Patient Experiences and Resources For Fighters
In a survey published earlier this month, it was reported that, of more than 600 adults with a breast cancer diagnosis, a high percentage of them used cannabis to help treat their symptoms, but didn’t tell their doctors about it. As October draws to a close, we end another Breast Cancer Awareness Month with even more promising research coming out that cannabis may be helpful in the treatment of breast cancer. And yet, so many patients still struggle to discuss their cannabis use with their care team.
As part of the effort to end the stigma and help breast cancer patients be more forthcoming about their cannabis use, we’d like to bring one of these patient stories to light and provide additional resources for those battling this difficult condition.
A Breast Cancer Patient’s Journey
Wendy J. is a breast cancer patient and cannabis advocate living in Columbus, Ohio. Throughout her treatment, she’s used legal medical marijuana to help treat her symptoms. Here’s a little more about her journey:
Q: When you were first diagnosed with breast cancer, did you have the option to try cannabis? Had you tried it before and if so, did you think it would help in your treatment?
“Yes, I not only had the option, I had access to cannabis through a medical program and knowledgeable physicians in the cannabis industry guiding me. I thought it would help and I still believe it’s working.”
Q: What side effects did it help with the most?
“I didn’t need chemotherapy. I had 2 tumors prior to surgery that I was trying to reduce the size of. But after learning the type of cancer I had, I immediately stopped the high doses [of what? – chemo or cannabis?]. The physician I worked with explained a lot to me about the plant being female and full of phytoestrogen, which was contraindicated at that time secondary to having an estrogen sensitive cancer. But I was encouraged to ‘microdose’ to keep cell homeostasis and my ECS full versus depleting it completely.
After my mastectomy and with the cancer being ‘gone’, I was able to return to full use of cannabis which I use for anxiety, sleep, and ‘discomfort’. I don’t get enough ‘pain’ relief unless I use FECO. I do not have any associated ‘pain’; more discomfort from surgeries/ body morphing and angst.”
Q: Are there any particular cannabis products you found helpful in treatment? (Brand or strain names, forms of administration, creams, tinctures, etc.)
“Girl Scout Cookies! My go to for sleep and ‘discomfort’ and high in caryophyllene.
Blue Dream, for sleep. It’s a hybrid but full of myrcene.
I also use topicals of CBD and/ or THC on my affected breast for an inhibitor to local cancer recurrence. I declined radiation after 3 positive lymph nodes were found. That’s within the long term studies done by the ACS on needing radiation. According to those studies, if a patient has three or less positive nodes, they may be able to forgo radiation. Newer studies err on the side of caution (and fear) and recommend you get radiation. The radiation oncologists wanted to give me radiation. Radiation diminishes the chance of local recurrence. But I declined.
So I have chosen to put cannabis topicals on that area, on the affected side, under the arm, my neck and across the breast where radiation would have been directed. I am taking a chance, that I know. My research assured me we have CB1 & 2 receptors in our skin and I believe in my choice of treatment, which I will continue for the rest of my life. This has one side effect: greenish tint stains in my bras, and I can live with that.”
Q: What advice would you give to new breast cancer patients considering trying cannabis for the first time as part of their treatment?
“Make sure you are making INFORMED decisions that you feel confident in. If you know a physician that has VAST cannabis knowledge concerning breast cancer or other cancers, be sure to get their input. Go to conferences, do your homework! I cannot stress that enough. Cannabis is not right for all types. Be familiar with the works of Dr. Deb Kimless, Dr. Christina Sanchez, and Mara Gordon, founder of Aunt Zelda’s.
Read Project CBD articles on BC until your brain hurts.”
Q: Any other important points about cannabis and breast cancer you think readers should know?
“First, know what type of breast cancer you have, then go forward with alternative treatment. I would never suggest anyone forgo traditional therapy. Use cannabis as an adjunct to normal breast cancer protocol.
It’s imperative you understand the plant BEFORE trying to do this on your own. I was lucky and had connections to cannabis physicians that have studied BC and cannabis for decades. Knowledge is power, ignorance is fear.”
Resources in Ohio for Breast Cancer Patients Who Use Cannabis
Resources for breast cancer patients and survivors have become abundant in past years, but surprisingly few of these support services address medical marijuana as a treatment aid. This was one reason why Lydia Gall founded WomenCann, a non-profit organization with the mission of empowering women by providing a safe space for education, support, and advocacy surrounding cannabis and the women in Ohio. Lydia provided some insight on why so many breast cancer patients fear telling their doctors about their cannabis use:
Q: What can breast cancer patients and doctors do so that patients can be more forthcoming when it comes to their bc treatment?
“Still today, many women fear consulting with their physician about their health issues, medications, and treatments as many women have encountered the pattern of not being taken seriously by physicians. Not only this, but when a politically controversial treatment is involved, such as cannabis, it can be scary to talk about a medicine that works, out of fear it will be taken away. Your doctor is the one that’s supposed to have all the knowledge they possibly can to give the most effective treatment, right? At least that is how it should be.
Physicians need to stay up to date with the cannabis industry: cannabis clinical trials, research, and education. The problem that most cannabis patients encounter is that they are dealing with a doctor who grew up under the stigma around cannabis use and only learned about the ECS [Endocannabinoid System] for a chapter in med school. Science is always changing as we make new discoveries and medicine can always be improved. The reality is, cannabis is only looked so down upon due to political propaganda.
Patients on the other hand, need to be honest with their doctor if they are wanting to add cannabis into their treatment plan or have already. This is to avoid any interactions between cannabis and breast cancer treatment, and open communication with your doctor is the best way to avoid risks and dangers and provide the most helpful treatment plan.”
Q: In what ways does science say medical marijuana can help patients with their breast cancer? Are there any dangers to using cannabis during bc treatment that patients should be concerned about?
“There are more pro-cannabis research studies pertaining to breast cancer patients than anti-cannabis research studies, but most of these studies have happened in vitro, which means there’s not a lot of clinical studies that have been done. The studies done in vitro are helpful in educating the mechanisms behind how cannabis can provide symptomatic relief and even be used as a treatment option.
A recent article published in June of 2021 goes in depth with the mechanism of action behind the anti-cancer properties of cannabinoids in breast cancer cells. They found that CBD was the most promising cannabinoid at preventing the spread and increase of breast cancer cells and that cannabinoids overall ‘appear to be less toxic to health cells than other anti-cancer therapies currently used in clinic’. It is highly encouraged to be open with your physician if you are wanting to use cannabis or are already using cannabis with your breast cancer treatment as we don’t quite know all the interactions and dangers associated with it. Not being honest with your doctor can possibly result in more complications.”
Q: What can women do who are diagnosed with breast cancer and want to utilize cannabis as part of their treatment, but don’t have a doctor or oncologist who supports cannabis for medical purposes?
“You have a couple options. Option one, you can provide education for your physician about cannabis and case studies of those it has helped before. Many physicians just aren’t aware of their own state’s cannabis program or even cannabis as medicine. Option two, simply change doctors. There are many cannabis prescribing physicians and ‘good’ ones can sometimes be difficult to find. Resources such as MedicateOH and WomenCann can help guide and support those in need or finding a doctor or oncologist who supports cannabis.”
Q: How can organizations like WomenCann support breast cancer patients?
“Organizations like WomenCann can help through education, support and advocacy. We are a resource for patients for education around cannabis specific to women and women’s health issues. We are a resource for support, with support groups, mentorship and collaboration so that no one has to feel they are going through breast cancer alone. We are a resource for advocacy. Advocating for acceptance and de-stigmatization around using plant based medicine, such as cannabis, as relief or even treatment.”
If you’d like to consider medical marijuana as a complement to your breast cancer treatment, make an appointment with Duber Medical to learn more.
Author: Gabrielle Dion Visca
Gabrielle has been writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries for more than 20 years. She’s held positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop. She currently writes articles about medical marijuana for Duber Medical, and is the founder of the Ohio cannabis journalism non-profit, MedicateOH.