Since being diagnosed with cancer in 2011, my family and I have been aware that the end would come one day and it would be unpredictable. On Friday the 13 June 2014 the “grim reaper” came for me at 3:00 am, I apologized to Janette for not being easy to live with (according to her my exact words were “sorry for being such an arse for the past couple of years”) , as I felt the life ebbing away. I said my goodbyes, closed my eyes drifting into a parallel universe. I remember feeling surprised that death felt so easy and calming as I floated away to rest in peace for ever and ever.
The bright light made it difficult to open my eyes. The light dims like a beautiful sunset and I can focus, I see a man with long hair and beard. There is a light behind him, he is holding my hand, leaning over, he tells me to breath slowly. Am I still alive? “I am a paramedic” the man says, “you have taken too much cannabis oil” ( this being my latest unorthodox cancer treatment).
I have had so many funny experiences whilst living with cancer, mostly at the expense of others, so I suspect my friends will enjoy this story` the most.
I smoked my first joint in the summer of 1972. My mother had gone out for the night and my school friend, Marc MacDonald, and I had bought some “shit” as we called it (it smelt, tasted and looked like it) and rolled a joint and smoked it. It is not unusual that it does not agree with you the first time and it did not agree me. I lay on the bed in this smoke filled room, trying to enjoy the music but I just felt sick. The room had started to spin when there was a knock on the door.
“Richard come out, there is someone here I want you to meet”. Fuck! My mother was home. “Can’t I do it tomorrow, I am really tired?” “No you have to come now, I have something to tell you” she replied and she kept knocking. I went to the door, if only to stop the knocking which was vibrating through my skull, hoping I could get out the door without Mammy noticing the smoke. She hated smoking, Granny smoked a pack a day. Hopefully the incense we had burned would cover my tracks.
I opened the door. The smoke hit her, like a steam train exiting a tunnel. My mother was not like other mothers she did not head straight for the jugular, preferring the slow torturing method for her victims. She smiled, “did you have a fun evening?” she asked. Yes, I am thinking, get this meeting over with. But no, she started telling me about her evening. I am thinking, great she hasn’t even noticed the clouds of smoke or the distinct smell cannabis as I prop myself up against the door frame. I am going to pull this off, I am thinking to myself, but she went on and on for what seemed like an eternity. I was not meant to be upright, I could feel the blood draining from my head and a buildup of pressure in my stomach as I listened to her prattling on, no longer words more like an electric drill entering my skull. I can’t take it any more, I feel the metallic taste in my mouth the sweat starts to bubble on my forehead, I am going to be sick. I walked by her without a word, past some guy waiting on the landing, on my way towards the toilet. The plan was to kneel and put my head in the toilet, but I was too late. As though a fire hydrant hit by a car, the projectile vomit exploded from me hitting the cistern and wall. By the time I got my head into the toilet most had gone. I felt better and more comfortable and wondered if I could spend the rest of my life here. I had water and men have lived for 70 days on just water.
Now her tone was different. “Have you been taking drugs?” she shouted in her best “Kommandant” tone. I am wondering whether I could answer without removing my head from the toilet. I imagine the “guy” on the landing wearing an SS uniform going “ve have vays and means of making you talk”. I lift my head “yes”. I put my head back in the toilet. “I am calling the police” she shouted. I go “great, at least I will be able to lie down in a cell.” I am a bit surprised by her reaction, I thought she would have been cooler about it. “You have ruined the happiest day of my life, this is Sean. He has asked me to marry him”! Better get up before the vomit sticks my knees to the floor, I thought. I would have offered Sean my hand after wiping the vomit on my jeans, but did not think it made it more presentable. I looked him over, nodded and returned to my room to wait for the police. They were never called. Mammy married Sean the following year and they lived happily ever after, had a few too many that day as well. Loved having to ask the priests for the weekend off to go to my mothers wedding, divorce was forbidden in Ireland so parents getting married, was not a usual occurrence. Sean and I have started to get on better in recent years, mind you he is 87 and has started to develop dementia. Fair to say I was not an easy kid, we are now labeled ADHD and given another drug, called Ritalin.
In June 2014, I finished my treatment regime at the Royal Marsden. Four weeks’ intensive chemotherapy and a type of Laser radiation (Cyber knife) designed to destroy the cancerous growths which had metastasised to the lymph nodes around the aorta. I have few complaints about my medical treatment for cancer. Crude as it is, it’s the best they have, to slow down the progress of out of control cell proliferation in the human body. Unfortunately, the biomedical model has become so dependent on the pharmaceutical industry for published research, they are not investigating a number of interventions that people claim to have helped them cope with cancer and the side effects of treatment.
One of the anecdotal treatments that keeps getting mentioned during the last 3 years is cannabis oil and there are a number of small studies to support its use, this is an explanation of how the cannabis works . I had nothing to lose. About 2 months ago a friend had got in touch with me asking for advice about his recent diagnosis of prostate cancer. He wasn’t keen to undergo the orthodox route and decided on the cannabis oil treatment that he’d read about. However, after taking a capsule of oil, he was stoned for 3 days and could not work. So he decided that he would to go the orthodox route, which has gone well, and he offered me his stash of cannibal oil.
I decided I would try it after finishing my chemo and radiation treatment. in June 6th I started and put a small amount on my finger at 9 o’clock in the morning (see video). By11 o’clock nothing had happened and a friend called asking me for a game of golf ten minutes away. So I said “fine”, went straight to first tee and then suddenly I started to feel the effect. I told Brendan that I had to go as I didn’t feel well and ran to the car. I had a very short time to get home or I would be laid out in the golf club, like the scene in the movie “Wolf of Wall Street”.
I made it home in one piece and was out of it for the next 12 hours as you can see in the video. So for the next 2 days I just took very small amounts and slept really well and thought the golf incident was going to be the story.
On the Thursday, the World Cup started and the first game was Brazil v Croatia. I took a little bit more before the match, thinking, by the time it takes effect it will be time to go to bed.
I went to bed after the match finished as I felt the effects begin and went straight to sleep. I don’t know how soon it started but I began to have the most horrendous nightmare about death and dying. There were 10 grim reapers on horseback, charging towards me, laughing at the fact I say cancer has never caused me a sleepless night. Now I was going to get three years of fear in one night. I was hallucinating that they were on the ceiling and it was spinning faster and faster. It was like a scene from a Harry Potter movie. It was like I was in the middle of Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” surrounded by zombies telling me to kill myself as it would be easier than dying from cancer.
Eventually I woke up because my mouth and throat were bone dry. There was no saliva whatsoever, I tried to get up to go to the bathroom to get a drink but could not stand. Then I swallowed and my epiglottis got stuck closing my airways for a few seconds. I started to panic got last bit of air in lungs out which opened airways again. I called Janette asking her what time it was hoping the worst was over. 1 am she says. Christ, it’s only the start, I must be having a stroke, I thought. Janette got me a glass of water but I could not sit up to drink so I put my fingers in the glass to wet my mouth and thought I was going to be sick. I had a longing for one of the kids’ ice pops but that also made me feel ill. I felt this tightness in my chest, perhaps it was a heart attack I was having. Either way I was convinced I was about to die.
My hands and feet have lost about 20% of sensation after chemotherapy but now the woolly sensation was moving up my arms and legs (I now know it was because of the way I was breathing, which was causing me to hyperventilate). I asked Janette to get the kids asI wanted to say my goodbyes. She says NO! as she did want to alarm them. We had been preparing them for this moment for three years and rightly so, she wanted to be sure I was dying before subjecting them to such an ordeal. She didn’t think I was dying, but could not rule out a stroke, but she didn’t think someone who was dying would continuously saying; “I am going”.
The state I was in, I could not believe she was denying me my Hollywood death, light on my face surrounded by my kids, I did not have the strength to argue. I apologised for being so difficult to live with and thanked her for being such a good mother to the kids. She asked if she should call an ambulance? I said it was too late, I was going fast, so she rings the ambulance. She tells them what has happened and I may be having some kind of anaphylactic reaction to the cannabis, so soon after the chemotherapy treatment.
The 999 operator asked to speak to me about my symptoms, I describe them and she tells me they will be there soon and to hang on, I thank her but tell her it’s too late. It’s 3am, I feel the life ebbing from my body, I was surprised how easy it was. I told Janette to tell the kids loved them and I was gone.
Thirty minutes later I hear this man’s voice and I realiz, I was still alive. The man was the first paramedic who rushed to the scene to “save” me. He was taking my blood pressure, having checked my vitals, and was telling Janette I had probably taken too much cannabis. I wanted to speak but words would not come out, I tried to open my eyes but the light in the room was strong. They turned out the light allowing the light from the corridor to lighten the room. I opened one eye and could see this man sitting on the bed, the light from the corridor was behind him, outlining his long hair. As I opened the other eye, I saw he had a beard. I look at him in astonishment and gasped; “it’s no wonder I thought I was dying, you look like Jesus! Wearing the green of Ireland to welcome me into heaven. He laughed and told me to concentrate on slow breathing and not to breathe so deeply. Straight away I started to feel better. Then the ambulance arrives.
Blood pressure and heart rate are normal, he tells them. Blood oxygen levels are low because he is hyperventilating and that’s the problem. It had been coming in waves and I kept saying fuck, fuck like a chicken clucking. They were unsure whether I should go into hospital for observation, because of the chemo treatment I had been having. I was feeling a lot better, I told them it was their call but I was confident I was ok. Although I have been stoned like this before, I had never experienced anything like the earlier hallucinations and paranoia.
I must have been ok, as I started to have fun with the paramedic, I say to the two from the ambulance. “How the fuck can a paramedic be allowed to look like Jesus? Someone gets run over, they’re unconscious, they start to come round, and seeing Jesus standing over them is not going to do them much good“. The two from the ambulance were much younger than the paramedic, who was probably in his 50s and looked like an old hippy, and they laughed. This sent me into absolute hysterics. I am pointing at the poor paramedic and breaking into hysterical fits of laughter on the bed.
Janette looks mortified and the paramedic goes and he says “if you don’t mind me saying you are a bit old to start experimenting with drugs”. I laugh and tell him I am a child of the 60s and he tells me the stuff around today is way stronger than anything I would have have smoked back in the day. I tell them, I have had thirty six cycles of chemotherapy and walked out of each one and never experienced anything like this. Something must have happened in my body tonight. If I have cured the cancer you will have to bear witness, our house will be like the shrine in Lourdes people will be coming from all over the world to see where the miracle happened and touch the people involved.
Fortunately it was a quiet night for the ambulance service and they were all laughing by now. I suppose it makes a change for them coming to a scene where it’s just a middle aged man making a fool of himself.
When the ambulance service gets called to drug related incidences they have to inform the police because crime may be involved. No idea if the police were informed, but the paramedic told his office that I was just a silly old man trying s spliff for the first time! I told them I was embarrassed they had to come out to save me, they said it was a quiet night and they had enjoyed the experience and a funny story to share with colleagues. Molly woke up came into the bedroom, “What’s going on”? she asked. Janette told some friends of Daddy’s had come over for a party. She is looking at the three people in green, wondering why we are having a party in the bedroom in the middle of the night. She was only 10 so would not have heard of swingers, she went back to bed and the men and women in green said their goodbyes, it was still dark as I put my head down and Janette said you owe me big time, I said yes. Then she tells me; “Christmas is with my family this year“! I wanted to get stoned again!
As I lay down to sleep another cold sweat came over me, imagine if Janette had got the children up and I had put them through my “last” moments, something they will have to go through it one day. That’s why I can laugh about this experience today and dont feel to embarrassed about sharing the story. You have to be able to laugh at yourself, when you spend you life taking the piss out of others. In addition subsequently they have become knowledgeable about the potential unpleasant effects of recreational drugs and are more likely to say NO!