The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

I Am the (Cancer-y) Lorax. I Speak for the (Cannabis) Trees.

by Kimber HarrisSurvivor, Breast CancerFebruary 21, 2024View more posts from Kimber Harris

High! – Welcome to Elephants and Tea’s, “Cannabis Column with Kimber.” I am a Stage IIIA Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and Ductal Carcinoma in-situ Survivor. I received my breast cancer diagnosis in December of 2019. I support adult recreational and medicinal cannabis use. I am a regular contributor to Elephants and Tea magazine and serve on the Steven G. Cancer Foundation Patient Advisory Committee. I am a passionate advocate for people and plant medicine. Finally, while the addition of cannabis use to my own care plan has proven necessary to my overall well-being, it is not for everyone. Please, always consult with your physician care teams, before making any medication changes. Always adhere to your state’s laws and only purchase legalized cannabis products from a reputable, licensed dispensary. I wish you all peace and light and I hope you enjoy reading about my personal experiences with this valiant plant.

In a world where I’ve dedicated my life to caring for others, it took a cancer diagnosis to realize that sometimes, I needed to be taken care of. Who would have thought? I have always unapologetically been an INFJ-T personality type. However, the “T” for Turbulent has intensified post-cancer. All of my suffering has taught me that I must focus on myself. Focusing on yourself may sound simple, but I realized that I had never truly done that before—even the times that I thought I was, I was not.

My pre-cancer life was mainly about helping those close to me. It began with my Grandma’s blood cancer. From the ages of five to seven, I went with my Grandma to her thrice-weekly infusions and transfusions. I was responsible for making sure she had a snack and some apple juice once we returned home from the hospital. I would answer Grandpa’s phone call check-ins and would peek in on her, during her afternoon nap. Then, one day I answered Grandpa’s phone call to tell him, “She’s still sleeping” an hour too long. She had a major stroke that put her into a coma, although at seven, I just saw sleeping. Lights, sirens, uniforms, ambulances, my favorite person on a stretcher.

Once it was decided that she was unable to come back from life support, tubes were removed, and she passed. It was a few weeks past my eighth birthday. I took on even more assistant roles within my family. I became the family babysitter long before I should’ve been chronologically, but experience and early trauma had aged me with maturity at a much faster rate than my peers. I was doing the household laundry, light housework, weekly meal planning for the grocery list, and watching The Frugal Gourmet, while trying to remember what Grandma had taught me, and started cooking meals.

When I was thirteen, my sister was born. She was a little light in my daily darkness, and I adapted to being mostly responsible for her, shockingly well. *Most recently, for five years, my husband and I were caregivers for my Grandpa: The Man with a Heart of Gold; The Man who Raised Me. He passed in the spring of 2019, at home, just months before my diagnosis.

During my treatments and doctors’ appointments, cannabis became my meditative ritual. It allowed me to find solace in the chaos and reconnect with myself. I knew cannabis was there, ready to calm the storm and bring serenity back into my life. Through the haze of smoke, I discovered a newfound sense of clarity and purpose. I became the [Cancer-y] Lorax, here to speak for those who have been silenced by this relentless disease.

Now, as a breast cancer survivor, that sentiment remains true, but with a fiery determination born from my own experiences. Cancer may have taken a lot from me, but it also gave me the courage to be unapologetically myself. It showed me the strength that lies within, even when faced with the darkest of days. So, here I am, armed with my words and a deep respect for cannabis and plant medicine. I’m not just a survivor; I’m a warrior on a mission. I want to eradicate the physical and emotional burdens faced by those who find themselves entangled in this shitshow of a disease. And I want to normalize this glorious plant, give it the praise it deserves, and allow all patients equal and affordable access to it. Cancer may have been my wake-up call, but now I’m ready to answer with a resounding battle cry.

And so, I write. I write to connect, to heal, and to share my experiences with those who may be on a similar path. Through my words, I hope to alleviate the burdens that cancer places on the shoulders of its victims. I hope to inspire others to embrace their own strength, their own resilience, and to find solace in the power of their voices.

Let’s face it, cancer is a shitshow. It’s like being jumped after your high school graduation and getting in a fistfight with a much larger human than yourself and being expected to come out unscathed…so I’ve heard… that’s a saying, right?… For the record, the smaller graduate did come out unscathed.

See, because back in the day, I *allegedly* had a mean right jab and left hook, and I was *allegedly* scrappy and fast. But I’m grown now, like, grown-grown… And now we know violence isn’t the answer. My mindset is much more evolved. I also know I’m now forty years young and Letrozole has already given me osteoporosis and has made me a fragile little lady. So, now I fight differently. I write, speak, advocate.

Amidst the chaos forced upon me by cancer, I’ve discovered something profound: the power of my own words. While I may not be a scientist, I can attempt to eradicate the feelings of loneliness and dread by openly sharing my experiences…especially the cannabis-infused ones. Ah, cannabis, my trusted companion through the trials and tribulations of cancer and life, in general.

It is high time (pun intended) that we recognize its true potential. Forget about the outdated classification as a Schedule 1 Narcotic; cannabis is my medicine, plain and simple. It’s been wrongly stigmatized since the days of Good Ole’ Dick Nixon and his band of racists. For me, cannabis boasts a myriad of analgesic effects. It’s a pain-relieving superhero, swooping in to rescue me from the clutches of discomfort. Cancer may have tried to bring me down, but Mary Jane was and always is there to lift me up. And speaking of lifting, let’s not forget its appetite-inducing properties. When chemotherapy wreaked havoc on my appetite cues, cannabis gave me back my hunger for food.

Cannabis is not only my favorite natural pain reliever, but it’s also a great all-around anti-inflammatory. It’s like having a personal inflammation-fighting army at my disposal. It can reduce my stress and anxiety. I need to be able to feel more patient when I’m “patient-ing” and interpreting hard information.

I may have thought I knew anxiety pre-cancer, but I was wrong. Cancer introduced me to the colorful world of panic attacks, so much so that I can often catch them before it goes full-blown and I’m stuck in a spiral of feeling like I’m having a heart attack, unable to breathe, and with uncontrollable shaking. Good times. I can stop these episodes if I’m in a calm enough state to pay attention to how I’m feeling. Now that I know my triggers and early onset signals. If I am not paying attention to myself, I can quickly slip into an anxiety attack and need the Big Girl: Klonopin.

I am by no means stating that my Western medications were ignored in any fashion. Nor am I admitting that smoking a joint is my cure-all. Sure, I’ve sparked up and still vomited on myself without warning, while watching TV. (Who hasn’t? Amirite?) But I bet I would’ve cried more over the entire situation if I hadn’t just finished that j. And okay, yes, I am almost always pressing my lumbar region against my heating pad, and… Fine—I use my ice packs religiously. I feel much less relief than I do when I use those tools alone, in comparison to using them in conjunction with my freshly packed rose petal beezies with attached coconut-based carbon filters.

I know I’m not alone in this fight. There’s a growing movement pushing for the recognition of cannabis as the medicine it truly is. It’s time to break free from the chains of outdated beliefs and embrace the healing potential of this remarkable plant. I envision a future where cannabis is federally recognized for its therapeutic properties, where patients can access it without fear or judgment. A brighter day, when turned-in opioid prescriptions are applauded and insurance companies cover the medical cannabis costs, the same way they did my two-and-a-half-year Oxycodone prescription.

But instead of continuing to wallow in my anger with the system, I’m channeling it towards cancer and the plant medicine movement—Okay, well, I hope that I am contributing to our community and to the fight involving further research in my own creative way, through writing and advocating.

In the grand tapestry of life, cancer was the unexpected plot twist that forced me to confront my own mortality. It made me realize that life is too short to shy away from speaking my truth, to hide behind a facade of niceties, and it took all of my fucks with it. Cancer stripped away the masks I wore—NOT my N95 masks—leaving behind an often anxious, but always unapologetically living my truth and, like it or not, a fiercely authentic version of ME.

So, here I stand, a survivor, a warrior, and a self-proclaimed [Cancer-y] Lorax, and I speak for the [cannabis] trees. Armed with my words and fueled by the healing potential of cannabis, and ready to make a difference. Cancer may have been the one time I was taken care of, but now, I’m back and I’m taking charge. I’m reclaiming my life and using it as a platform to advocate for systemic change and to eradicate the grip of this disease on our lives.

It sounds much easier than doing it. But fuck it, let us stand tall, unapologetically ourselves, and challenge antiquated misinformed societal norms that continue to hold us ALL back. Together, we can raise our voices, shift perceptions, and bring about a world where cannabis is recognized as the medicine it truly is.

And as for me, well, I’m just getting started. Cancer may have been my unexpected break, but now I’m back, sassier than ever, and I stay on-ready to leave my mark and make a difference in this world. And if we banded together?—We could collectively conquer the darkness and emerge stronger, brighter, and bolder than ever before.

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