4x cancer survivor explains how marijuana saved her life

4x cancer survivor explains how marijuana saved her life

Stacy, a four-time cancer survivor, on a boat trip with her son.

By Stacy Milbouer

February 26, 2024

“I am a criminal. At least in the strictest sense of the word. One of my crimes – the biggest apparently – is a predisposition to cancer… My other crime is that I smoked marijuana.” That’s how I began the front-page column I wrote in the Nashua Telegraph in 2005 when medical and recreational weed were illegal in New Hampshire. That was two decades ago and half of that sentence is still true despite repeated efforts. 

When I wrote that column, the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled doctors could be blocked from prescribing marijuana for patients suffering from pain caused by cancer or other serious illnesses.

A few months later I had a third bout with cancer. Since then I’ve had it again. I have a mutated gene that predisposes me to early-life, non-systemic cancer. Not fun. And P.S. I can’t tolerate the chemo I need to treat it. But I’m still here (knock on wood) thanks to my personal deities— doctors, surgeons, nurses, physician’s assistants, science, and marijuana—it saved my life.

In 2004 when my colon cancer metastasized to my liver for the second time and I needed a second liver resection (it’s one of the few organs that grow back) a bile duct was nicked—a known risk during the six-hour surgery. I stopped eating and started vomiting up to 20 times a day. The weeklong stay at the hospital turned into three months altogether. I lost 50 pounds in a short period. The cancer wasn’t killing me. Malnutrition was. This made things a little tricky when it came time to go to my son’s kindergarten graduation. I was released from Mass General and allowed home for the day to attend the ceremony.  I was in a wheelchair because I was too weak to stand. I cried through the ceremony because I was sure this was the last time I’d see my son graduate from anything and I was in some nasty pain. I had to go back to the hospital immediately.

A few weeks later, I was sent home again. I was hooked up to an intravenous feeding tube for 10 hours a day which caused blood clots. Things looked bleak. One of my visiting nurses told me that I should start “getting my affairs in order.”

Even so, my husband and I decided we’d take our annual vacation, a two-week stay in a rustic cabin in Maine, no one said it but everyone knew that it was most likely the last family vacation we’d have. I was weak, vomiting, and still in a lot of post-surgical pain and I had to hide a plastic bag capturing the bile running from a tube in my liver under my T-shirt. I was on month four of not eating solid food and had forgotten what it even felt like to want to eat.

But along with our clothes, cooking supplies, and bathing suits, my husband packed two joints. We were in Maine where possession of marijuana was decriminalized in 1975. Still, I was afraid putting anything in my mouth would make me throw up. On our third day into the vacation, when I didn’t even have the strength to walk out onto the dock to see my son swim, I took two hits of the joint. It didn’t feel like anything changed. I still felt dreadfully sick, but when lunchtime came around (this is when I usually pretended to take a nap so my son didn’t notice I wasn’t eating) I ate half a cheese sandwich and didn’t throw it up. It was the first solid food I’d eaten since my surgery months before. That’s it. I didn’t feel high, or even free of pain. I was just able to eat half a sandwich and everything changed from there. Each day I was able to eat and drink a little something. And the pain – while still acute – was easing. But I had to go back to New Hampshire. I had to rely on family and friends who risked their arrest to get me the minute amount of weed that was keeping me going.  Medical marijuana wasn’t made legal in the state until 2013 for certain qualifying medical conditions. Five years later the state decriminalized the possession of small amounts of weed. But even though nearly 70% of the state is in favor of legalization, New Hampshire remains the only New England state where it’s illegal. Earlier in 2023 a House bill that would have made recreational marijuana legal and allowed commercial weed shops to open was defeated in the state senate–14 to 10, after passing in the House.

At the time doctors in New Hampshire could prescribe medical marijuana in a highly concentrated and wickedly strong pill form called Marinol—a synthetic form of THC. But here’s a little catch-22. If you have been so sick to your stomach that you can’t keep a frosted flake down, swallowing pills becomes a little tricky. I tried it when in the hospital and it was a disaster. I was so high and paranoid, I thought the IV nurse was a vampire who came to take my blood and I couldn’t stop screaming. I opted to feel the pain and the nausea instead and I wasn’t alone. I interviewed other cancer patients in the state who had made the same choice.

After the column came out I was interviewed on NPR and I heard from conservative Republican members of ours and other state Legislatures who said my experience had caused them to reconsider legalizing medical weed. 

Five years ago cancer popped up in my kidney and I had another surgery. This time my people were able to drive the 15 minutes to a Massachusetts dispensary to buy gummies for my post-op pain. It would have taken weeks of red tape and a lot more money to buy legal medical marijuana from the state. I’ve been able to continue my career in journalism and take pain-free vacations and I not only got to see my son graduate from college but will (knock wood) be attending his graduate school commencement this spring. 

On Feb.  22, the House, once again, threw its support to legalizing recreational weed, voting 239-141 in favor of an amendment to House Bill 1633, which, if passed, would make pot legal in the state. The legislation will return to the House for action in April. House Democratic Leader Matt Wilhelm said he was hopeful that this could be the year New Hampshire finally keeps up with other New England states. Here’s hoping. It’s time, New Hampshire. It’s time.


  • Stacy Milbouer

    Stacy Milbouer is an award-winning journalist and has covered New Hampshire for many publications including the Boston Globe, New Hampshire Magazine, and the Nashua Telegraph.

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