Dan's Contro-versial Fight For His Life
We are just an ordinary family in an unenviable position. I know that people will judge us, but as a parent, I would like to put forward the reasons why I feel the decriminalisation of medicinal cannabis should be revisited by our State and Federal Government. For my family this is a matter of urgency.
On 5th February 2010 our beautiful son, Dan had a colonoscopy because he had some rectal bleeding. At age 20 we thought that maybe he had an inflammatory bowel problem. Within a very short period our lives fell apart as he was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer. The adenocarcinoma had spread to his liver. His liver at that time was inoperable.
For four years he has endured multiple major surgeries to his bowel, liver and peritoneum, almost continuous chemotherapy, oncothermia (In Germany), and radiation. He has battled anticipatory nausea where just the thought of chemotherapy would cause him to vomit before he had even left home to go to the clinic for treatment. He would be hospitalised after chemotherapy to give him fluids because his vomiting was so debilitating. His routine, post chemotherapy was to lie still and quiet in a dark hospital room for a couple of days, having only IV fluids. This became the only way he could get through each cycle of chemotherapy. To watch this every fortnight as a parent was absolutely soul destroying. For those who are familiar with the cancer battle, the need to maintain your weight is imperative. Each cycle Dan would lose 5 kilos on chemo week and spend the next week trying to put it back on before his next treatment. The cycle of depression became indelibly linked to chemotherapy treatment and made us all feel powerless.
Dan has also experienced the battle of withdrawals when weaning off OxyContin and Endone which he was prescribed for pain following his liver and peritoneal resections. During this very dark time the withdrawals from these dangerous drugs caused him to become suicidal. None of the medical staff prepared us adequately for the side effects and experience of drug withdrawals from opioids. It was a nightmare.
Last year I was fortunate enough to come across a wonderful man who has himself recently battled bowel cancer. Dwone from 360 Fitness Club (DJ to many) has become a great support to Dan, and to my family. Dan and DJ share common interests and experiences. Dan had been studying Sport Science at University when he became sick and he has always tried very hard to maintain a high level of fitness throughout his cancer treatment. DJ’s support has been amazing and he has become the person I go to when I think Dan is struggling and needs a bit of support. There is a special bond that seems to develop between cancer sufferers (including survivors) the value of which cannot be understated in terms of peer support and empathy.
One day DJ phoned me with a suggestion… he knew Dan was pretty low as a recent scan had showed the cancer had spread to his bone. He introduced the topic cautiously, not knowing how I would react. He suggested Dan try some cannabis as a way of managing his nausea and his poor appetite. He was quick to qualify that he was not a “druggie” as he relayed his own battles during chemotherapy. He said that it had really helped him and he felt sure it would help Dan too. That day was another game changer…….Dan started to use cannabis immediately after chemotherapy.
Dan still has his chemo every fortnight. He has antiemetic medication with his chemotherapy as normal. As soon as he gets home he has a small amount of cannabis and has something to eat. To see this is nothing short of miraculous. He has not vomited since he has been having the cannabis after chemotherapy. He does not use a large amount of the cannabis and specifically uses it to manage his symptoms. The battle to maintain his weight is no longer an issue because he can eat as normal. Importantly, Dan has got some power and control back over a situation whereby previously he had no control.
Dan did not just blindly start using cannabis. He is a sensible and intelligent young man. He and I began to research the use of medicinal cannabis. We found out many interesting facts…
Most importantly for Dan, we discovered that there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that cannabis oil is useful as a treatment for advanced cancer. When you are 24 and have a diagnosis such as Dan’s the very possibility that there is a potential cure for your terminal disease is a form of hope that the doctors are no longer offering. Hope is a concept that is imperative to quality of life for the human spirit. The fact that cannabis is illegal is a complication but certainly not enough reason to not try to make this treatment available to him. Dan has now been using cannabis oil on a regular basis in the hope that the cannabinoids will act on a cellular level and help to destroy the cancer cells. Many will say that this is “clutching at straws” but if it provides hope and medical science is not offering much else what have we got to lose? I am firmly guided by my conscience and will support him with all my might.
The other important thing that we learned is that there was a recent NSW Parliamentary enquiry into the use of medicinal cannabis, the findings of which were released last May. On reading this lengthy document I became hopeful that there was a high degree of support for the decriminalisation of cannabis for the terminally ill. Sad to say that despite unanimous support by all members of this senate committee, who incidentally came from all political persuasions, our Health Minister Jillian Skinner decided to completely disregard the recommendations and put this important issue on the backburner as has been done many times before. The inordinate waste of tax payer funds, not to mention the waste of time and energy by the hundreds of participants should be called into question. To put this important subject away for review in 2 years is preposterous. Unanimous support was given following this Senate inquiry. A review is going to come to the same conclusions as it has in past reviews. What are politicians so scared of that makes them disregard those who need it now?
Decriminalisation of cannabis for use by a specific and small group of terminally ill and suffering people should not be confused with the promotion of recreational use of cannabis. My family has always been anti-recreational drug use. My husband had served in the Police force for 35 years including the drug squad and major crime squads. We raised our three sons to believe that recreational drug use is harmful in every way and I stand by that belief today.
The laws as they stand at the present time have turned my family into criminals as we try to manage debilitating cancer symptoms and to try and get rid of this hideous disease. There are so many people who would benefit from this natural substance. Cancer, Epilepsy, chronic pain sufferers and Aids sufferers are just to name a few. Dan has minimal and very manageable side effects from its use, yet he is a criminal for using it. He can however use prescribed drugs that are highly addictive, dangerous and have very detrimental side effects which create a whole new range of problems for him to try and deal with. Where is the common sense and more importantly where is the duty of care to do the best by our loved ones? Is this really the best that Australia can do because people are ignorant and afraid to make politically sensitive decisions?
Cannabis should be treated like any other prescribed, restricted substance. Daniel should be supported and supervised by his Government, Doctors and Pharmacist instead of having to try and manage the sourcing, preparation and dosage alone. Dan struggles on a daily basis to try and titrate the dose that is right for him. As parents and carers we should be supported instead of fearing criminal prosecution and coping with the added stress of trying to buy cannabis illegally.
The mother in me is certainly not ready to give up on such a dynamic and inspirational young man and I challenge the NSW Health Minister and the NSW Premier to offer Daniel and the thousands of others in the same position the opportunity to tackle their disease in whatever manner that they feel is best for them instead of turning their back on them. Don’t continue to treat families like ours as criminals. Cancer is stressful enough, it would be great to be supported by those who truly can make a difference.