Cancer Chemotherapy

Steve Mitchell

I am a 46-year-old seagoing Tug Master from the West Coast We are presently at sea and have no access to a word processor or typewriter, so I apologize for the cumbersome handwriting correspondence, but please bear with me because I believe what I have to say is important.

I am a cancer patient in remission. I was properly diagnosed with testicular cancer in October, 1991. The cancer had aggressively metastasized throughout my abdominal lymphatics, lungs, and into the bone of my spine at site T-12. Reason being, I had let the disease run its course (not willing to admit or believe I was that ill) for a long time and then after seeking professional help was misdiagnosed for several months thereafter. When I finally sought out proper help in the San Francisco Bay area, 200 miles south of where I live in northern California, I was hospitalized immediately.

During my hospitalization I had an orchiectomy, a laminectomy at T-12, and a radical lymphodectomy of the abdomen including my left kidney and adrenal glands. I had a full regimen of CIS-Platin, MAX-RADS at T-12 (because the tumor in the spine was not yet discovered before the laminectomy and left behind), was on IV nutrients (I lost 70 pounds) and, oh yes, IV Dilaudid for pain. My first surgical procedure for the removal of my left testicle was anesthetized by epidural (below T-12). The anesthetic didn’t have much room to be absorbed because of unknown swelling at T-12. When it was pushed in my legs shot straight out and I felt an intense burning sensation. I yelled out, "That really hurts!" at which point the anesthesiologist stopped pushing the drug and exclaimed, "Boy, I’ve never seen that happen before." He had a short conference with the surgeon, who said, "Let’s proceed," and then the rest of the anesthesia was forced into the spine. I eventually went under only to come out during the procedure, probably when they were pushing in more anesthetic. I managed to get to my hands and knees on the operating table in a delirious state, screaming my head off in pain, with a needle in my spine. It took everybody in that room and some help from a couple of orderlies outside to get me back under control and complete the procedure. Phew! What a nightmare -- I remember it like it was yesterday.

Two days later, when they came to weigh me in the morning, I stood to get on the scales and fell flat out on the floor. I was paralyzed from T-12 down. I was then rushed in for an emergency laminectomy to relieve the pressure on my spine. Part of the vertebra was removed from T-12, the same place where the tumor was later identified and radiated. Where I’m going with this is pain and pain management. I know pain!!

I had projective heaves from the combined radiation/chemotherapy the likes of which are indescribable, and also chronic hiccups. I was in a research group for an anti-nausea drug called Zofran, at $1,000 a pop for a small IV packet. The more of it I took, the sicker I got. I regurgitated because I was not eating solids, couldn’t keep them down. Must have been my stomach lining, at least that’s what it felt like. Because of the back surgery, every time I heaved or hiccuped it was white-flash, drop you to your knees, tears flowing down your cheeks, pain. I consider myself a pretty macho guy, played football all my life (high school and college), surf, water ski, skin-dive, racquet ball, etc. I love rough and tumble sports, have generally a high tolerance to pain. If I say I’m hurtin’, I am hurtin’. Well, I was hurtin’. Remember now, I’m on IV Dilaudid with an hourly bolus on request, which I never missed if I was conscious. The drugs can’t touch that kind of pain. They put you in another frame of mind by which you don’t care, or you pass out, but the pain is always there.

Another thing all this pain and suffering brings about is major anxiety attacks. I never knew what anxiety was before this experience. I thought I did. I knew the dictionary definition, and I thought I had experienced anxiety before, but boy was I ever wrong. This was the type of anxiety that probably only a heroin addict could begin to understand. You want to just crawl out of your skin. Make it stop at all costs. You want to leave your body, jump out of the nearest high window, which I probably would have done if I could have gotten to my feet! All the while being given every anti-anxiety drug under the sun, for, once again major bucks.

My wife (who lived by my side during this whole ordeal, bless her heart) and I had heard of cancer patients finding relief in smoking marijuana. Of course we consulted all of my doctors (of which I had about a dozen) and their posture on the subject all seemed about the same. "It’s illegal." "It’s against hospital policy." "What would you want to do that for?" "You’ll be thrown out of the hospital." But, "We’d gladly give you a prescription for Marinol. It’s synthetic THC and will do everything for you smoking marijuana can, and more, and it’s a mere $500.00 for a script of fifty." Well, it didn’t do shit. I could even keep one of them down, and when I could it resulted in no positive effect whatsoever.

For five weeks the symptoms kept getting worse, and all the while I was losing more weight. Then an executive from the tow boat company I was working for dared to ask my wife if I had tried smoking pot. She told him we had asked about it but were greeted with a great deal of negativity and hostility. She said they seemed to act like it’s really heavy drugs or something. Ted said, "HE’S ON IV DILAUDID FOR CHRIST SAKES!!!" He went on to explain how his elderly mother-in-law had also suffered for many years with cancer, eventually to the death. The old gal never swore, drank, smoked her entire life, but eventually she let a friend talk her into trying the marijuana. Ted said, "It was the only thing of all the drugs she had been given that gave her any relief from her symptoms. Steve has got to try it! He’s got nothing to lose, and he’s tried everything else and it’s not working!"

The next time Ted came by he brought my wife a joint. That night, after the nurse had made her last rounds some time after midnight, my wife pushed my bed over to an open window, rolled up a couple of towels and stuffed them under the door, and had me fire up this joint. I only took three or four hits and had immediate relief. It took away the nausea and I had an appetite. My wife went out to find the nurse to see if there was any food left in the galley. The nurse said, "No, I’m sorry the galley is closed. Why? Are you hungry?" My wife said "No, Steve is." The nurse replied, "If Steve is, we’ll find something." My wife said, "By the way, come here for a second, I want you to see something." She led her off to my room. I could see the shock and surprise in her face when she saw me. It was like she was seeing a revived coma patient. I was sitting up smiling and joking around, and I was hungry. She had just seen me not more than an hour before and she was amazed at the difference. She exclaimed, "My word, what has brought about this miracle?" I’m thinking, no miracle, marijuana! When my wife told her, she freaked out! "Oh my God, don’t tell me that. It’s illegal! I’ll lose my job! They’ll kick you out of the hospital!" etc. My wife responded, "You just try to kick us out of the hospital."

We played it cool, kept it to ourselves and that one nurse, so as not to make waves. The doctors thought their miracle Zofran was finally beginning to work. I though to myself, Boy! What a bunch of educated idiots. To this day I can’t imagine how such a large group of well-educated people could all simultaneously be suffering from mass narrow-mindedness. You think that doctors have the education and knowledge and when they tell you something in that authoritative tone, being a layman, you don’t question it. You think they know what’s best. It’s their job to know. Boy, was I ever wrong. In reality, you have to self-educate, do your homework and research, and take responsibility for yourself, pal. Most people don’t realize what’s going on. I know I didn’t. After I got proactive in my treatment, there were more proposed procedures that I put a halt to, and I’m glad I did. I’m sure my insurance company would be, too, if they realized it.

Besides allowing me to eat, which helped me get my strength back, marijuana took away that anxiety that I described before. I can’t say that it relieved the pain exactly, but it definitely relieved the anxiety and allowed me to better deal with the pain, which the anxiety seemed to amplify.

My pharmaceutical bill for just my first month in the hospital was in excess of $65,000.00. I am one of how many thousand other patients across the country who had a similar bill for that same month. Big money in legal drugs, probably as much or more than illegal drugs. Pharmaceutical companies don’t seem to want to let the word get out that widespread relief can be found from something you can grow in a window box in your kitchen. And its synthetic form doesn’t work, as their doctors would have you believe. It only seems to work smoked in its pure form. Why? I do not know. But I only know it’s true, because I have literally tried everything else. You don’t have to smoke it ‘till you drop dead from lung disease! Any fuckin’ moron could tell them that! (I apologize for my passion on this subject.) And, as far as it being a gateway drug, that is also complete bullshit. For the disciplined individual with strong ethics who is merely looking for some relief of their suffering from a terrible disease, marijuana poses no threat of sending them into a tailspin of drug addiction like Dilaudid, which is perfectly legal..

Dr. Grinspoon, thank you for taking on this project. There are many people out there suffering that need your help and need to know the truth. I hope this letter lends some merit to what you’re doing. If there is anything else I can do to help, or if you have any questions concerning my experiences, please contact me any time.


Steve Mitchell
99 Palomino Way
Garberville, CA 95542
(707) 923-2709


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