Chemo Chronicles: From fug to fugue


Despite the nausea, constipation, and other sundry physical effects of the cancer chemotherapy we’re undergoing, we’d have to say the worst impact has been the creeping mental miasma.

Regular esnl readers have no doubt detected the results in the decline of frequency and depth of our posts, initially the result of the simple shock that comes from learning your body has turned on itself, followed by the physical shock of two surgeries.

Besides the loss of a cancerous bladder and prostate, we also find ourselves with a new means of draining our kidneys, thanks to the removal of a section of intestine and its reshaping into a conduct to carry urine from our surgically truncated uterers into a puckering pink urine-dripping extrusion [stoma] to the right of our navel.

There was pain after both surgeries [the first via catheter, the second by a large incision now commemorated in in a scar running betwixt navel to pubis, we stopped taking painkillers two days after leaving the hospital, leaving us an unwanted surplus of Percocets.

While the process of getting used to wearing what’s colorfully called an “urostomy bag” proved something of a trial, we managed to adapt to the stoma-drip-catching self-adhesive bags with the minimum of extra trips to the laundry.

But the biopsy showed the cancer, a rather rare micropapillary breed, had spread to at least one lymph node, and hence the four-month chemo regime, starting with our first double hit 8 January.

Of our three monthly sessions, the first is the real shit-kicker, a double dose of chemical cocktails administered over five hours. The nausea began on the second day, and lingered two more days, kept in relative check by another two-part chemical cocktail. Nine days of constipation began on the second day after the session, adding a whole new level of discomfort and ended only by a trip to the emergency room.

What still lingered was a peculiar sort of mental lethargy, a lingering mentational malady which allowed us to read a dozen hours a day but without the fuel to synthesize my responses into writing. Hence the decline in frequency of posting.

Our progeny and several friends had been urging us to get a medical marijuana letter, so we finally did, overcoming our natural inclination to add our name to yet another list.

So we became a member of a local medical marijuana club, and have now procured our first-ever California-legal weed. The only previous legal drugs we’d experienced had been our first dose of LSD in 1966, swallowed the night before it became illegal in Nevada, and hashish we bought at an Amsterdam coffee house in 2006 on the same trip where we bought a batch of just-plucked Psilocybin mushrooms procured from one of those now-closed Smart Shops legally offering both ’shrooms and live peyote cacti.

We mention this because we’re no strangers to cannabis, and we’ve done more than our share [1966-72] of psychedelics, with 2006 being our last experience of the latter.

We learned a lot about mind-altering drugs during our three-year service as scribe and block print carver for a Tantric Hindu artist and non-guru guru. The Tantrics and Shavites have developed a Prime Directive of cannabis use which we still follow: Never consume or ingest cannabis within three hours of eating. The reason is simple: Cannabis pulls blood into the brain, and when you consume while you’re digesting you create a conflict, with blood craved by the brain diverted to the digestive system, and leading to lethargy and sleepiness.

29 January 2013, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 400, 12.5 mm, 1/50 sec, f5

29 January 2013, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 400, 12.5 mm, 1/50 sec, f5

With a chemo-sensitized gut, we followed the rules today, and the result has been a distinct lifting of the mental lethargy, using the fruits of our visit to the Berkeley club a block from Casa esnl: A free Rhino Pellet [a cinnamon cookie made with cannabis-infused butter], an oral nocturnal cannabis and essential oil tincture [left], and a pinch of hash to brighten up our minor remnant of some seven-year-old Humboldt homegrown.

Our stomach is calm, our energy and mood increased to the point we tackled some serious house cleaning/organizing, and we’ve also done more posts than usual.

Intimations of other benefits

We also bear in mind that a growing body of research indicates that a non-psychoactive component of cannabis inhibits growth in cancer cells.

As San Francisco Chronicle reporter Victoria Colliver wrote last 18 September:

A growing body of early research shows a compound found in marijuana – one that does not produce the plant’s psychotropic high – seems to have the ability to “turn off” the activity of a gene responsible for metastasis in breast and other types of cancers.

Two scientists at San Francisco’s California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute first released data five years ago that showed how this compound – called cannabidiol – reduced the aggressiveness of human breast cancer cells in the lab.

>snip<

“The preclinical trial data is very strong, and there’s no toxicity. There’s really a lot of research to move ahead with and to get people excited,” said Sean McAllister, who along with scientist Pierre Desprez, has been studying the active molecules in marijuana – called cannabinoids – as potent inhibitors of metastatic disease for the past decade.

Red the rest.

The National Cancer Institute website is less adulatory on its Cannabis and Cannabinoids web page, noting only this:

No clinical trials of Cannabis as a treatment for cancer in humans were identified in a PubMed search; however, a single small study of intratumoral injection of delta-9-THC in patients with recurrent glioblastoma multiforme reported potential antitumoral activity.

Donald Abrams, chief of oncology at UCSF physician said this to NBC News:

“If this plant were discovered in the Amazon today, scientists would be falling all over each other to be the first to bring it to market.”

And consider this, from the Science Updates blog of Cancer Research UK:

Through many detailed experiments, handily summarised in this recent article in the journal Nature Reviews Cancer, scientists have discovered that various cannabinoids (both natural and synthetic) have a wide range of effects in the lab, including:

  • Triggering cell death, through a mechanism called apoptosis
  • Stopping cells from dividing
  • Preventing new blood vessels from growing into tumours
  • Reducing the chances of cancer cells spreading through the body, by stopping cells from moving or invading neighbouring tissue
  • Speeding up the cell’s internal ‘waste disposal machine’ – a process known as autophagy – which can lead to cell death

All these effects are thought to be caused by cannabinoids locking onto the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. It also looks like cannabinoids can exert effects on cancer cells that don’t involve cannabinoid receptors, although it isn’t yet clear exactly what’s going on there.

Read the rest.

And go here [PDF] for a 2010 metareview of medical studies, including Multiple Sclerosis, chronic pain, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, nausea, brain cancer, and more.

And another wrapup’s here.

The bottom line: Since we’re engaged in fighting cancer, we’ll take all the help we can get.

[Oh, and as for psilocybin, see here and here.]

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