Why Lori S. couldn’t wait for the law to save her life.
I found out five years ago that I had triple negative breast cancer. Half of the women diagnosed with this disease die within two years, forty percent die after five years, and the other ten percent are somewhere thereafter. At that time, I had never dabbled with drugs, but I found myself undergoing chemotherapy, major surgery and 25 rounds of radiation in the blink of an eye.
Despite that, when it came round to my second annual mammogram, the cancer was back. My breast surgeon at the time recommended a mastectomy, but I asked to be tested to see if the cancer had spread anywhere else. “If it’s spread to your lungs or your liver you won’t need a mastectomy anymore,” he said, “because you’ll die of it anyway.” I hated that guy.
It turns out it had spread to my lungs after all. Now, my diagnosis had changed—terminal.
Everybody tries to get past five years—to stay alive for five years after their diagnosis—but here I was at just over the two-year mark being told my cancer had progressed. I cried for three weeks but then I thought, “Well, what if I make it another ten years and I’ve spent the whole time crying?” It’s a waste of time and energy—I had to pick myself up and do something. So, after having the top third of my lung removed in December 2015, I decided I was going to try cannabis treatment.
I went to my family doctor first, but he wouldn’t give me a license: he said cannabis works as a treatment for epilepsy but not for anything else. After he said no, I began talking to anyone I could think of. I started this journey at 58 years old, and what I’ve realized that if you ask enough people, someone will help you. There’s a real kind of pay-it-forward attitude in the underground medical cannabis world, thank god.
I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew I needed something with high THC because my cancer was triple negative, but if you’re triple positive and you take something with high levels of THC you can actually increase the size of your tumour, so it’s important to do your research before experimenting with this stuff—even if you’re desperate.
There’s so many different ways to take cannabis: orally, rectally, capsules, mixing it with coconut oil…I kept going until I found a method that worked for me, and then I slowly started increasing my doses until I was hitting close to the amount of grams my research told me I needed. After about six months, I was approved to purchase cannabis legally, so I started getting my supply from the government—I didn’t know at the time what I know now, which is that the legal cannabis had just a third of the THC levels than the cannabis I was purchasing illegally.
When I went back for my first CT scan a year after my lung surgery, the doctor couldn’t believe how small my tumours were. I decided to combine my cannabis treatment with chemotherapy, and within three months my tumour had reduced in size by thirty percent. However, the decreased THC levels began to catch up with me, and in February this year it was confirmed that my tumour had started growing again.
I was dying. I didn’t have time to wait around for the government to legalize increased THC levels in Ontario, or even to wait the six-to-eight months it was taking them to process my application to grow my own plant. I didn’t want to pay $100 a month for watered-down oil. So I started back on chemotherapy, and I went underground again for a cannabis supply with three times the dose of the legal stuff.
At my CT scan at the end of May, they found out my tumour has stabilized, though they did discover a small tumour in my brain. I know it’s the increased THC levels that are keeping me alive.
The good news is I got my grow license this week, so I can really get the medicine I want now, which is why I’m not too worried about the tumor.
I’m not naïve. I know that cannabis can work for some cancers and not for others—but you could say the same for chemo. I often think if I ever make it to ten years, and I see that breast surgeon in the hospital who told me I was doing to die anyway, I’ll look him right in the eye and say, “Remember me?”