Ahh, cancer. One learns so much from being diagnosed
with a death-sentence disease. Of course, 95% of it is stuff you would
rather not know, but that other 5% is downright interesting. For example,
“America’s Next Top Model” is much more fun to watch when
you’ve lost 15 pounds without trying. During chemotherapy, vanilla
smells good, but vanilla wafers taste disgusting. And eyelashes really do
have a purpose; without them, my eyes are a dust magnet.
But the most compelling fact I learned was about my
friends. Not just what you would expect: how they cooked for my family and
picked up my kids and took me to doctors and pretended not to notice how
bad I looked and, most important, that I could not -- cannot -- survive
No, what really shocked me was how many of my old,
dear, married, parenting, job-holding friends smoke pot. I am not kidding.
People I never expected dropped by to deliver joints and buds and private
stash. The DEA could have set a security cam over my front door and made
some serious dents in the marijuana trade. The poets and musicians were
not a surprise, but lawyers? CEOs? Republicans? Across the ideological
spectrum, a lot of my buddies are stoners. Who knew?
OK, I admit it, in college I smoked dope with the
rest of them. I mean, everybody was doing it -- an excuse I do not allow
my children -- and at parties I didn’t want to be uncool. Plus, I felt
my only other option was alcohol, and the sweet drinks I liked were too
fattening. But that was a long time ago, and since then I have learned to
drink bourbon straight, get high on life and appreciate the advantages of
not doing anything you wouldn’t want your kids to do.
I thought all my friends felt the same. Boy, was I
wrong. When I surfaced from my chemo haze enough to care about anyone
else, I was curious. Why do so many 40- and 50-somethings still get high?
I asked my suppliers. Pain was the No. 1 answer. Not just the psychic
angst of being mothers and fathers to teenagers, but real physical pain.
We’re all beginning to fall apart, and for those who imbibe, a couple of
tokes really take the edge off the sciatica, rotator cuff injuries,
irritable bowel syndrome and migraines.
The second biggest reason was anxiety. Perhaps we can
blame politics for middle-age pot use: the war, the environment, the loss
of our civil liberties, little things like that.
Obviously some of us use drugs to ease the lives of
quiet desperation we never thought we would have back when we were getting
stoned the first time. Our drug use now is really the same as in college.
Then I got high to relax, to gain confidence, to forget I was an
overweight, mediocre college student terrified of the future. Now we get
stoned to relax, forget our disappointing careers and mask our terror of
not just our own future but the future for our kids as well. Is it so
different from my dad coming home from work and having a couple of
martinis? Or my mother and those little prescribed pills she took when she
felt “nervous”? At least -- we can rationalize -- marijuana is all
I spoke to my oncologist about the pros and cons of
marijuana use for cancer patients. He said he was part of a study 25 years
ago on the effects of pot on nausea, joint pain and fatigue caused by
chemotherapy. It worked then, he said; it really helped some people. But
now they have great new drugs, such as Emend, dexamethasone and Ativan,
that keep the nausea and other pain at bay. He said the people who use pot
now do it because they like it. Or maybe they use it because they would
rather support a farm in Humboldt County than a huge pharmaceutical
After chemo No. 1, I was violently ill. Anti-nausea
drugs notwithstanding, I was hugging the porcelain throne. My body did not
want to be poisoned; I guess it liked cancer better. I was willing to try
anything, so I lit up. It helped. A lot. I collapsed on the couch, I zoned
out watching “Project Runway,” I was able to take deep breaths without
My 15-year-old daughter was shocked. The look on her
face was proof that her elementary school D.A.R.E. program had really done
its job. A friend -- not a supplier or a user -- explained to her it was
just to make me feel better and that if it worked, wouldn’t that be
great? My daughter reluctantly agreed, but I knew she didn’t mean it. I
had come full circle in my life -- the next time I had a toke, I stood in
my bathroom with the fan on, blowing smoke out the window, but instead of
my parents, I was scared my kids would find out I was smoking dope again.
The biggest pain of cancer is the gnawing,
scratching, bleeding dread that they didn’t find it all, that you
didn’t go to the doctor soon enough, that it is growing out of control
at this very moment. My doctor recommended meditation. Yeah, right, I
thought, more time sitting quietly trying not to think about dying. I had
carpool for that. Meanwhile, I lost all taste for alcohol. Even half a
glass of wimpy white wine could make me toss my cookies, so I turned to my
friend Mary Jane occasionally, only when nothing else would do.
In the middle of one post-chemo night, my husband was
out of town and I was sick and I got up and tried to get the little pipe
lit and take one hit so I could maybe sleep. My son heard me struggling
and he came into my bedroom. He lit the match for me and showed me where
to put my finger on the “carburetor,” the hole on the side of the
pipe, to make it draw. I was too grateful to ask him how he knew all this.
He stayed with me until I felt better. It was mother-son bonding in a new
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