I met Cathy around 1990, about the time I had first heard about her illness and her success in combating it.
I spent two days in Florida in March of 2011 with Cathy and other colleagues supporting Congressman Clemen's (D-Lake Worth) medical cannabis bill, the first ever introduced in Florida. While wheelchair-bound and under the supervision of a caregiver, she was quoted at the Congressman's press conference saying, âCannabis is a neuro-protector, an antioxidant, and an anti-inflammatory...I am here today to help patients and the families of patients with neuromuscular diseases and brain disorders to educate themselves on cannabis.â
Over fifty years earlier, Lou Gehrig spoke to a sell out crowd of fans before his last appearance as the NY Yankeeâs sterling and remarkable âIron Manâ first baseman, and told the crowd, clear through the stadium speakerâs echo, that he was âthe luckiest man alive.â This was quite a statement coming from a man who, diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, knew he would soon die. He spoke of his past not of his future.
His future was grim and short.
ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's disease) is one tough way to live and die. ALS is a degenerative neuromuscular progressive disease that destroys motor neurons. As the motor neurons are destroyed, the muscles atrophy and become spastic and patients become weaker and unable to care for themselves. Patients soon depend on a wheelchair. ALS patients have difficulty speaking and swallowing and many patients die from choking. It is fatal for most patients within 2-5 years from onset.
Cathy should have been dead by now - she has lived with ALS for 25 years.
Cathy medicates with cannabis every day, but since it is illegal in Florida, she is forced to live as a criminal in order to live at all. This is what the war on âdrugsâ has done to countless individuals all over this country. This inane pogrom on the sick also reduces, eliminates, confounds and delays any medical science-based advancements from being realized. It hampers the powers that be from admitting the US federal policy on therapeutic cannabis has been wrong for decades, and from lifting the prohibition in an effort to turn our collective talents loose to do better for Cathy and hundreds, thousands of others, ill, dying.
It also creates other criminals. No, not the low-level street dealers nor the drug barons who have more money than most countries, weâre talking about the âcriminalsâ that are people of compassion. After all, somebody supplies cannabis to Cathy. Bob, Cathyâs husband and proud Vietnam Veteran, has to sit and fret and wonder if her supplier will come through again â if he will succeed in overcoming the hazards of growing and delivering a prohibited substance â one that has saved his wife's life. Can you feel his frustration? Bob risked his young life to preserve freedom to the very country that, by law, is keeping his own wife from freely choosing to elect her own quality of life, her own treatment protocol - the one that has been effective.
Cannabis helps Cathy, and others with this terrible disease, by doing what every cannabis user experiences; it causes dry mouth. Among cannabis patients, one of the side effects is the drying of oral secretions â dry mouth, or cottonmouth. In the case of ALS human patients, it is that very drying of the membranes, the reduction of saliva and mucous, that proves to be the lifesaver. A build up of saliva for
an ALS patient, which frequently causes chocking, can mean death. A reduction of secretions means life. It's as simple as that.
As I write this, Cathy is, in a sense, attacking the ALS medical community - challenging them to recognize her survival through a series of meetings and interviews she and her Florida supporters have arranged with key medical and political personalities. Up to now ALS âspecialistsâ have retreated from her, effectively undervaluing her experience with cannabis. âThey are terrified by me it seems,â she said on the phone two days prior. Cathy is pressing the ALS medical community to recognize her treatment of her disease, a method that has worked. No silver bullet, no pharmaceutical chemistry, no surgery, no western medicine - no wonder âtheyâ are terrified.
What would you do if you were Cathy? After all, as your dutiful contribution to our nation, what you would do does matter. Would you hide, hope that the local cops would look the other way? Would you not use cannabis and die? Would you tell your MD or RN what was keeping you going? How much could you afford to pay for a medicine which is produced by the federal government at a cost of a few bucks an ounce, when you have to pay $500 an ounce on the black market? Would you stand in public next to a Congressman and admit to using illegal plant compounds daily? Would you, as a
layperson, have the audacity to question the teachings of a realm of medicine by telling those âexpertsâ that cannabis is doing what they said it couldnât?
Cathy is an anomaly in our US society these days. Why? Because she is brave - unafraid of doing and saying what is the right thing to say and do. She works from experience and empirical knowledge rather than from the sound bites of foolish pundits who make a public career of continually exposing their limited understanding of medical cannabis - seemingly unembarrassed by their ignorance or duplicity. And, perhaps most importantly, Cathy cares about others with her plight and feels an innate responsibility to inform.
In short, Cathy is one of my heroes.
Cannabis has not cured Cathy, but it has provided her with two decades of life that modern western medicine could not. The simple fact that she is alive is testimony to that fact. As I learn more about cannabis and it's coupling with our own endocannabinoid system, and as I study the reports of patient use for a wide variety of symptoms, from sickle cell anemia to pain control, I am in a constant state of frustration.
Up against the reality of a modern miracle of medicine case study called Cathy, there are those who hold a theoryâŚ
A theory that Cathy and those that support her, groups like Patients Out of Time and the dozens of health care organizations, as well as individual doctors and nurses, that have added their names to the demand for medicinal cannabis, are wrongâŚmisinformedâŚduped by the hoards of axe wielding reefer madness types running through our streets who just âwant to get stoned.â
A theory as illogical as the federal cannabis prohibition that turned a sick and dying patient named Cathy into a criminal.
So please do something.
At the very least, be aware, and make those around you aware as well. For what you do is important for the present day and future of those you love and care about.
Help Cathy and the thousands of others who need it, obtain legal medical cannabis.
In time, you may find you have helped yourself.
Al Byrne for Patients Out of Time