Living on Borrowed Time and Fighting for the Lives of OthersBy Beverly McClain
When I joined the movement to make medical marijuana safe and legal for seriously ill and disabled New Yorkers I had no idea how much it would challenge me and enrich my life. Over two years of grueling battles to pass the medical marijuana program into law, this fight has become bigger than me and my cancer.
I thought in 2008 that my cancer was treated and cured. But in 2011 I learned my journey was only beginning. I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. The median survival time is less than three years, which I surpassed in April of this year. While I am doing well now, I know my condition can change anytime. I count my blessings for each day lived well.
As the cancer progresses, I experience my ups and downs. Sometimes I struggle with side-effects of radiation and chemotherapy that treat the advanced symptoms of the disease. There are times when I am racked with debilitating pain, nausea, lack of appetite, depression and anxiety. And I have stable periods where I lead an almost normal life. Medical marijuana is an essential treatment for people in my situation. It allows us to tolerate life-extending treatments and it gives us some time to just feel good instead of sick.
Despite the incontrovertible evidence that medical marijuana would help me and thousands of other New Yorkers, I was never sure if I would live to see it become reality in my home state. The process was frustrating and mired in politics. When Governor Cuomo finally succumbed to overwhelming pressure exerted by me and my fellow advocates by signing the bill into law this past July, I felt I was part of making the impossible possible.
I could have ended my fight there. But Governor Cuomo created yet another obstacle for me and others with critical or terminal illnesses by insisting on an 18 month implementation period before the law comes into effect. Many New Yorkers, including those like me who fought tirelessly to pass the law, may not live to see the medicine that could extend or save their lives. So now, when I thought we had won the battle, I find myself in a new fight — one for an emergency access program for those patients who can’t wait eighteen months.
The reality is that although I want legal medical marijuana access, I can make do through the illegal market. I benefit from the privilege of living in New York City and am surrounded by family who can support me in my medical marijuana use. Marijuana from the street economy, albeit far from ideal, is minimally sufficient for my needs.
If it was just for my benefit, I would give up and cut my losses. But during our battle to pas the law, I became close to patients and caregivers who make it impossible for me to turn my back and walk away.
As a mother I cannot bear to abandon the parents who have tirelessly fought alongside me to get access. Their severely ill children cannot go to the streets to purchase medical marijuana. These parents cannot risk legal repercussions of obtaining it when their children depend on them as primary care givers. Even more importantly, many of these children will not benefit at all from street product because they require specially processed oil to treat life threatening seizures.
Even as a stage four cancer patient living on borrowed time, my situation is not as dire as that of the patients, many of them children, who require medical marijuana to stop the seizures that can swiftly end their lives. For this reason, I implore that Governor Cuomo take action to expedite access to medical marijuana. If not for people like me, suffering from terminal illness, then at least out of compassion for the children whose lives he holds hostage by making them wait 18 months.
Beverly McClain is a mother and stage four cancer patient living in New York City.