June 21, 2018
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Marijuana and my husband’s struggle with cancer

By Wendy Newell Dyer, Special to the BDN

As voting day draws near, I want to express my support of Question 5 on the ballot on Nov. 3, which would allow a person diagnosed by a physician as suffering from certain medical conditions to possess marijuana for medicinal use.

As a caregiver and now widow of a man who actively fought cancer nonstop for 10 1/2 years, I have seen firsthand the benefits that smoking marijuana brings to those who are sick, in pain or to those who are dying. I believe that there needs to be a more specific law for medicinal marijuana and its distribution that will allow sick people access to medicine without fear of losing one’s job, housing or without fear of being arrested.

In order to honor my husband’s long suffering, I must do whatever I can to share his story in regard to medicinal marijuana to make sure that other dying cancer patients have easier access to this helpful medicine without negative consequences.

My husband, Bill, was diagnosed with incurable prostate cancer in November 1996. He battled cancer nonstop from the time that he was 46 until he was 561/2. There was never a time during that period that he wasn’t on some type of cancer treatment. For the last two years of Bill’s life, he threw up at least once every single day.

At first his nausea was in the morning and it was believed by his health care providers to be caused by the pain medications that he was on, but as his cancer progressed, the cancer itself caused vomiting throughout the day, which is very common. As the cancer burden increases and spreads throughout the body, nausea is a common occurrence.

After smoking marijuana, his nausea would go away and within five minutes he would be able to drink his coffee and eat his breakfast. He tried every anti-nausea medication available and none of them would stop his nausea and vomiting as quickly or for as long as marijuana. Whenever he was in the hospital we had a difficult time controlling his vomiting because he was unable to smoke.

In addition to help controlling his nausea, marijuana did a great job on breakthrough pain that his 200-milligram Fentanyl patch and oral pain medications could not seem to control. He had a great deal of muscle

spasms because the cancer was all throughout his skeleton, peppered in his spine, in every organ, lymph node, all through his skull and in the lining of his brain. He would be in intense discomfort from muscle spasms, but after three or four inhalations, the pain would disappear and the muscles would relax, sometimes for hours.

I spent 101/2 years in various chemotherapy rooms or oncology waiting rooms at Togus, Eastern Maine Medical Center and Dana-Farber in Boston. I learned that it is very, very common for cancer patients to buy and smoke marijuana. Many oncologists either suggest it or support its use because they have talked with enough patients to know that it helps sick people feel better.

We had to spend an average of $150 a month for marijuana for my husband. That came out of our own pockets. This was a financial burden given that we were living on disability and had three sons at home. In addition to the financial burden, my husband often felt like a common criminal.

There was one time that my husband was at our son’s high school basketball game when he was suddenly overcome with nausea. He had to go out into our car and smoke, hoping that no one would see him. He told me that he thought that it was bizarre that as a cancer patient he had to feel like a criminal and smoke his medicine in secret, while at the same time 20 adults stood outside the gym door on school property smoking cigarettes and not breaking the law.

Under current law, there is no safe and reliable way for patients to get marijuana. They must either grow their own or buy it on the black market. Question 5 would correct this problem by “setting up a system of tightly regulated non-profit medical marijuana dispensaries that would give qualified patients safe and reliable access to the medicine their doctors recommend.” It would also protect them from losing a job or home because of their use of this beneficial medicine.

My husband’s story is like so many other cancer patients or patients with long-term, painful and debilitating illnesses. It is inhumane to continue to make these people feel like criminals just because they want relief from their suffering. Please vote yes on Question 5 so that cancer patients and others with debilitating illnesses can have easier access to this helpful medication.

Wendy Newell Dyer lives in Jonesport.

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