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Honoring Breast Cancer Awareness Month – A Doctor’s Perspective

Breast cancer is the most frequent cancer among women, impacting 2.1 million women each year, and also causes the greatest number of cancer-related deaths among women.  My patient, Jessica found her first breast lump on a self-exam.  She was 32 years old. 

Her Story

I considered myself a “Super Mom”.  I could do everything by myself without asking for help.  I am a successful attorney, entrepreneur with my own law firm, married, have a two-year-old, and I manage to juggle it all.  I knew there was something wrong.  I felt a pull; a tightness in my chest muscles and underarm while carrying my toddler.  When I first felt the lump in my breast, my heart sank.  I thought that the disease was a sign.  A wake-up call.  An opportunity for me to re-examine my life.  “I have cancer“.  The words engulfed me like a dark abysmal sea.  My partner and I curled up together in the early mornings and wept quietly so our children would not hear.  Grief and despair smothered our house. 

The most challenging thing for me to accept is that I can not control everything.  At some point, the shock faded, and the routines of scheduled chemotherapy, daily radiation, surgery recovery, and physical therapy gave me a sense of calm.  I had several months of fertility treatments followed by an egg retrieval procedure, eight rounds of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, and several reconstructive surgeries over four years. 

Out of the grief, an amazingly strong will grew inside me to win the battle of healing my body and my soul.  I fought to be healthy for myself and my family.  Even though I was receiving intense chemo treatments, I dramatically changed my nutrition, focusing on eating healthy food while exercising every day.  Even if it was a ten-minute walk down the street, I did everything I could to keep my body moving.

I did well with the initial surgery and chemotherapy and used the opiate pain medication and anti-nausea medication my oncologist prescribed.  However, when I got through my fourth round of chemo, things began to shift.  I started losing my appetite, my pain level increased dramatically.  I was also having trouble sleeping through the night, as the chemo’s side effect included insomnia.

I was being treated for breast cancer at a top cancer hospital in New York City. What the doctors do not talk about is an integrative and holistic treatment.

What about natural ways of healing and managing my pain?  I read so much about CBD for pain, inflammation, nausea, and appetite.  When I asked my oncology team, no one was able to give me concrete answers.  I decided to educate myself, so I read dozens of books, articles, and websites dealing with this terrible disease.  As an attorney and a mom, I didn’t want to take anything high in THC.

Here is how I used CBD to help me with chemo, radiation, and reconstructive surgery.

Jessica’s CBD Schedule

Daytime: 
I took 50 mg of CBD divided into two doses. I took 25 mg with breakfast and 25 mg with lunch.

Nighttime:
I took a CBD & CBN formula.  Chemotherapy and all the additional prescription medications make me feel like I drank 10 cups of coffee.  CBD & CBN helped my body and mind get through the stress and trauma of fighting cancer.  It helped me relax for bed and stopped my racing thoughts at night.

Throughout the day I used a CBD salve.

I massaged the balm around my breasts, underarms, neck and shoulder blades.  This helped me heal after the mastectomies and expanders.  Expanders are temporary implants.  There are small port tubes placed inside your body.  A needle is placed in the tube to inflate the expanders.  The goal is to stretch the skin and help your muscles adjust for the implant, placed under the muscles.  I am a woman of color.  My skin tends to scar and keloid.  The CBD salve helped me decrease the inflammation, scarring, ease the nerve pain, soften the tissue around my implants.

Taking CBD and changing my nutrition made me feel better physically and gave me a sense of control. 

Today, at age 39, the chart in my oncologist’s office reads N.E.D., the three most beautiful letters in the English alphabet. N.E.D. stands for No Evidence of Disease!

I am in remission.  I am grateful.

Doctor’s Notes

Cannabis is the only anti-nausea medicine that also increases appetite, aids with sleep.  It elevates mood, something that is not easy to do when someone is facing a chronic and life-threatening illness.  While doctors often write five different prescription medications — painkiller, anti-nausea, anti-anxiety, appetite stimulant, and a sedative — that may or may not interact with one another, they could recommend trying one plant medicine first, cannabis, and address all five symptoms at once. 

Since CBD is also an antibacterial, it can help the healing process and decrease the chances of infection around incisions.  Researchers are exploring CBD skin formulations to increase the activity of the skin’s ECS to treat inflammatory and immune-related disorders of the skin.  The anti-inflammatory properties of cannabinoids are also showing promise in the treatment of chronic wounds.  Dr. Vincent Maida, a palliative medicine specialist at the University of Toronto¹, is finding topical CBD with an extraordinary 90% success rate in healing chronic wounds².  Chronic inflammation is the root cause of a non-healing wound.

Cannabis is not a cure-all or silver bullet for everything that ails you.  Still, more and more research shows that it effectively addresses chronic health conditions by relieving symptoms and addressing and modulating your body’s internal systems.  By getting to the root of many disorders — an out-of-balance, poorly nourished endocannabinoid system — cannabis can offer more profound, more lasting relief. 

Stress, anxiety, and even PTSD are common among cancer patients.  The COVID-19 pandemic has affected patients’ mental health with cancer and has increased the level of stress and anxiety.  Evidence is lacking that stress alone will affect cancer treatments, but it can cause behaviors that may interfere with a patient’s health.

According to my colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Comen, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Cancer Center.  “It’s very common to experience some level of anxiety or stress when dealing with a cancer diagnosis.  Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that often occurs after experiencing a very distressful or life-threatening event, is one type of anxiety you might feel.  Add in the additional stress associated with a global pandemic to someone already dealing with cancer in their life, and it could overwhelm you.  That is almost a volcano that is just so much for any cancer patient to bear.”

Stressed patients may develop behaviors that can, in turn, affect their outcomes.  “If stress causes patients to be less compliant with their medications, to be fearful of leaving their house, or to eat poorly, or exercise less–those factors really can affect outcomes,” says Dr. Comen.

Many people dealing with pain and other side effects of cancer have already tried more traditional methods before they decide to give medical cannabis a try.  When you take plant-based cannabis, you’re decreasing inflammation, and you’re relieving pain simultaneously. 

But how can cannabis do this, and why? 

Humans have a natural cannabis system, or an endocannabinoid system, that our bodies create.  When a person is in chronic pain, though, these natural pain relievers aren’t enough.  When we utilize phytocannabinoids from the cannabis plant, we are replenishing our body’s endocannabinoid system.  By doing so, it helps us deal with pain and inflammation much more effectively.

Medical cannabis, if you think about it, is the only botanical medicine that can help nausea, increase appetite, decrease pain, and elevate mood.  A lot of people who are undergoing chemotherapy as part of their cancer treatment and live in a state where medical cannabis is available are using it for relief.  People come to me seeking relief for all types of chemo-related ailments, such as nausea, decreased appetite, pain, insomnia, or depression.

Some physicians will prescribe Marinol, or synthetic cannabis, to treat these side effects.  Clinically speaking, I have seen that using phytocannabinoids is simply more helpful and much more effective in increasing appetite and decreasing pain for my cancer patients.

A Dedication

Here at Artemis, we are so grateful to Jessica and Dr. Junella Chin for sharing their stories, experience, and journey.  To all those battling breast cancer, those standing right beside their loved ones fighting the battle, those who are broken hearted from the battle, those who are researching and treating to win more battles – our hearts are with you.  If you are interested in CBD and/or cannabis as part of your treatment, please consult with your physician.  Wishing you all the happiness in this world and thank you for reading.

¹ https://www.forbes.com/sites/abbierosner/2019/07/09/cannabis-based-medicine-a-breakthrough-for-healing-intractable-chronic-wounds/#53cae4759387
² https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28818631/

Artwork by Shelley Bain.
Artemis Medical Digest (ArtemisMD) is a journal featuring clinical perspectives from one of the world’s leading cannabis physicians – Dr. Junella Chin extensive and groundbreaking work has been profiled in Forbes, CNN, The New York Times, Cornell University, St. Jude’s Medical Center and more. She is a board member of the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine and Artemis’ Chief Medical Advisor.