7 year-old Nattaly Brown was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system and develops in skeletal muscles. Her chemotherapy and radiation treatments left her with vomiting, nausea, anxiety, sleeplessness, weight loss and a feeding tube.
Having to watch her daughter suffer, Nattaly’s mother Alyssa Schuck decided to try medical marijuana. As her registered caregiver, Schuck received little help from Nattaly’s physician at Bronson Battle Creek Hospital, whose policy is to “decline to act as providers or gatekeepers of patients’ access to cannabis-related products until they have received marketing approval from the Food and Drug Administration,” according to hospital spokesperson Carolyn Wyllie.
This left Schuck on her own.
“It’s scary and it’s a risk,” said Schuck. “And you don’t want to talk about it — but you do want to talk about it, you know what I mean? You want people to know it’s not terrible.”
It took a long process of trial and error to determine what worked best for Nattaly’s symptoms, including topicals, vaporized concentrates, edibles and tinctures. Schuck undertook her own research and spoke to others affected by cancer and the side effects brought on by conventional treatments. Eventually, Schuck honed in on strains and dosages that worked best for Nattaly. It took even more time to find a dispensary with reliable, consistent products.
Schuck had to overcome her own prejudices about marijuana, as well as convince family members of its effectiveness.
“People hear cannabis or marijuana and they’re like, ‘Wait. What?'” Schuck said. “They have this preconceived notion that it’s the worst thing in the whole world.”
Schuck must travel to Ann Arbor to purchase medical marijuana, since Battle Creek is still debating whether or not to allow dispensaries within its city limits. There are the usual concerns regarding federal drug laws, as well as how much money would be necessary to regulate it. Although there are 3100 medical marijuana patients in Calhoun County, dispensaries are not allowed in the region. Allowing dispensaries would offer a safer and easier way of acquiring medical marijuana, but it will take time for city commissioners to form their own policies for medical marijuana businesses.
“There’s no determination for the formula in place for how we are going to finance this program,” said Battle Creek Police Chief Jim Blocker. “I realize there’s a lot of percentages thrown out there, there’s a lot of fees thrown out there, but all of those have to be justified in practice.”
Since Nattaly’s cancer diagnosis and her medical marijuana treatment, she has put on weight and no longer needs a feeding tube. Her anxiety has lessened and she sleeps through the night. Instead of finishing her chemotherapy treatments, she switched to medical marijuana and now shows no signs of cancer. If there are no signs of cancer next month, she will officially be in remission.
With her own child’s health improving against all odds, Schuck realizes the risks and social implications of medical marijuana seem inconsequential compared to the mortality of a child.
“She’s happy. And she’s not dead,” Schuck said. “You have to come to the realization that life is scary and decisions are scary and change is scary. But what’s scarier than losing your kid? Literally, nothing.”
This post was originally published on June 1, 2017, it was updated on October 5, 2017.