Cannabis Patient Story: Wendy (part 1 of 3)
The Source is proud to share this cannabis patient story from our friend and podcast host, Wendy Love Edge. Below, in part 1 of 3, Wendy describes her journey from what she describes as “pharmaceutical overload” to trying medical cannabis for the first time.
A career that was a passion
I recall the relentless desire to excel at my job as I embarked on my journey as a full-time occupational therapist once again in 2011. For years, I had been distanced from direct patient care while working in rehabilitation management and leadership. However, after moving to Arkansas from Massachusetts and not finding the leadership role I wanted, I made some new decisions about my career. Amidst significant life changes, including the move and a second marriage, I resolved to return to my career roots. I started providing hands-on treatment to patients.
This required not only the use of my mind, education, and skills but also my body. People do not really understand how physical an occupational therapy job can be. Nevertheless, it was fulfilling, and I loved my patients. I felt that I was in the right place. Little did I know that my path would soon take an unexpected turn.
Debilitating symptoms and a diagnosis
Things quickly veered off course due to new and growing health concerns. As a perfectionist, each day became a battleground between my longing for perfection in my work and the harsh reality of my worsening physical limitations. Hoping that the unexplained difficulties in walking and the progressive muscle weakness in my arms would fade away as mysteriously as they appeared, I pushed through with hope. But hope can only sustain you for so long. It wasn't until a skin rash emerged, snaking its way across my belly and hands, eventually reaching my face.
The pain caused by the skin rash matched the agony of my uncertainty. Its fiery presence mocked any attempts to conceal it beneath clothing or makeup. In that vulnerable moment, a concerned coworker approached me with genuine worry etched across their face. The floodgates of my composure burst open. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I confessed, "I believe it's something serious, and I don't know exactly what it is or what to do about it. I suppose I'll have to see a doctor."
Within a week, I received a life-altering diagnosis: Dermatomyositis. My body was essentially eating my skin and muscle cells.
Within a week, I received a life-altering diagnosis: Dermatomyositis. Those words reverberated through my mind like a thunderclap, shattering the hope I had clung to. The type of dermatomyositis I had was an insidious and formidable illness with severe symptoms that demanded my attention, challenging me to confront the darkest corners of my being. My immune system was attacking its body tissues, essentially eating my skin and muscle cells.
The burden of dermatomyositis, combined with my existing conditions—including psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, heart stents, diabetes, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—made the situation even more devastating.
You see, I was no stranger to illness, but the drugs I had previously been prescribed by health care providers, including biologics, opiates, and muscle relaxers, allowed me to keep working, maintain a home, and raise children. I never thought these illnesses would eventually stop me in my tracks. I was a strong and capable woman, and my Grandmother Rose had taught me to be independent. “Never depend on a man or anyone,” she told me in my youth. I had taken that to heart and saw myself as intelligent, capable, and able to overcome any adversity—despite these illnesses.
At the doctor's office, however, they told me that I would die from dermatomyositis or the treatment for it. This inflammatory and autoimmune disease would soon become my teacher in many ways, but at that moment, I only desired to live. So I resolved to do whatever my healthcare providers said was the appropriate treatment for this autoimmune disease to achieve that goal.
As the drugs accumulated in my system, the muscle strength in my arms and legs weakened. The dosage of opiates increased due to the chronic pain I felt. I was introduced to 120 mg of prednisone alongside a chemotherapy drug. As a diabetic, I needed more insulin due to the high doses of steroids, as well as medication to treat nausea. Depression settled in, and despite the plethora of pills I was taking to treat severe pain (morphine around the clock and Percocet four times a day), the pain persisted. Cymbalta was added to the mix, as it can treat pain caused by chronic muscle inflammation and depression.
One drug leads to the next in an attempt to combat the side effects of the previous one. Before I knew it, I was on sixteen pills and injections.
You see, with pharmaceutical products, one drug leads to the next in an attempt to combat the side effects of the previous one, creating a never-ending cycle. Before I knew it, I was on sixteen different pills and injections, confined to a power wheelchair due to progressive muscle weakness, and unable to care for myself. I was completely “bulldozed,” a term I later coined to describe how it felt. My wife became my caretaker, bathing, dressing, and assisting me to the toilet. This was our new reality, and it became increasingly difficult for me to maintain emotional stability. I oscillated between tears, outbursts, and long periods of sleep.
Amidst the physical and emotional turmoil, we were burdened by the weight and fear of financial hardship. As the primary earner in our household, my income was slashed in half due to short-term disability, and the impending end of my health insurance loomed over us. Fear gripped our hearts, for in Arkansas, there was little to no access to Medicaid or substantial assistance of any kind. My wife’s family of devout Christians told me that I was praying to the wrong God, and that’s why I was sick, so there was no help there. My parents were already deceased, so obviously, there was no help there either.
Desperate to make ends meet, we exhausted our savings and retirement funds and resorted to selling our belongings on the front lawn.
In the following months, progress slowed as the doses of steroids and methotrexate were gradually reduced. With the aid of a walker and, eventually, arm crutches, I regained some mobility and muscle strength. However, I remained reliant on a multitude of other medications as I tapered off the prednisone and methotrexate, and the doctors added new drugs to the mix. The count of medications I took constantly hovered around sixteen. I took most of these drugs several times a day.
It soon became apparent that remaining in Arkansas was no longer feasible. Thankfully, a few compassionate friends came to our aid, helping us pack up and embark on our journey back to Massachusetts. However, complications arose as we discovered that a tenant who had stopped paying rent still occupied our house in Massachusetts. Due to our preoccupation with my illness, we could not initiate eviction proceedings. Despite falling several months behind on mortgage payments, we had notified the bank that I had applied for disability, hoping it would be approved before they seized the home I had cherished for two decades.
With the aid of a walker and, eventually, arm crutches, I regained some mobility. However, I remained reliant on a multitude of other medications.
The truth was, we knew that returning to Massachusetts would grant us immediate access to free healthcare and other forms of assistance. However, our journey back home was fraught with adversity and nearly claimed the lives of both myself and my wife. To help fund our journey and make it easier, we sold her car and purchased a truck capable of carrying our remaining belongings. Just two hours into our drive, a police officer pulled us over due to a malfunctioning tail light. As we veered off the interstate, disaster struck—one of the truck's wheels flew off, colliding with the other car we were towing, leaving us stranded and unable to continue.
The truck was totaled, but miraculously, we were alive. We reached out to friends back east, who generously provided the financial support necessary to continue our journey back to Massachusetts. My wife bore the brunt of the burden as my physical abilities had not yet improved enough for me to assist her.
Finally reunited with dear friends in Massachusetts, we received immeasurable support in obtaining the essentials for survival. Disability benefits were granted, and we used whatever resources we could to stabilize our precarious financial situation.
I sought a doctor I trusted and relentlessly asked, "Are there any drugs on my list I can stop taking?" To my dismay, their response remained consistent—each drug was deemed necessary for a corresponding diagnosis. Deep down, I understood that these medications were not truly healing me but merely alleviating symptoms. However, my fierce desire to live compelled me to continue with the prescribed drugs. I believed them wholeheartedly when they told me I would die from dermatomyositis or its treatment. That belief kept me trapped in the sick role, faithfully injecting drugs and swallowing prescribed pills, convinced that they were my lifeline. I held onto the hope that they were trying to save me.
My wife approached me and revealed that she had decided to leave. She believed that by stepping away, I would rediscover my strength and begin to heal. And the fact is, she was right.
In the autumn of 2013, a pivotal moment arrived when my wife approached me and revealed that she had decided to leave. She believed that by stepping away, I would rediscover my strength and begin to heal. Despite battling numerous illnesses, I have always been known as a resilient and powerful woman. She felt that I had succumbed to my circumstances, and it became unbearable for her to witness any longer. It made us incapable of getting along well or having a happy life. She also had abandoned taking care of her own health issues in favor of helping me, and she needed to tend to herself. She knew I was safe and had support, but I knew the decision to leave didn’t come easily. I did not understand fully then, but as time passed, I understood. And the fact is, she was right.
Consequently, she ventured to live in a secluded cabin on women's land in Missouri, leaving me behind. I found myself alone, unable to drive, and reliant on a caregiver's assistance to manage household tasks and ensure my safety during showers. I was just surviving. It would be a long time before I would hear from my wife again. I had to learn to accept that.
Deciding on self-healing
One day, as I sat on the couch in solitude, I heard a distinct voice speaking to me. "Your body can heal itself,” the voice said. This voice resonated deeply within me. I stated it out loud and wrote it down. I wrote it several times, in several ways, taking it in and looking at it carefully.
I started to draw on my extensive education in Occupational Therapy from Boston University, where I had delved into various scientific disciplines. I started to remember what I knew.
For instance, I knew that the body possesses its own healing abilities. I studied that in detail in college. It was then I realized that I had to put my body in the right conditions—into balance. Motivated by this realization, I delved into extensive research. I delved into the topic of inflammation, exploring all the diseases attributed to me and all of the information on every medication I had been prescribed. It became clear to me that my body hadn't been given a fair chance to heal amidst all the chemicals. My body was completely out of balance, out of homeostasis. I found evidence supporting that once you are on more than two pharmaceutical drugs, they cannot fully determine the interactions. I was taking sixteen!
I wanted to get better, be empowered to be me, and LIVE—not just survive.
With conviction, I decided I could not endorse to others or entirely justify it within the confines of mainstream medicine. Yet, I knew it was the right path for me. I decided to gradually wean myself off of as many of the pharmaceutical products as I could. I started by reducing the dosage of Gabapentin and halving my intake of morphine. I believed that starting with these medications would allow me to think more clearly. I opted not to consult my doctor, who had previously insisted that I couldn't discontinue any prescribed medications as they were the appropriate treatment for my illness. If I were to embark on this journey, I would have to do it alone.
Unaware of my physical and mental addiction to many of these drugs, I armed myself with passion and a renewed zest for life, effectively shifting my mindset from victim to victor—or so I thought.
Little did I know that true victory would be a long and arduous path and a long time away. Within a short amount of time, I found myself in full withdrawal from the "drug overload" my body had endured over the years. Tremors shook my body, I was covered in sweat, and at times, my coherence waned. I confronted this challenge alone, but eventually, I decided to confide in close friends. Initially, seeking their support to acquire groceries and supplies. But I realized I also needed their emotional support as well.
One day, I reached out to a friend for assistance with groceries, but she could not lend a hand. Nevertheless, she contacted another friend of hers—a familiar acquaintance named Donna—who graciously offered her help.
When Donna arrived at my home and caught sight of me, looking concerned, she exclaimed, "What's wrong? You look worse than the last time I saw you."
I explained my actions and the significance they held to me in enabling me to regain my power and health. I explained that since the doctors told me I would die anyway, and I believed it, what if, instead, I believed that I could get better?
I explained that I felt I was on pharmaceutical overload and didn’t know which pills and injections I truly needed.
Donna congratulated me and then posed a question that would change my life forever for the better. “Have you tried marijuana?" she asked.
Surprised by her question, I replied, "Donna, I'm trying to wean off drugs. I mean, I used marijuana in high school, and it probably helped me cope, but I fail to see how adding another substance would be beneficial now."
I realized the undeniable truth: Cannabis was my medicine.
Donna enlightened me, emphasizing that marijuana, or cannabis, was not merely a drug but a healing herb. She claimed it could alleviate withdrawal symptoms, relieve pain, and offer numerous other benefits. “It is medicine,” she said.
Considering my circumstances, I contemplated, "Well, at this point, I have nothing to lose, I suppose. If I listen to my health care providers, I'd believe that I am going to die, and I wouldn't be trying to get off the drugs at all… Okay. I'll try it.” I knew nothing about the healing properties of cannabis, the state of legalization, or any of the rules. All I knew was I wanted to get better, be empowered to be me, and LIVE—not just survive.
She explained that she had some in the car. “It’s legal, medically, in Massachusetts. So, if it works, you can take the legal route—if it makes you feel better. I really don’t know anything about how you do that. I’m an old hippie and have been using it my whole life. I’ll go get it, and we will see what happens.”
With eager anticipation, I watched her grind the medicine and roll it into a joint with care. I then took a few puffs from the freshly rolled joint she shared with me. As I inhaled the cannabis medicine into my lungs for the third toke, the withdrawal symptoms and excruciating pain almost magically began dissipating, fading into the background of my consciousness.
In that transformational moment, I realized the undeniable truth: Cannabis was my medicine.
Read Part 2 of Wendy’s journey here »
If you are interested in learning more about Wendy's consulting services, visit her website or contact her directly via email at [email protected].