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Rodeos, beer, and cancer

Eight years ago today, I competed in the wild horse race at the Red Lodge Home of Champions Rodeo. At the time, I was between chemotherapy treatments for a life-threatening case of large B-cell lymphoma. It was, shall I say, an interesting time in my life, which I wrote a newspaper article about three years ago [update: the article is now here on my blog]. The oncologist had informed me that the treatment (CHOP chemotherapy plus monoclonal antibodies) had about a 50% chance of success in cases like mine.

Gary in the Wild Horse Race

I didn’t win anything. But I set my sights on being there that weekend, doing my part, and walking away under my own power. It meant a lot to me, and I still wear the buckle I bought myself to commemorate that event almost every day. They say fighting cancer is all about your attitude. Perhaps they’re right.

The whole experience of having cancer in 2003 changed my point of view on what’s important in life. Family and friends count for a lot more than money and possessions. Enjoying life is paramount. I’ve become less concerned about what others think of me, and my attitude these days is generally “live and let live.”

That is probably what upsets me so much about legislators hurting people who could have used help instead (see my post about the changes in Montana’s medical marijuana laws), or vicious personal attacks during political campaigns. Unfortunately, many diseases still carry social stigmas with them (e.g., AIDS), and it seems like most of the attention — and money — goes to just a few hip diseases. I see more posters, ribbons, news articles, bumper stickers, and talk shows about breast cancer than all other types of cancer combined. Ever see a fundraiser for non-Hodgkins large B-cell lymphoma?

My other bout with cancer happened just last year, and it was one of those that you don’t generally discuss in polite company. Prostate cancer is one of the “icky” diseases. Your average man on the street doesn’t really know what his prostate gland does, and if he’s heard anything at all about treating prostate cancer, he’s probably heard about the dangers of impotency and incontinence as possible side-effects. I know that scared the heck out of me when I was diagnosed.

Now, I have received my second “all-clear,” leaving the current score at Gary: 2, Cancer: 0. Although I wouldn’t call either experience enjoyable, the side effects have been minimal and my life can continue as normal. But not as it was before.

Pints for ProstatesIn our little town of 2,300, our “Pints for Prostates” fundraiser pulled in over $1,200, and over 50 people showed up to have a great time, hear my quick talk about prostate cancer, and leave with some discount coupons for PSA tests at the hospital. That made me feel pretty good, and I’m hoping to do even better next year.

Although I like to think of myself as a generally easy-going kind of guy, I have a lot less tolerance for intolerance these days, and virtually no tolerance for incompetence. It’s a good thing I haven’t set my sites on public office, because I’m too darned blunt for it. Legislators from Federal level to city level are passing laws that don’t address the problem they were purported to solve. We’re spending billions of dollars interfering with other countries when we aren’t doing an adequate job of fixing problems at home. Our health care system is badly broken, and legislators are working overtime to fight attempts to fix it rather than working together for a solution.

Ah, well, I’m rambling. I’ll go back to my regularly-scheduled posts with a focus next week. I hope you all enjoy your Independence Day weekend!

Montana medical marijuana law change: hurting everyone

medical marijuana symbolAbout seven years ago, I was diagnosed with lymphoma and given a 50/50 chance of survival. Within a matter of days, I had started chemotherapy and monoclonal antibody treatments. At that time, medical marijuana had not yet been legalized in Montana, so I used the legal medications: dangerous addictive narcotics for the pain and expensive experimental drugs for nausea and appetite stimulation. Comparing notes with cancer sufferers who used marijuana showed that their solution was cheaper, more effective, and had fewer side-effects.

When Initiative 148 made medical marijuana legal in Montana, I was pleased to see the progress. An overwhelming majority of Montana voters said that patients should get the best medication for their ailment, even if the Federal government didn’t support it. Last month, lawmakers in Montana showed their total disdain for the people who elected them by gutting the medical marijuana program. This astounded me. Why would they do such a thing? Marijuana is safer than narcotics (heck, it’s safer than alcohol!), and the Montana state constitution is very clear on the subject.

Section 1. Popular sovereignty. All political power is vested in and derived from the people. All government of right originates with the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole.

Our state senators and representatives do not have the legal right to overturn the will of the people. Yet they did it anyway! The new law is capricious and mean. It hurts almost everyone involved. Most of the time, you can ferret out the impetus behind legislation by following the money; by seeing who benefits from the bill. Let’s give that a try here by looking at everyone affected by changed to Montana’s laws:

  • Patients lose. No, it’s worse than that. Patients are screwed! Instead of being able to purchase tinctures, edibles, raw plants, and other forms of marijuana, they are forced to grow their own. Someone diagnosed with cancer today has to wait six weeks to get a card, then acquire a seedling, grow the plant, learn how to harvest it, and figure out what to do with the marijuana they harvest. By the time they have usable medication, their treatment is completed. Instead of having an experienced caregiver that can recommend different strains based on symptoms, they’re on their own. If they can’t figure out how to process the marijuana into edible form, they’ll end up smoking it: not a good thing for a sick person’s lungs. Instead, they’ll turn to prescription narcotics.
  • Caregivers lose. These people set up businesses that were 100% legal. They signed leases, purchased inventory, bought insurance, installed security systems, purchased office furnishings, and in general made a significant financial commitment to their business. Under the new law, caregivers must provide services for free (and only to family members), so they’re out of business and they’ve lost their investment.
  • Law enforcement loses. The illegal drug dealers who will set up shop to replace the caregivers are not licensed. They are more likely to break other laws; to commit other crimes. A friend of mine who used to be a narcotics officer told me there have been cases of violence between caregivers/dispensaries in Montana. Just wait and see how much better it is when they’re operated by a drug cartel instead of a small businessman.
  • The state government loses. License fees and taxes from caregivers and dispensaries are being replaced with higher enforcement costs and the costs of incarceration for newly-created criminals.

So who wins? Only two groups of people: illegal drug dealers and the drug companies who manufacture the narcotics that replace medical marijuana.

I contacted my state Senator, Jason Priest, before the bill was passed and urged him to vote against it. He responded:

The status quo is not going to work. After looking at the original ballot language it is clear that the voters approved a compassion model, not the legalization of mj. While I agree SB 423 is an ambitious regulatory model, it is better than the status quo.

I’m confident that those who need mj will be able to get it. Frankly, I think those who want it from the black market won’t have any troubles getting it. If legalized mj is the goal, that needs to be presented fairly to the public.

In other words, he’s encouraging sick people to seek out illegal drug dealers. The response from Representative Joanne Blyton is even more telling.

On the medical marijuana issue, overwhelmingly the messages are to repeal. Second to that is support for 423, reform and sideboards.  If my personal feelings were considered, I would give it back to the voters to take a re-look.  But my decision has to be for the betterment of the whole state.  

While some prefer what is currently taking place in our state, it is NOT what the voters thought they voted for and they will tell you that.

To paraphrase, she thinks that the voters (that would be you and me) were not smart enough to understand the wording of the initiative we voted for. She believes it’s better for the whole state if smart people like her figure out what to do for us instead of letting the voters make our own decisions. I am thoroughly insulted.

Now I understand. People like Senator Priest and Representative Blyton have sold us out. They have violated the state constitution, overridden the will of the people, hurt thousands of cancer and glaucoma patients, taken money from the state coffers, and put a new burden on our state’s law enforcement — all to benefit drug dealers and pharmaceutical companies.

We have been betrayed.

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