Moving to Colorado eight years I was on a journey to health but at the time I was willing to accept death as long as it was more pain free than the life I was living. When you feel that way, you are no longer living. You are surviving at best. I wanted to thrive. My will to survive and choices are the reason I am here today. I receive so many questions from patients and students so I thought I would write my journey out in an effort to help anyone and everyone on their own journey back to health.
My pain started in my right side, just under my rib cage. Being a Nurse I of course made several attempts to self diagnose. I ignored the pain for a year. I blamed it on a million different things. I tried to treat myself for a few various conditions and even created a psychosomatic and psychological response to the pain in an effort to drown it out. It provided temporary relief but eventually I found myself on five pharmaceutical drugs for competing symptoms. The primary issue was that none of them were helping. The pain would come and go with no warning. It would take over my entire body with nausea and sharp stabbing pains to my right rib cage.
Finally I decided enough self diagnosing was enough and I began seeking testing. I just wanted my health back. To spare you the gory details just know they looked everywhere. In and out of every orifice they could. It was as though each place they sought something they found something they weren’t even looking for. None of the results explained the increasing pain in my right side. Eventually one test showed that my gallbladder was no long functioning and they decided it must have been the cause of my pain and that it needed to be removed. I was scheduled for surgery the following week.
The surgery began successful until they discovered the reason the gallbladder had stopped functioning. I had a massive blood filled tumor sitting on my liver bisecting the hepatic vein and artery. They took a biopsy and assumed I would be dead in a month. The biopsy results showed otherwise, thank god. The tumor was benign. It was not cancer. Instead it was a blood and estrogen filled mass called a Focal Nodular Hyperplasia most likely caused by the birth control pill. The surgeon explained that due to its location on my liver the tumor was inoperable.
By the time I received this diagnosis the pain in my right side was absolutely unbearable and coming in waves every day. The only thing that was providing me any relief was cannabis. I was smoking before and after every single activity I was capable of and by this time which was no more than doing laundry. I had stopped work for the surgery but I was getting worse instead of better. I began using cannabis candies that I had illegally sent to me and they began providing more relief than any of the now thirteen pharmaceuticals I had prescribed.
I woke up a few weeks post op in extreme pain and felt as if I was dying. My skin was so puffy my rings that were normally loose and spun around my fingers were now so stuck in position I could not take them off. My skin was a yellowish grey and the energy and will to live were quickly leaving my body. My Mother lived in Colorado. I knew that they had a medical marijuana program and I wondered if I could qualify for a card because of the pain I was in and my new surgical record. I called her out of desperation and explained how I felt. She told me if I really felt that way that I should board the next flight and leave everything behind.
So that’s what I did. I left my relationship, dog, car, clothing, and possessions. None of those things mattered, only life mattered. I had not lived with my Mom since I was six years old so making the move was complicated on so many levels. One of the first conversations I had with my Mom she told me she would pay for my food, which was to be mostly raw and organic vegetarian, my pharmaceuticals and doctors appointments but that she would not help pay for my cannabis. The weed is why I moved. She didn’t get it, and that was okay. I did what I had to. I sold jewelry, applied for government assistance and did massages when my body would allow.
I applied for my medical marijuana card the first week I lived in Colorado. My first time into a medical dispensary in 2010 was a dream full of legal marijuana products come true. I began ingesting cannabis in every form I could. I ate it, drank it, smoked it, and rubbed it on my scars. I quickly understood what this plant was capable of. One at a time I began taking myself off the pharmaceuticals I had been prescribed. This is not something I recommend anyone to do. I utilized my years as a Nurse and intuition to make that very personal decision. That decision would end up changing my life forever.
About two weeks into living in Colorado I ended up in the emergency room. The pain that had been stabbing my ribs for over a year came so strong one night that I ended up in the emergency room. The source of the excruciating pain and nausea was discovered. I had a 9mm kidney stone obstructing my kidney and I was septic. When they went to perform the surgery for removal they discovered I had a congenital anomaly of having two ureters on my kidney instead of one. The tests showed the stone was stuck in a Y type connection at the top of the ureter just as it branched off the kidney. Instead of being able to remove the stone the doctor had to place two stents in my kidney in hopes the stone would pick one and move out naturally.
It didn’t. After weeks of having these stents poke my back I had another surgery to remove them and the stone. As soon as I woke up the pain was gone. I instantly knew that the source of my pain the whole time had been my kidney and never my gallbladder or my liver. I thought that was the end of pain and the start to a whole new version of me. Sadly, I was mistaken.
I had been working for a physician in Canon City, Colorado briefly when pain began to take over my body once again. This time it was an exacerbation of conditions I had been diagnosed with years prior. Polycystic ovaries were a treacherous part of my life for years. They would send me to the hospital often. Each time leaving with the same diagnosis and conclusion, a cyst having burst in my fallopian tubes. The doctor I worked for wanted to help me so badly but my options for treatment were limited. I took the birth control pill from age 14-24 and my body could no longer receive that type of excess estrogen due to the tumor on my liver. I tried a patch of progesterone and it made me ill so they had no choice, I had no choice.
Signing over my rights to have children was and is one of the hardest moments in my journey. I was barely 30 and in the state of Colorado you have to sign a statement stating you are fully aware of what you are doing. It was the last thing I wanted to do. There was this whole part of my life I saw myself being a Mom. I was so sick the decision was necessary. I just wanted to live a life without pain. One full of health. A life where I could thrive, not just survive.
When I woke up from my total abdominal hysterectomy I was in a severe hot flash. I remember shouting loudly that “I needed a fan.” One was brought to me. I was in surgical menopause from the time I opened my eyes. I experienced this endless wave of heat that came from my core and nothing cooled me down. Due to the tumor on my liver taking Estrogen supplements was out of the question. I remember being in the hospital and telling the nurse I was having a hard time urinating and they assured me this was a normal part of the process.
I was discharged after four days and was back in the E.R. days later. The nausea I was experiencing was unbearable. They had me on more pharmaceuticals then should ever be needed for a post-op patient. All along telling me that all the symptoms I was experiencing were considered “normal.” I had never felt more crazy in my life. No one believed what I was feeling. I had lost total control of my health. The people I was closest to thought I was lying for attention, if you can even imagine. This insanity went on for four weeks after the hysterectomy until the day of the four week follow up appointment. The morning of that appointment I began experiencing the same pain I had suffered from for years prior, stabbing under my right rib cage. This sensation made me feel even crazier because I knew there was no way possible that I had another kidney stone.
I was sent for emergency surgery for a Nephrostomy tube several hours after that follow up appointment. At some point during the hysterectomy the doctor sutured my ureter down causing a total occlusion and urine had been unable to flow to my bladder from my kidney for four weeks. I was close to septic once again. I was on antibiotic therapies for months. Due to the severity of the situation I sought out the same Urologist that saved my life the first time. Under her recommendation I had to wear this tube draining urine to a bag strapped to my thigh for 6 1/2 months. It was such a hot summer in Colorado. I was unable to wear shorts or anything above the knee or my spicket would stick out.
During that time major depression took over my body along with the tubes and increasing number of scars. I went down to 98 lbs. I no longer knew what health was. There was no amount of cannabis or pharmaceutical treatment that touched what I felt. I questioned my journey to health. I wondered if it would ever exist. I read a lot, I took online classes in spiritualism and healing from the inside, I sought the love of my friends and family from a distance. I was never more alone then during that time. It was a journey I had to suffer alone. I was too much for anyone to process including myself.
The non-refluxing urethral transplant was done and I woke up on a Dilaudid pump. By this juncture I had received so many medications my tolerance was so far surpassed my size the nurses and doctors would triple check my orders. During the surgery they moved my ureter to a new location on my bladder and moved my bladder up and over in an effort to accommodate the new ureters location. They inserted a stent that was to keep this new ureter patent, or open and flowing. The surgeon said the stent would be present for six weeks and I would come back in for the removal. After 7 days in the hospital post-op I was still no better. I could not keep food down or anything for that matter.
I am discharged from the hospital and my step dad drives me over 60 miles back home to the mountains only to be driven back less than six hours later. I was admitted for another six days. In the middle of the night my Surgeon appeared and informed me we would need to remove the stent. The stent that needed to be in place for six weeks and she wanted to remove it after less than two. It was awful in so many ways. As I write this I remember so many little details but I will spare you the goriest parts. Long story short, the doctor saved my life once again. I was discharged the next morning.
As I layed in bed healing from yet another major surgery the depression began to lessen and the amount of cannabis continued to increase. I began to have these ephinoies that the magnitude of things that were happening to me had to have a bigger purpose. I would think to myself, “there is no way there’s not a purpose for this, how could all of these things happen and not have some gigantic purpose, I am still alive after all of this, there just has to be a reason.” My personal journey from sickness to health was so long yet so quick I just wanted to be well and move on with my life.
Believing that I was well on my road to recovery and that I could begin putting a cycle of surgeries behind me, I moved to Denver, full of hope. I was staying with a friend for only a few weeks when I received a phone call from the Porter Hospital. I was called in for some repeat tests for the tumor on my liver. Although it was benign and I gave up soy and any artificial means of estrogen the tumor continued to grow in size. I had seen two other hepatologists previously and was told due to the location the tumor was inoperable. That was until the day I met the angel of a surgeon Dr. Thomas Heffron.
I was scheduled for surgery on December 12, 2012. The operation was done laparoscopically and took 7.5 hours. From the moment I woke up, I felt different. The tumor and a chunk of my liver were removed and while I was still in the hospital recovering my liver began to regenerate like a starfish. This recovery was different than the others. My body felt as if it was repairing faster. As soon as I was discharged I came off of every pharmaceutical and used cannabis only. I used it for any pain or discomfort I experienced as well as using topicals on my incisions. My journey to health was finally beginning! I was starting to feel better than I ever had before.
Eight weeks post-op I attempted to go back to working as a Massage Therapist. I felt so incredible and had spent 2.5 years not working and having surgeries. Alas it was far too soon for me to go back to doing that type of strenuous bodywork and I ended up taking a few steps back. Allowing myself more time to heal proved very fruitful. I continued researching cannabis as medicine and I began making various preparations of plant medicine. I ended up being offered a job at a medical marijuana dispensary and dove in face first to the life of the cannabis industry.
My journey to health led to me to plant medicine. It made me the person I am today and the healer I am today. I wanted to share my journey with anyone that it may inspire to never give up on your own voyage. If I would not have stayed resilient I would not be here today. I read, researched and insisted on tests and treatments even when they didn’t want to perform them. I was relentless in the pursuit of my health. I never gave up no matter how much I wanted to. I now look back on those years and I am able to see them as a bump in the road of life. I am a survivor. I am a starfish.