It was a warm spring day in April when Louise celebrated her 79th birthday at home, surrounded by her four children, their spouses, and nine grandchildren. She raised her children there in the home she shared with her husband for 48 years, until his death. It was there that Louise brought everyone together to entertain, to share food and wine and companionship. The home, like Louise, was at the center of her family and it was there with her family that she was happiest. And on that day they all shared joy and love, and celebrated a life well lived. Six weeks later Louise was gone.
For Monica, Louise’s eldest child, the pain is still fresh. When she talks about her mother you can hear the combination of love and loss in her voice. She never gave up hope that her mother would beat the cancer that eventually took her – after all Louise beat cancer twice before. Despite the loss Monica is still grateful that her mother’s last days were at home, surrounded by loved ones. She credits this to Louise’s use of medical cannabis.
“She wasn’t on it for that long,” says Monica, “but the time she was on it did wonders.”
A retired nurse, Louise led a very active life into her 70’s. She loved to laugh, to read, to travel and explore and especially eat good food with friends and loved ones. She kept active in her garden, played scrabble with old friends, visited the local markets and shared time with her family whenever possible. She did aerobics until she was 70, when a broken foot began to slow her down. In 2013 Louise was diagnosed with cancer for the second time in her life, but like the first time two decade earlier, she beat it. Even though her illness took a physical toll on her, Louise was unfailingly positive and supportive, there for others even in the midst of her own struggles.
In the fall of 2015 Louise planned a trip to visit her sister on the coast. It’s possible that even then she knew another struggle was coming, because she requested a CT scan shortly before leaving on the trip. In November of that year the results of the test showed that Louise had metastasized breast cancer in her sternum.
Having been through this twice before, Louise decided to forgo conventional treatment, only taking some prescribed painkillers to deal with internal trauma her body was experiencing. And then she lost her appetite.
Nausea and the inability to eat is a common side-effect of cancer treatment, but for a lover of food like Louise it was torture. In addition, painkillers and the side-effects that came from treatment, began to diminish Louise, to make her a lesser version of herself.
Just as Louise was always there for her children, they were now there for her. They kept her company and cared for her, but they wanted to do more, to help her be herself again. One day Monica discovered a documentary about cancer that mentioned medical cannabis as an alternative treatment. Medical cannabis was not something she had ever seriously considered for her mother. Having worked for a herbalist she knew the healing power of plants, but had never thought of cannabis in that way.
“I had thought about it for her appetite,” Monica says with a chuckle, “but that was a throwback to my youth and the stereotypes about pot.”
Not too long after seeing the documentary a naturopath suggested that they look into cannabis. As if that wasn’t enough of an incentive Louise’s family doctor then asked if they would be open to trying medical cannabis. Cosmic coincidence or divine providence, the family couldn’t ignore the series of events that put medical cannabis in their path. The physician wrote a prescription and the family reached out to CanniMed.
Around the time of Louise’s 79th birthday celebration she started taking CanniMed oils to help relieve her pain and increase her appetite. The family saw an immediate effect on Louise, though not necessarily one they might have predicted.
“We overdid it when administering her first dose,” laughs Monica, “but it didn’t freak her out, which was interesting.”
With cannabis, and oils in particular, there is always a little trial and error to get the dosage just right for the individual. With the help of CanniMed’s pharmacist they quickly determined the proper dosage for Louise, and the results were nothing short of a revelation for the family.
“Once she was on the oils she became herself again. It managed the pain.”
Monica goes on to say, “I loved using the oils with my mother. It’s standardized. You know how much she’s getting and you can regulate it. And for people whose health is already compromised you have to know what they’re ingesting.”
The cannabis oil was so effective that Louise ended up managing her pain almost exclusively with it. She reduced her usage of conventional painkillers to two pills a week. It even got to the point that if she was experiencing some pain she would turn down the pill and patiently wait for her next dose of medical cannabis oil.
The management of pain and return to self meant too that Louise could stay home, close to everyone who loved her.
“You have no idea how important it was being able to keep mom home,” Monica says. “It was quality of life for her and us.”
Louise and Monica and the rest of the family cherished that quality of life together until June when after a series of seizures Louise was taken to the hospital. Shortly after, the woman who so frequently brought family together in her home brought them together one more time at her hospital bed to say goodbye as she passed.
Losing someone you love is never easy, but once the grief begins to subside and the light comes back into your life you can start to appreciate the special moments you had together. For Louise’s family every moment they got with her was a special one. With a little help from medical cannabis they got their mother back, if only for a short time, and they made that time count.
Thank you to Monica for sharing her story with us.
If you have questions about medical cannabis and palliative care, cancer or any illness, please don’t hesitate to reach out – we’re here to help.