Cheryl Pearson has never smoked pot. Given just months to live after finally receiving a diagnosis of stage 4 ovarian cancer, the Lake Country resident was at first against the use of medicinal marijuana as part of her treatment.
But after a tumultuous ride through Canada’s medical system, which for nearly four years had misdiagnosed the reasons behind the rapid decline in her health, the impairment of her motor skills and the loss of use of her bodily functions, Pearson is now a believer in the controversial treatment.
Today her cancer is in remission and she has lived well past December of 2013—the time her cancer doctors gave as her “end of life date.”
And while no one involved in her mainstream treatment is going to say it, it appears cannabis oil, made from the marijuana plant and administered to Cheryl by her family, played a major part in extending her life. It has given the family hope and has become a regular part of life for the Pearsons, a family of five, with three kids attending UBC Okanagan, including the couple’s oldest, who is now studying the effects of marijuana as a potential cancer-killing agent.
It was 2009 when Cheryl’s health began to take a turn for the worse. Originally she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Over the next four years Cheryl’s health rapidly declined while she and husband Chris fought for a proper diagnosis and some sort of treatment.
They had gone from an active family travelling around the province and supporting their kids in sports like motocross, to people bouncing from one frustrating appointment to the next.
It was during this time that Justin, an honour roll student at George Elliot Secondary, told his mom to hang on, asking Cheryl to keep fighting long enough so he could become a doctor and save her.
“Seeing her condition and how frustrating it was, as a kid you look at it and don’t understand,” said Justin, now just days away from turning 22 and in his fourth year at UBCO studying biology.
“You feel like doctors should be able to provide the best to heal that person. In my mind that was when I made the decision that medicine was what I wanted to get into.”
As Justin turned his focus to becoming a doctor to save his mom, his parents continued their struggle to get help. In 2013—four years from her initial MS diagnosis—they were finally told it was ovarian cancer after two large tumours were found. Doctors told the family to prepare to say goodbye and planned some final chemotherapy treatments.
Driven to help his wife, Chris had taken to researching alternative treatments and found all kinds of wild tales of how to fight cancer. Finally a friend in the community called him over and told him about cannabis oil and how it had helped their family.
The friend pointed to research done by fellow Canadian Rick Simpson, who through his ground-breaking research had published what’s become known as the Rick Simpson Protocol, containing specific instructions on how to extract cannabis oil from marijuana plants.
Simpson says he first discovered the healing properties of cannabis oil in 2003 as a potential cure for cancer as well as for many other ailments. Hearing about the Rick Simpson Protocol, Chris Pearson dove into action.
“With a termination date of six months, my number one focus was that the kids could remember the magnificence of mom,” said Chris. “She has been an amazing mom and I’ve watched people deteriorate when they get sick. I didn’t want my kids to remember her that way. I wanted her to go with dignity and be positively remembered as a happy person and easy to get along with. I absolutely didn’t think it would work. I thought I could just give her something for the pain.”
So as Cheryl began to prepare for a double-dose treatment of chemotherapy in July 2013, Chris went through the process to receive medicinal marijuana as a treatment so they could legally possess the drug. Using the described protocol, he produced cannabis oil.
But he still had to convince Cheryl to take it. Finally, it was in a meeting with the head pharmacist for the Canadian Cancer Society where Cheryl was convinced.
“My wife is dead set against cannabis, doing something that she grew up to believe is criminal,” said Chris, noting that the meeting with the pharmacist started to change her mind. “When I asked if it would work, he said there are no clinical trials but he advised us that three of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies had applied for patents for synthetic forms of this specifically for the treatment of cancer, so there is obviously something to the concept.”
A few days before her first chemo treatment, Cheryl started taking doses of cannabis oil. Then, just a few treatments into chemo, it was found that Cheryl was allergic to the chemotherapy drugs. She wouldn’t be able to continue with her chemo and again doctors informed the family to prepare for her death and to say goodbye.
However, she kept using the cannabis oil. It was the only thing she was taking.
Five weeks later they received a call from her oncologist stating that a recent CT scan had noted a dramatic improvement in her liver, and a 25 per cent reduction in her tumours.
The positive results would continue as tests showed the cancer in her body was decreasing. She was sent to Vancouver for surgery to remove the tumours.
“We went for the surgery and both tumours came out well,” said Chris. “Both tumours were completely dead when they ran them through tests.”
Soon she passed her date of termination and by March of 2014 Cheryl was officially in remission. Last weekend she spent Easter with her family by her side.
“Her end of life was going to be December 2013,” said Chris. “The chances they gave us were a five per cent chance to make it to December—it was impossible that she would make it through December. The fact we are now two-plus years later is something that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
“I guess I never would have believed it—the results I saw from this plant,” added Cheryl. “Initially I only thought you could smoke it and I was not going that route. I didn’t have the knowledge. I was just thinking it was a puff of smoke and if I have cancer I’m not going to add to it.”