When Lucy Haslam received a distressed call from her son Daniel five years ago, she dropped everything to rush and comfort him.
Daniel was distraught, crying and struggling to speak.
With his girlfriend Alyce by his side, he blurted out to his mother the diagnosis he had just been given. Daniel was suffering from late stage cancer of the bowel. He was just 20 years of age.
Lucy, a former nurse from Tamworth in NSW, barely remembers the drive to the hospital. She recalled her shock and panic. “When I saw all the nurses faces I knew immediately that it was bad,” she said.
All three sat and cried together for quite a while. Daniel’s doctor was also emotional and showing visible distress. The hospital staff, moving fast, somehow cut through the family’s rising terror to arrange the urgent CT scan Daniel desperately needed, to see where his cancer had spread.
The Haslams are a close family. “Everyone was devastated,” Lucy said.
Daniel has two brothers, Luke, now 27, and Billy, 26, who when told the traumatic news rushed back to the family home from Lismore.
“We spent a week sitting on our veranda at home just crying, all feeling nauseated and trying to get appointments for Dan to see specialists and get scans in Sydney,” Lucy said.
Since his diagnosis, Daniel has undergone repeated cycles of chemotherapy and major surgeries to remove parts of his bowel and liver. He described his chemotherapy treatment as “gruelling, relentless and soul destroying”.
After treatment, he was constantly nauseous. His father Lou said he wouldn't eat for days. To deal with the nausea and to prevent weight loss the family tried everything mainstream medicine had to offer. Nothing seemed to work.
It was then that fate intervened in the shape of an outgoing American named Dwone Jones. Jones is a local businessman, and owns a large gym.
“He is definitely not your usual Tamworth resident,” Lucy said. “We had heard when Dwone was diagnosed with bowel cancer a couple of years after Daniel in around 2011. Dan tried to contact him to offer his support. He couldn’t reach him as Dwone’s staff didn’t pass on the messages.”
It was only later, when treatment for Dwone’s cancer was over, that Lucy bumped into him at a local restaurant. It was this “wonderful man” that suggested Daniel try cannabis, commonly known as marijuana, to ease his nausea and poor appetite.
Daniel’s father Lou is a former senior undercover officer with the drug squad. He and Lucy knew using cannabis was illegal, but they’d exhausted all other options.
Cannabis made a dramatic difference to Daniel. He smoked it if he needed quick relief from the side effects of the chemotherapy, but took it in a vaporised form if time allowed. With inhalations, nausea and vomiting were relieved very quickly.
“The effect of a small amount could last for a couple of hours,” Lucy recalled.
Determined to help her son and other people suffering similar heart-rending and painful plights, Lucy launched a campaign calling for the decriminalising of marijuana for medical use.
Supported by her family, she organised a petition on change.org that attracted more than 200,000 signatures, reflecting the importance of the issue to the community.
It became an issue the NSW government had to deal with.
In response, NSW Premier Mike Baird announced on September 16 that a NSW government clinical trial would investigate the use of cannabis to provide relief for patients suffering from a range of debilitating or terminal illnesses. It would also look at the most efficient way to make safe and effective cannabis-derived products available.
“I hope the trial will bring some clarity to this area and enhance our understanding of the medical use of cannabis,” the Premier said.
Mr Baird also indicated that the current arrangement – which allows NSW Police to exercise their discretion not to charge terminally ill adults who use cannabis to alleviate their symptoms, or charge their carers – would be formalised.
A working group will report to the Premier by the end of the year on how to proceed with the trial.
Lucy said Daniel no longer needs to inhale cannabis to deal with the side effects of chemotherapy but uses cannabis oil daily to combat the cancer.
“Many people are having good success even with advanced cancer. It is a little early to tell for Dan,” she said.
She is now organizing the Inaugural Australian Medicinal Cannabis Symposium to be held in her home-town of Tamworth later this month.
The event will allow medical cannabis experts from around the world to inform and educate Australian politicians, policy makers, police officers and the general public.
For event details head to the following website.
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