Carol Coombes is at pains to point out that she is “not a cancer survivor yet”.
Nevertheless, at the time I spoke to her, she had gone a year without chemotherapy and radiotherapy, instead preferring to use cannabis oil to manage her aggressive tonsillar cancer. She says the results have been miraculous: the cancer has stopped spreading and is causing her less pain.
Despite being told in May last year that she had 6 months to live, she currently lives on to tell her story. Her message? We need to talk about cannabis.
She says: “the NHS have served me badly and I appreciate it’s not their fault because they follow the guidelines that are set for them. They can't give me what I want because it isn’t available here, they are in an impossible position for my case and I understand that.”
Having declined the NHS’s conventional treatment methods, Carol has had to fight very hard for the limited support offered to her so far. She was able to gain access to the cannabis oil in countries such as Spain and the U.S because at the time of writing it was not legalised in the U.K, and the NHS can only offer approved treatments.
She acknowledges that cannabis oil is unable to cure her, but she thinks we need to open up a discussion about its capacity to ease and manage her cancer.
“My main frustration is the lack of conversation that people are having. I'm asking for a change that allows these different methods that are proven to work in other countries to be at least discussed and assessed in the UK.”
To open up this conversation, she has created #WeedItAndReap. a collaborative project that's supported by a number of cannabis experts around the world, to share some of that expertise with the UK.
Having spent the past few weeks in conversation with Ms Coombes, it is clear that we lack a rigorous discussion on health. Even children as young as ten are not actually taught the reasons why they should live a certain lifestyle or the potential real benefits of our five a day.
It is much too easy to stigmatise the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, due to its illegality (up until recently), and its reputation as a popular recreational drug. To counter this, we need to have access to teachings, lessons and consultations on such matters to improve the public knowledge of benefits and side effects of alternative drugs.
Coombes says: “when I was first diagnosed, I contacted a number of leading experts in each field to gain as much credible information as l could. I was struck by the generosity of the cannabis experts: medical people, lawyers, economists, trying to maximise the benefit of the plant.”
“Almost everyone I approached for support, and many more who've since approached me, are willing to help us understand how optimise the potential of the plant, and help identify the key points we should be discussing.”
She concludes: “I keep being told we can't afford to assess kinder treatments. With more and more of the country expected to be diagnosed with cancer, can we afford not to take this conversation further?”