Patient Stories

Kelly & Theresa – Overcoming the Street Drug Stigma

For many people medical cannabis isn’t the first thing that they consider as treatment, in fact it’s usually one of the last alternatives to conventional medicine. The stigma attached to cannabis as street drug is changing, but slowly. Sometimes it is the people who care the most about us that are the ones that might resist using medical cannabis as a treatment option, because they aren’t aware of the medical properties of this remarkable plant. They resist because they care. Such is the story of Kelly and Theresa.

When Kelly Oliphant discovered he had prostate cancer in September of 2012 he knew it was going to change his life, but he didn’t know how much. In the previous year his wife Theresa had gone through her second bout of cancer, so he had some idea of what to expect. What he didn’t expect, or plan for, was constant debilitating pain.

In December of the same year Kelly had his cancerous prostate removed, and shortly thereafter began a series of radiation treatments. About a third of the way through the 33 treatments Kelly began to experience discomfort that quickly grew to constant, extreme pain. The overly aggressive treatments had essentially destroyed the nerve endings in a belt stretching from hip to hip across Kelly’s stomach.

“It’s like having a sunburn on the inside, and it probably won’t ever go away.” Kelly says. “The only time it doesn’t hurt is when I’m lying down.”

For Kelly, who had worked for the Parks & Recreation Department in his community, the injury he received from his treatment meant that couldn’t do even the simple things that he loved anymore. No more working in the garden or tending to the local hockey rink.

Theresa remembers that it was a low point for her husband, “Before he was a lot more jovial and happier with life. After the operation and the radiation burns he was really down.”

To help with the chronic pain and get back some semblance of his life Kelly tried practically every conventional medication available, but none seemed to work. “All I ever got was side effects,” he says.

Finally after one medication caused his entire body to swell, a physician at the Cancer Clinic made a suggestion: medical cannabis. Kelly was willing to try anything to help with the pain. Theresa wasn’t as quick to say yes.

“When the doctor suggested it,” says Kelly, “she wasn’t… too impressed, let’s put it that way.”

Theresa, who had grown up in a strict, Catholic family had always held the belief that all drugs were bad, and for her cannabis was just another street drug, so she didn’t like what she had heard. “I was mad because I thought there has to be something else out there to try.”

The hour long drive after the meeting was awkward, to say the least. “The ride home was very quiet,” says Kelly with a smile. “It was like she was the head of the DEA and I was the Cartel.”

Theresa laughs when she hears that, but offers a different perspective, “I was thinking about a lot of things: the cost, other possible treatments, and the effect on our lives.”

In the back of her head she kept hearing her mother pleading with her to not do drugs. Drugs were bad and cannabis is a drug. Because of a bias that was introduced during her childhood, and reinforced through most of her life by media, government and popular culture, Theresa’s response was perfectly natural.

In the end though it was Kelly’s decision to make, and despite any reservations on her part, Theresa wanted Kelly to feel better.

Kelly got his prescription and ordered his medical cannabis from CanniMed. When it arrived Theresa made him go out in the garage to try it.

“The effects were immediate the first time I tried it,” says Kelly. It brought relief.

It was at that moment Theresa’s perspective began to shift. He wasn’t “stoned” as she feared he might be, he was just… Kelly, and for the first time in years he felt better.

Suddenly Kelly was able to enjoy life again, to do the things he loved, like working in his garden. “It doesn’t totally take the pain away, but it makes it bearable,” he says. “So I can do things I want to do – and need to do. Before I had no quality of life, now I do.”

Since starting medical cannabis Kelly has given up all the other medications he used to take. Theresa says that Kelly is back to being himself again, certainly more so than when he was on all the pills.

Learning to move past the stigma attached to cannabis wasn’t easy for Theresa, but her love for her husband motivated the change. Once she saw how his life improved she began to learn about medical cannabis and how profoundly it can change a person’s life.

“I saw what he was like, before and after,” she says. “Since he’s been on medical cannabis it has really improved his life. I know now that this is medicine. I know the difference between medical and non-medical.”

Theresa has some advice for other’s who may be resistant to a loved one trying a treatment with medical cannabis:

“Think about the suffering the person is going through. Think about them, not you. If you’ve explored all the other avenues and they haven’t worked then you need to give this a chance, for them. And once you make that decision, support them.”

Through Theresa’s two bouts of cancer, through Kelly’s own fight with the disease that resulted in the constant pain that is now a part of his life; through their entire journey – whether they agreed with each other or not – Kelly and Theresa still supported each other. The journey hasn’t always been easy, but they do it together.

“It’s for better or for worse and we live with it,” she says, “and take care of each other.”