When it comes to the Bill around the legalisation of medicinal cannabis we are all very familiar with such names as Vera Twomey, Ava Barry, and of course, Gino Kelly who initially proposed the Bill.
This has been an ongoing debacle and Thursday 9th November will mark a day of protest outside of Dáil Éireann while the Bill is debated for one more time before the Government votes on it. Many will have been following the progress, or lack thereof, of Ava Barry’s case. Currently, the family are what many would label ‘medical refugees’. Vera (Ava’s mother) and many others have found a means of improving the quality of life for their loved ones, not through countless tablets and invasive procedures, but through the use of a cannabis-based treatment which has garnered overwhelming results. Like so many of conservative Ireland’s social issues, we just end up exporting the ‘problem’ to other shores – because it’s not legal here.
While Vera, Ava and Gino might be household names across Ireland there are many more that this Bill could positively impact. The Galway Eye spoke to Athlone’s Kenny Tynan. This is his story:
On the day that I found out I had cancer on my brain I was actually singing with a new wedding band that I was a member of. We were at the Shamrock Lodge Hotel doing a showcase and in the middle of the first song, ‘Uptown Funk’ by Bruno Mars, I hit the high note and suddenly at that instant took a seizure. People who there actually thought I was dancing for a minute! Before I knew it I had blacked out and keeled over to one side on top of the keyboards. When I woke up there was an ambulance crew around me and I was shuttled off to the hospital in Ballinasloe. In the hospital I had a CT scan and it was found that there was a ‘shadow’ on my brain. They weren’t sure what it was so we had to wait for an appointment in Beaumont Hospital. The initial diagnosis was glioma but they were unsure if it was cancerous or not. They said they would ‘get it out’ because, if it was cancerous, it could get aggressive at any time. It was at stage two. They said that they needed to be very careful because it was very close to the nerve-endings.
So, they went ahead with the surgery and, according to them, they had gotten it all out – 100% of it. Well, they thought they had at the time. I woke up paralysed on one side but I got the function back after about a week. I spent a couple of months in recovery at home – trying to get back on my feet.
Recovery from Craniotomy
I was constantly trying to get myself back to where I was before all of this. I was attending physiotherapy and psychiatrists. Psychiatrists because the part of the brain that they removed was one of the parts that govern emotions. I spent an awful lot of time for the first few weeks just perched in the sitting room feeling sorry for myself. To the outside world, I was keeping a brave face on. It’s only now, after taking the medicinal cannabis treatment, that I am able to wean myself away from the prescribed medicines that I was getting from the likes of my doctors and psychiatrists.
Impact on Mental Health and Family
If I had been the type of person that would just close the blinds, wrap up in a duvet, hope for the best and wallow in my own thoughts, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I had a ‘fight’ in me. Nowadays, cancer is not always s a life sentence. It will kill in a great number of cases, there’s no denying that, but there are now more and more ways of prolonging life. It’s not the death sentence it was in the past. At the time of all this, my wife was pregnant – so things were extra hectic.
The Prescribed Medication
I was on, and still am on, Keppra – as an anti-convulsive, to stop me from seizing. As well as that, I was prescribed Cirazoline, Clonazepam and Mirtazapine for depression. I am off the Cirazoline now. You’d want to see my bag the time I was going to Spain for three months! I was taking up to fifteen tablets a day. Even with this volume of medication, I was still taking seizures and to address this, my dosage of Keppra was constantly increased. The seizures were bringing on extreme anxiety and, ironically, the anxiety was adding to the exacerbation of the seizures. It was a completely vicious cycle. If there is anybody who doesn’t know what a seizure is like, your body can freeze up completely. If you are on your own when it happens, you could be in the utmost danger. You could run the risk of suffocation or choke on your own vomit. It’s terrifying. Seizures could happen on average at least once every six weeks – often triggered by stress. Yes, I’d safely say that 90% of my seizures were brought on by stress!
Within a few months, I was diagnosed with a re-occurrence, which was initially thought to be scar tissue. I just had six months of being ‘cancer-free’ when it came to light that they did not get 100% of it out the first time. They thought they did but even the smallest piece can mean re-occurrence. So, the scans were done and the bad news followed. What they had initially thought was scar tissue was now getting bigger. Up to that point, I had also been seizure-free for a few months. The following morning, I had a seizure, which as I mentioned earlier, was more than likely brought on by the stress of getting such woeful news.
I attended an appointment in Beaumont Hospital and they recommended that I undertake six weeks of radiotherapy, which would have meant having a mask built and in effect, having a laser pointed into my brain to burn off the cancer cells. That was to be followed with a year of chemotherapy. I saw what radiotherapy and chemotherapy did to my own mother, Lord rest her, who passed away in April of last year from small-cell lung and liver cancer. She often said if she had her life to live over she would never have taken that ‘damn’ chemotherapy or radiotherapy! Now, I know that it has worked for many people and I’m not here to say otherwise. I’m not a doctor but I saw what it does, first-hand. I would rather have a short time of a good life, rather a long time of sickness and suffering. My mother never had a day where she was fully better, she never had a day where she would be even able to talk for any length of time.
During that appointment I told the doctor that I wouldn’t take that ‘poison’. But, bear in mind, I was also very upset upon hearing about the re-occurrence. I didn’t mean to call it ‘poison’ at the time. I suggested cannabis treatment! Could I apply for that? There are so many doctors around the world prescribing this for conditions like mine and seeing results. All the while I was vehemently saying ‘no’ to the chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I was then told that ‘cannabis is poison!’ – to which I laughed. Nobody has ever died from cannabis use. It’s non-toxic. I even explained how it couldn’t kill you because it does not stop you from breathing. They were having none of it, saying that they would never have cannabis in the hospital. That was last year!
The way I looked at it was that I was never going to be able to get the treatment that I needed for my condition in this country. My condition is so aggressive that I need a specific product which could not be bought at street level here in Ireland. I heard of Vera Twomey having the appointment with the Kalapa Clinic in Barcelona so I made personal contact with them myself. They requested my medical files as they wouldn’t make an appointment for me without seeing everything first. That process took a few months.
From there I spoke with specialists and consultants over the phone and Skype and, through this interaction, it was decided that the medicinal cannabis treatment would be the best option for me. It would give me a new lease on life. I’d be able to eat again and hopefully get off the list of the medications that I was currently on. At this point, there was something of a sense of relief but the next concern was funding the treatment. How would I be able to stay in Spain for so long with limited money?
I tried every avenue and did whatever I had to make it a reality. It wasn’t easy. Then one day, on a whim, I set up a ‘GoFundMe’ page. I set a target of €8,000 as it was going to cost €4,000 for accommodation and another €4,000 for the medication. I didn’t expect this to work, not to any great extent anyway – but surely it was worth a shot. I was going to get this treatment, even if it meant that I had to sleep on the streets of Spain. I was getting this treatment. Within 48 hours the target of €8,000 was reached. I was beyond shocked!
After two weeks of setting up the GoFundMe page, I was in Spain beginning treatment. After about a week of starting the treatment I felt huge differences in my body. Normally I used to get these sensations or urges to take my medications at certain times, almost like my body was crying out for them but, since I had started the cannabis treatment, the urges were gone. I found myself more outgoing, able to communicate with people and wanting to talk to people. The anxiety was gone completely. It was great. I felt for the first time in a long time that I was getting healthy again and that I had a new lease of life! That was the effect of cannabis treatment after one week. It has continued from there. It has contributed to me lowering my intake of medicines and, since returning from Spain, I have been taking CBD (legal in Ireland) and, by doing that, I have been able to stay down at my reduced level of prescription. It works and has improved my quality of life.
Gino’s Bill needs to be passed. I know there are certain parts of the Bill that would be a huge culture shock to many in Ireland but, when you consider the way the Spanish or Dutch Governments operate, the changes are minimal. We need people on the streets for the November protest to let our voices be heard!
That is just one story of the many that are in dire need of legislative reform. Today, the 9th of November, marks a day of action for those who support the passing of the Medicinal Cannabis Bill. It has worked and is working effectively in many countries across the world. Why not Ireland?