Sun, Jul 5, 2020
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Cannabis brings a mother and daughter closer together on a journey of recovery

Jen Blaire with Stephanie Sanders, her mother and caregiver.

The dynamic between patient and caregiver varies. For some, it is a convenience. For others, it is a connection ensuring that the patient receives their necessary medication. And for a select few, the relationship is a lifeline that extends far beyond the confines of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission. Towson residents Jen Blair and her mother and caregiver, Stephanie Sanders, definitely fall under the latter category.

 

For the past 13 years, Jen, 48, has outlived the average life expectancy of 12 months given to those diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma – a rare cancer that develops on the lining of the abdomen. 

But the good fortune that has fallen on the Baltimore native has come at a steep cost. She has undergone three major surgeries, numerous rounds of chemotherapy, two marriages, an interruption to her career and motherhood, as well as an enormous amount of time spent in pain and stress. 

One constant in her life has been Sanders, her caregiver since birth.

“It’s nice to have a mom that is so close,” Jen shared. “I never have to ask her for anything, she just always kind of knows when I need help and steps up.”

Stephanie, 70, is a retired nurse who stepped away from the profession in 2005, but has never stopped working in that capacity.

“My mom has been through a lot of tragedy,” Jen said, noting that Stephanie has been the family caretaker for her father (broken neck), her mother-in-law (stroke) and her late husband Drake, who succumbed to stage four lung cancer in 2018.

Stephanie credits a positive attitude towards life, something Drake helped cultivate, for getting through the tough times. But she remains amazed how her daughter has managed to stay strong for this over a decade-long battle with cancer.

“It’s like having the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head,” Stephanie said, referencing an ancient Greek parable that infers a person is in a situation in which something very bad could happen to them at any time.

“Cancer is such an awful thing to think about. It’s never really gone because it’s always in the back of your mind.”

Medicinal Cannabis has been the remedy that has given ease to Jen’s pain and her worries about the recurrence of a disease that has come back twice since arriving in 2008.

She first experimented with Cannabis at the age of 15 with high school friends, and her recreational use continued throughout the 90s and into the 2000s. Jen was never shy in sharing her experiences with her mother, praising her as an open and receptive listener.

“I always thought that it was a fine thing,” Stephanie said.

“It always seemed better than drinking to me. The people I saw drinking would get loud and obnoxious. The people who smoked seemed to be quiet and relaxed.”

Nowadays, the two make trips to dispensaries together – unless Jen is in severe pain – in which case Stephanie goes out. The medicine is a necessity in the reduction of inflammation that so often impacts Jen’s health.

“It has helped her immensely with the pain,” Stephanie said. “At first, she was taking oxycodone, and she just slept a lot because of the medicine. She functions a lot better when she smokes or does some of the chewables.”

As a mother to her 12-year-old son Kevin, functionality is important to Jen. She begins each morning consuming edibles to dull the pain that remains from the excessive scar tissue of multiple surgeries. She also uses upwards of 100mg of CBD per day.

“It really is about my chemical balance,” she said. “Something in me doesn’t feel quite right when I don’t have that medicine.”

At her best, Jen is active, doing yoga or dancing in the kitchen as she listens to music and cooks for the family. On her worst days, Cannabis helps bear the pain of being laid up in bed.

“People might think by beating this disease it’s all peaches and cream, but that’s far from the truth,” she said.

That is where her mother, who lives in the same apartment complex, steps in – or down, two flights of stairs.

“I’m probably not the easiest person to get along with when I’m not well,” Jen said. “So to have that person by your side, no matter what, is nice to have. We can cuss each other out one day, and the next we’re back to being fine.”

A young soul at heart, Stephanie has experienced an enormous amount of adversity, but manages to maintain an upbeat, vibrant energy. No matter what life throws at her, her motto has remained the same.

“You just keep going,” Jen said.

Humor, she insists, has allowed them to keep moving through the tough times. The pair, who often get mistaken for sisters, share a variety of inside jokes. Cannabis exacerbates the laughter, though it is a rare occasion for Stephanie, due to the potency of today’s medicine.

“She’ll hit it on special occasions,” Jen said. “She takes two hits and gets really, really giggly.”

On the week of Mother’s Day, Jen wanted to pay her appreciation forward. After sharing a refreshing walk in the park with her mother, she took a moment to gather her thoughts.

“I’d be lost without her,” she said.

“People don’t realize when you have a chronic illness, everyday life has to go on,” Jen continued. “Laundry, cooking, even little things like cleaning up your house – the things most people take for granted – become very difficult.”

“Friends are nice and can be of help, but there are times you end up in some dark places mentally. To have my mother around to talk with, it means the world to me. I can’t imagine where I’d be without her.”

STORY & PHOTO by BAXSEN PAINE @BAXSENSPAINE for LEAF NATION