My name is Cat and I am from Colorado. I grew up in the mountains here and love hiking, biking, cooking and laughing. I was diagnosed with stage 2b Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and In Situ Breast Cancer in June 2018. I was 33 at my diagnosis and it was incredibly hard to hear that I had breast cancer. I have no known genetic mutations for breast cancer. I enjoy spending time with my family (I have a 5-year-old and a wonderful guy in my life!). Breast cancer is tough, but so am I.
Breast cancer is horrific. There’s doubt and change, fear and heartbreak. But in the midst of this, there are moments. Moments of indescribable joy and levity that ease the feelings of helplessness.
Sometimes, you learn new things. Sometimes, life shocks you.
I had one such moment with my stepmom, who we will call K. She flew to Colorado from Arkansas to be present and subsequently take care of me through the mastectomy and chemotherapy. I was feeling overwhelmed and anxiety ridden during this process. Surgery was tough, chemo was life-changing. My bald head hurt; I was always cold. Shivering made the pain worse. I tried wigs and hats, scarves and hoodies. They all touched my head creating discomfort or they didn’t cover my head properly.
So K purchased a chef hat. But it wasn’t ordinary. It was black with rainbow butterflies scattered across the felt-lined fabric. The sides hugged my scalp snuggly, just enough to keep me warm with gentle pressing so as to keep it up. The top was a giant poof of fabric that created a dome above my bare head. It kept the warmth in, it was perfect. I looked sick but colorful at the same time. This hat was meant for me.
At the same time, I experienced severe bone pain from Neulasta. This drug was a vital part of my treatment plan. But it took a toll. I was worn down from taking pain medication. I was slipping into depression. I felt alone.
Then K stepped in. She encouraged me to ask the doctors what else we could do for the pain. How could I feel better?
One doctor in particular suggested that I try medical marijuana. Now, I’m a die-hard child of the 90s. I grew up when D.A.R.E. was the standard recourse for drug education. I immediately balked at this suggestion. Me? DO DRUGS? No way.
Despite my adamant refusal to try, K immediately blazed the way for my introduction to this drug. She, being a teenager of the 70s was thoroughly excited for my new-found, somewhat illicit journey. She took me to a pot shop in Denver. She chatted with the store attendant to select a strain for which I would feel sufficient relief from pain but also refrain from feeling “high as hell” as I put it. After showing our IDs, we purchased it and left.
We went next door to look at devices for which to use said medical marijuana. There were pink ones, yellow ones, stripped and dotted. Some looked like mushrooms. Some looked suspiciously phallic in nature. I selected a simple one. Glass. Green. Normal.
Leaving the stores, I begrudgingly slouched along beside her as she walked with a pep-in-her-step to my car. Now I actually had to try it. Gulp.
We reached my apartment and I immediately became cold. Per the usual when you’re bald. Baldness has a way of stealing your heat from your body.
So I put on my butterfly chef hat. We sat down and removed the paraphernalia from the bag. I looked at it all, unsure of how to proceed. She of course, to my utmost surprise, knew exactly what to do.
My stepmom knew. The one who took us to church on Sunday’s. The one who fussed over what type of gum we chewed growing up because of sugar content. The one who warned us of drinking and drug use growing up. The one who quoted the Bible as frequently as I use the f-bomb (hint: it’s a lot). My stepmom was teaching me how to smoke weed.
I, in my butterfly chef hat, sat and watched as she filled the “bowl” of the pipe with horribly pungent medical marijuana. I glanced at her sideways, incredulous. She looked comfortable doing this. She looked almost jubilant. I was shocked. What the hell was going on here!
She proceeded to explain how to do it. One hand here, one hand holding. Suck in, hold, blow out. I tried it.
And my God was it terrible. I coughed, threw up and scrunched my face into what could only be described as the face of someone who is being tortured. All while those colorful butterflies on my hat bounced along in succession to my poor reaction. It was disgusting.
And all the while, my stepmom was laughing. Deep belly laughs as she watched her child act ridiculously from what was (she confirmed it later) the smallest hit ever.
She videoed it, hysterically laughing. That infectious laughter that makes even strangers giggle and glance.
And then I started laughing. Because when you’re in the room with her and she starts laughing, you can’t help but laugh too. Head up, mouth open, I let out joyful glee in chorus with her. We watched the video together and laughed some more. I’m forever grateful for that video. And her.
She encouraged me to keep trying, and I did. I tried and tried, having the same reaction each time, laughing each time. Just her and I sharing a heartwarming moment over a giant bowl of weed.
That is how, during cancer and chemotherapy, my stepmom taught me to smoke medical marijuana. That is one thing I thought she’d never teach me. But I’m forever grateful to have that moment with her. Even through all the heartbreak.