March 21, 2013 |
Editor’s note: Michelle Aldrich, 66, has been working for
marijuana legalization —which she defines as “the right to grow it for
free in your backyard”— for most of her life. She and her husband
Michael live in a comfortable old apartment near the San Francisco
Marina which they moved into 40 years ago. The following is adapted from
a talk Michelle gave in July 2012 to the Women’s Visionary Congress.
had smoked cannabis since 1967 but early in 2011 I kept saying I could
not get high. I was smoking a lot. I now believe that THC was going to
the tumor and lymph nodes, which is why the cancer did not spread more
than it had.
On November 15, 2011, I was supposed to have lunch
with Diane Fornbacher from the NORML Women’s Alliance. I was too sick to
go. I felt like I had the flu.
That week I got a call from Linda
Ward, who is now my therapist. I had been looking for a new therapist
since 2009, when I got off all the meds that I had been taking for 20
years for depression —Prozac, Lamictal, and Trazadone. Rick Doblin
[director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies]
found Linda for me just when I really needed to talk to someone. The
start of synchronicity.
I felt well enough to go see the doctor on
November 22. It was my first visit with a physician’s assistant named
Sally Holland. The first thing I told her was that I smoked marijuana.
She asked if I vaporized? I told her I didn’t. Then I said my husband
and I got the lifetime achievement award from High Times Magazine last
June. Her response was that her brother was the general counsel for High
Times. I knew at that point that Sally and I would get along and I
could trust her and didn’t have to educate her about cannabis. Lovely...
said that I had bronchitis, which I usually get at least once a year.
She asked when was the last time I had a chest x-ray. I said a long
time. She sent me for a chest x-ray and gave me antibiotics. The next
day Sally called to tell me I had pneumonia.
I saw Sally again on
November 30 for a follow-up. I was still sick and was given more
antibiotics. Sally informed me that the x-ray showed a growth on my
right lung, which would need to be checked out. My first response was
“cut it out” if it was so small. I wanted to be aggressive. I saw Sally
again on December 9. She sent me for lab work and said the doctor
wanted to see me.
On December 21, I saw Gary Feldman, MD, my
primary care physician, who gave me a thorough workup. I told Gary about
the heat I had felt in the middle of my chest for almost a year. The
tumor and lymph nodes were right on my heart chakra. He sent me for a CT
scan on December 23.
The CT scan showed that the tumor on my lung
measured 23 x 28 millimeters. [25.4 millimeters = one inch.] There was
also a growth on my left kidney.
On January 4th, 2012, I had another CT scan to evaluate the growth they had found on my kidney.
On January 5th I had an echocardiogram, a procedure using ultrasound to show a two-dimensional picture of the heart.
On January 6th I had a CT fine-needle aspiration biopsy of the lung. Tissue was taken for analysis in a lab.
The results of the biopsy were supposed to be available on the ninth. They weren’t.
saw the kidney doctor on January 11, and he said he thought the growth
was a cyst and was not related to the growth on the right lung. This was
seemingly good news.
On January 12th I got a call from Dr. Gary
Feldman. He said it was cancer on the right lung. It was “poorly
differentiated non-small cell adenocarcinoma.” He referred me to an
oncologist, Dr. Ari Baron at California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC).
I was fortunate to get on MediCare when I turned 65.
decided immediately to seek support from my network of friends in the
medical cannabis community. I announced my diagnosis on Facebook.
called Clint Werner, who had recently released his book Marijuana
Gateway to Health: How Cannabis Protects Us from Cancer and Alzheimers
Disease. Clint, being a macrobiotic chef, told me to avoid sugar since
“sugar feeds cancer. Avoid red meats and processed foods, no dairy and
no wheat. Eat lots of fish, especially salmon.”
I needed to change my eating habits. I had already avoided wheat for years —now, more restrictions.
that evening Dr. Donald Abrams called. A friend for some 20 years,
Abrams is chief of Hematology and Oncology at San Francisco General
Hospital. I told him that Ari Baron would be my oncologist. Dr. Abrams
recalled that when Dr. Baron was a resident, he had taught him how to
tie a bow tie.
Dr. Abrams recommended that I add supplements:
3,000 milligrams of Vitamin D, two Ultimate Omega fish oil capsules, and
two 1,000 milligram Stamets 7 mushrooms to increase my immune system
He wanted to be kept up to date and offered his help throughout the
Dr. Abrams had been working closely with Andrew
Weil, MD, the founder and program director of the Arizona Center for
Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Dr. Weil
called me on Sunday. He offered sympathy and support, and also asked to
be kept up to date on my condition. I have known him as Andy for 40
years. He was a Trustee of the Fitz Hugh Ludlow Memorial Library; Mike
and I had been on the board.
And so I had my Dream Team of doctors.
the morning of January 17th I emailed Jeannie Herer —Jack’s widow— to
tell her about my situation. Then I went to see Dr. Baron for the first
time. He wanted me to undergo more tests to determine the stage of the
cancer. He referred me to Dr. Peter Anastassiou of CPMC, who would be my
I saw Dr. Anastassiou and found out he was the doctor
who had operated on Jack Herer, when he first needed heart surgery. He
was also a friend of Dr. Tom O’Connell and had taken over his practice.
When I got home Jeannie Herer phoned to say
that I should do the “Rick Simpson oil” —a highly concentrated cannabis
extract that, taken at high doses, has reportedly had an anti-cancer
effect. I had read about it but didn’t know where to get it or how to
take it or —the biggest question of all— if it would work. Jeannie told
me to call Valerie Corral from WAMM.
I talked to Valerie the next
day and she brought me the first batch of what she calls “Milagro Oil”
to a California NORML board meeting on January 21st.
19th I met Dr. Charles McDonald, the head of the Pulmonary Function Lab
at CPMC, who would be my pulmonologist. Michael and I supplied him with
several research studies on smoking cannabis and lung function, since he
would be doing an inservice training on the subject for the hospital
staff. He scheduled me for a pulmonary function test and he would be
doing the bronchoscopic ultrasound, which would tell us how far advanced
the cancer was. He would focus on the lymph nodes.
I had the
pulmonary function test on January 23rd. Dr. Anastassiou would not do
surgery until he knew that the function test was satisfactory. It was.
the January 24th PET scan, the tumor measured 30x31mm. Either the PET
scan showed a better picture or the tumor was growing. The PET scan
shows inflammation in the body. It lights up the parts where the
inflammation is. The tumor, the lymph nodes and the colon lit up. So I
had to have a colonoscopy.
McDonald did the endobronchioscopic
ultrasound fine-needle aspiration biopsy on January 25th to finish
determining the stage of the tumor. He said the lymph nodes were “big.”
final diagnosis was “Stage 3A poorly differentiated non-small cell
metastatic adenocarcinoma of the right lung with bulky lymph node
involvement.” At least three of the lymph nodes were cancerous.
January 26th, I had an MRI to make sure that it had not spread to my brain.
saw Dr. Anastassiou and he mentioned bulky lymph nodes. He said he
wanted to take out two lobes of my right lung butthat he could not
operate until the lymph nodes had been reduced in size or sterilized. I
would need chemotherapy to reduce the lymph nodes.
I looked up
more information on the 27th and found out that the survival rate for
this adenocarcinoma is 25% in five years; but with bulky lymph nodes the
five-year survival rate goes down to two-to-five percent.
nothing to lose by doing the oil except maybe the cancer. The oil
couldn’t harm me. It would protect normal cells from damage while I was
undergoing chemo. It was very scary to think that if this did not work, I
might be dead by Christmas.
I needed to set a new course. A
course correction. I needed to change my destiny. I did not want to die
of lung cancer. I would do everything possible to restore my health:
diet, chemo, acupuncture, and Cannabis oil. I knew I had a wonderful
support group and a dream team of doctors.
On January 30th, I saw
Ari Baron. He explained that they could not do radiation since the lymph
nodes were so close to the trachea. Chemo was scheduled every three
weeks for four sessions.
On February 1st, I had the last test,
which was the colonoscopy. Three polyps were removed and it showed
diverticulitis. I had now finished all the tests to prove I had cancer
and where it was. Now I could start the oil and no one would be able to
say “but you didn’t have cancer to begin with so how do we know it was
the oil that worked?”
We are very lucky to live in San Francisco
where many doctors know about cannabis therapy and accept it as a part
of the process of treating people with cancer, AIDS and other illnesses.
But —except for Donald Abrams— they had not heard about cannabis oil
and its potential for healing cancer. They accepted my use of the oil
but were dubious that it would get rid of the cancer. I gave them the
protocols from Israel. I would show them that it did work.
“milagro oil” that WAMM provided me with was made by distilling an
extract of cannabis until it contained 63% THC. Because the psychoactive
effect can be so strong, Valerie recommends that patients start with a
10:1 mixture of hempseed oil (which is nutritious but not
psychoactive)and milagro oil, then go to a 5:1 mix, and finally to pure
oil as THC levels in the body build up. It took me 34 days before I
worked up to taking the oil undiluted.
My regimen was going to be one gram of oil a day for 60 days. I could not stand the taste of it, so I put it in gel caps.
knowledgable friend recommended that I use a CBD tincture if I felt
anxious from the oil. I followed that advice and it did help.
each of the ratios, I started with five drops of milagro oil in the
morning and five in the evening. I then increased the pm dose to 10
drops. I then increased the am dose to 10 drops until I finished each
ratio. I finished the 10:1 oil on February 17th. I finished the 5:1 oil
on March 5th. I started the pure with oil that evening and woke up on
the 6th with massive dry mouth. On March 25th, I started using a half of
gram twice a day until I did the last oil on May 16th. Seventy-two days
of using the pure oil. I did not get high at all.
Extract Cannabis Oil was made with from both Sativa and Indica plants
(mostly Indica). It is made by taking cannabis —buds, leaves and small
stems— and distilling it down in an enclosed container using Everclear
as the solvent until it becomes a concentrated oil.February 2nd was the
date of the first chemo. Michael stayed with me. I was given Alimta,
Carboplatin, Avastin and a shot of Neulasta. I would sit in the chair
for three or four hours with the drugs dripping into my veins.
went well except that I was a little nauseous for a couple of days and
constipated. The food had started tasting strange. I showed the nurses
the Omicron vapor pen. They liked the no smell, no smoke and discreet
delivery system. It could be used in hospitals.
During the second
chemo session on February 24th, Diane Fornbacher stayed with me. She had
come out from the East Coast to interview me about taking the oil and
surviving lung cancer. The adverse effect this time was just
constipation plus the strange taste of food.
I started acupuncture
on February 28th at Quan Yin. SPARC, a San Francisco dispensary,
provides low-cost acupuncture for patients through Quan Yin. It is
drop-in on Tuesdays.
The third chemo session was on March 15th. My
friend Freddie from the South Bay spent the time with me. The
constipation was better but the food taste was getting hard to deal
with. I did not feel well and it was hard to eat.
The fourth and
last chemo was on April 5th. My friend Andie, who is a nurse, spent the
time with me. This time I was nauseous for days and could not keep food
down. My mouth started burning when I drank water. I finally used the
vaporizer to help with the nausea. It worked.
At every chemo I
tried to educate the other patients and the nurses about the oil and
cannabis in general. I gave them a copy of Clint’s book for the library.
knowing if I was going to live or not, I started collecting Social
Security. I made a will, a durable power of attorney and other medical
My appetite was fine until the beginning of April. But
the diet I was following on the advice of Donald Abrams was
unappealing: no dairy, no sugar, no wheat, no meat, chicken only once a
month and only organic. I ate a lot of fish (salmon, mainly). I ate
fruit for breakfast, a salad for lunch and salmon and vegetables for
dinner. It sounds okay, but when you eat the same thing every day for
five months, it gets very unappetizing.
An Adverse Effect
happened to my mouth after the last chemo on April 5. I stopped
producing enough saliva to help the food go down, plus everything tasted
horrible. On the way to the Patients Out of Time conference in Tucson,
even drinking water burned my mouth. The doctors at the conference told
me to take Biotene. It did not help.
After I got back from Tucson,
I needed to eat, so I basically threw out the diet and ate anything
that I could get down my throat, which was not much. It was very
important that I got all the nutrition I could so I would be ready for
It was not until the beginning of July when I went to the
acupuncturist that I was able to eat again. I had been surviving on
anything I could get down to my stomach (milk shakes, soups). I survived
the hospital on ginger ale. I was 172 pounds when I started and now
I had known Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi for more than
20 years. I had seen her in early April at a political event at City
Hall. I took her hands in mine and told her I had lung cancer. “Please
stop the feds from taking my medicine away,” I said. I could tell that
she was dismayed by my news and urged me to meet with members of her
On April 16th I met with members of Pelosi’s office and
urged that she take a stand against the federal intervention that was
threatening my health, my recovery and my life. It may have helped that
she could put a name and face on someone who would be helped by using
cannabis. A week later she issued a press release calling for an end to
the raids. It was the strongest statement she had ever made in support
of medical cannabis. The Speaker of the House also got 73% of her fellow
Democrats to vote “yes” on the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment to the
appropriations bill that would defund DEA raids on state medical
marijuana providers. One day it will pass.
On April 17th I had a
CT scan. At 6 pm Ari Baron’s nurse called to say the tumor had shrunk by
50% and the lymph nodes were significantly reduced. No new disease. The
doctor, she said, was “ecstatic.”
Peter Anastassiou said it was a
great response to the chemo and I reminded him that I believed it was
mainly from the cannabis oil. He said the key thing is the lymph nodes,
which had totally regressed. He wanted to do a biopsy. If the lymph
nodes were negative, he said, then we can remove the tumor. He was
thinking that he might be able to remove a small section instead of
removing two lobes of the right lung. I wanted to wait until I finished
the oil, plus I was going to the conference in Tucson.
pathology report from the April 17th CT scan reported “significant
interval decrease in size of primary middle-lobe lung cancer with marked
regression of mediastinal and right hilar lymphadenopathy suggesting
response to therapy.”
The CT scan of April 17th showed a few
scattered diverticula were present in the colon but no evidence to
suggest divertculitis. It had disappeared. Chemo does not touch
diverticulitis… it had to be the oil that healed it.
The trip to
Tucson for the Patients Out of Time conference was a disaster. My mouth
burned every time I drank water. I had extremely sore inner lips and
mouth. I could hardly eat. I was nauseous, starving and had cramps in my
intestines. I became very anxious and had several panic attacks.
came home very depressed and just wanted to die, if I could not even
eat. Linda came over when I got back and convinced me to “Not make any
decisions right now, you’re in an altered state from not being able to
eat.” Her advice saved my life and I was willing to be aggressive again.
May 8th Ari said he didn’t understand why I was still having mouth
problems and did not know if it was from the chemo. We scheduled a PET
scan on May 10th, which would tell me if I could have surgery or not. He
said the chemo drugs were long gone from my system. Anything that
happened between then and surgery on May 18th could be attributed to the
On May 10th I signed on to participate in a clinical trial
involving stem cells that might help shrink or kill tumors. The tumorous
tissue removed from my lungs would be given to the researchers.
report on the May 10th PET scan said “Disappearance of previously
described subcarinal nodal conglomerate and the right middle lobe mass
has nearly completely resolved.” Dr. Anastassiou called and said
“Spectacular... Active cells light up and nothing is lighting up... No
tumor was visible on the PET scan.”
The lymph nodes had completely
shrunk and there was “virtually complete resolution of the tumor,”
which was pretty remarkable. In other words the cancer was gone.Peter
could not say there was no active disease yet because of the high
recurrence rate of lung cancer and a resection was warranted.
the pre-surgery report Dr. Anastassiou wrote: “homeopathic therapies
including hemp oil had putative benefit of directing apoptosis by
stimulation of the cannabinoid receptors on the tumor cells.” We had
learned a new word in Tucson -- apoptosis -- which means reprogramming
the cancer cells to kill themselves. It’s a wonderful word for a
I finished the oil on May 16th and had the surgery on May
18th. It took three hours. Dr. Anastassiou removed six lymph nodes and
the (2.5cm) remains of the tumor from the right middle lobe. The
residual tumor was a thin rim surrounding a necrotic core. What was left
of the tumor turned out to be dead tissue. He used VAT (video-assisted
thoracoscopy), a surgical procedure that allows for a quicker recovery
time since it is minimally invasive. But two ribs got broken during the
Even though the surgery went well, I was sicker than a
dog. Thank goodness that I don’t remember much of it. I was allergic to
dilaudid. I threw up for days even after they switched me to morphine. I
was released on May 23rd even though I was still nauseous. That was the
wrong thing to do. The pills they gave me I could not keep down. I was
back in the emergency room on Friday for four bags of fluid.
readmitted me and the next thing I remember was them asking for
permission to install a stent in my heart. They thought I was having a
heart attack. I wasn’t. It is called stress cardiomyopathy or Broken
Heart Syndrome. They thought it was probably from all the vomiting and
loss of fluid. It is reversible but it takes time. I was finally
discharged on May 31st. Fourteen days in the hospital. And they sent me
home with a bladder infection. So much for hospitals…
Anastassiou had visited me every day in the hospital. I finally asked
him if he had gotten it all. He said yes, that I was now what they call
NED (No evidence of disease). They use that terminology for lung cancer.
Other cancers they say you are in remission. He had never seen lung
cancer totally eradicated by chemo, much less in four months. I assume
cannabis oil was the factor that made the difference.
It has been a
long road back. The hardest part of the whole process was the
restricted diet. For weeks I experienced sweats and the chills that
alternated all day long. The whole month of June was spent getting my
system back to functioning normally. Finally, after acupuncture
treatment on July 2nd, I wanted to eat. At that point I decided to eat
anything I could. This gave me enough energy to be able to walk. I
started with four blocks in 10 minutes. By mid-July I was up to 12
blocks in 27 minutes. When I told my story of illness and healing at the
Women’s Visionary Conference on July 28 I was still weak and lacking
stamina, but getting better day by day.
I cannot say that I am
cured (at least so the doctors don’t get all their feathers ruffled)
until I am disease-free for five years. So I say that I have been
“healed by the milagro oil.” I do not need more chemo since there is
nothing left for the chemo to work on.
Michael says that this is a
magic plant. It counters cancer and if it was the flowers of a petunia
plant that killed cancer it would be all over the front pages of
newspapers round the world. But this is cannabis, which the government
maintains there is no medical use for (no matter what the science says).
I believe I have proved them wrong.
My cancer was healed by a
combination of milagro oil, chemotherapy, healthy diet, acupuncture,
brilliant, empathetic doctors, and loving support from many friends. I
am truly blessed.
I want to thank my husband, Michael for being
there through all the ups and downs of this journey. He has been my
support, my scribe, my driver, my cook and of course the love of my
I truly believe that if it wasn’t for Valerie and the oil I would not be alive today.
day I read about people dying of cancer and I know I was able to heal
my body of cancer. Why is this health-giving plant not available to
everyone? People should not have to go through the suffering that cancer
brings. We need to get this information out to the world.
Cannabis is a healing plant and can even heal cancer if we let it.
article first appeared in the Winter/Spring 2013 O’Shaughnessy’s.
Aldrich reports that her recent check-ups attest to a continuing