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