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Cancer Knowledge Network

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Learning to Live with Cancer

Power of Words

Together with Sharon Bray – teacher and author of two books on writing and health – CKN welcomes you to our new Writing Series where Sharon helps readers tap into the healing power of writing during difficult times.  As Sharon puts it, “Your stories matter. You are your stories. Our stories shape us and act as the lens through which we see the world. It’s through story that we make sense of our lives, reclaim our voices, and learn our words can touch others’ hearts.”  Follow along with this bi-monthly series with Sharon and please send us your stories….they matter to us.

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Don’t Be a Stuffer

by Gail Fay

In May 1999, as a recently engaged thirty-two-year old, I was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Given the two western medicine optionshysterectomy and a relatively untested drugI opted for door number 3: an alternative juicing therapy. Six months later, however, it became clear the cancer was too aggressive and I ended up having a hysterectomy anyway.

I never really wanted kids. I mean, I didn’t not want them, but I wasn’t the kind who had been dreaming of being a mom. However, having the choice taken away was hard. Now I would never find out if our child had my husband’s eyes or my smile. I would never experience pregnancy or the incredible reality that we made this little human.

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#Chemobrain and How to #Dealwithit

clarissashilstraby Clarissa Schilstra, CKN Editor

One day last week, I came home from work and spent the evening relaxing until my fiancé came home (he’s a chef so he came home about 6 hours after me)…I was just sitting on the couch watching something on Netflix when he walked in the door with a totally annoyed, borderline angry look on his face. I assumed maybe he had had a bad day at work, but instead he proceeded to scold me for leaving my keys in the lock of the front door. “Luckily we live in a safe building but you can’t do that Clarissa, you have to pay more attention!” My honest response: “I literally had no idea I had done it and had 100% remembered bringing them in with me, sorry!

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Resolutions of a Cancer Doctor

The following article appeared in the New York Times on January 4, 2018.  After his mother received a cancer diagnosis, the author, Dr. Sekeres, made a few resolutions for his own practice, after seeing cancer from “the other end of the biopsy needle” as he puts it.


Resolution No. 1: I will never again make the flippant suggestion that it should be easy for a parent to just stay with his or her child while going through chemotherapy or surgery. Nor will I be surprised when conflict or non-adherence arises from such an arrangement.

Resolution No. 2: I will not be cavalier in suggesting that patients who live at a distance see me when they would be visiting their families anyway over holidays or for their grandchildren’s birthdays. Happy occasions should remain exclusively happy, especially when cancer may limit the number of such occasions that remain.

Resolution No. 3: I will convey test results as soon as I enter the exam room. A follow-up appointment that I consider “routine,” with low chance of cancer recurring, is anything but routine to my patients and their families.


Too often, the patient perspective is lacking at the bedside of cancer patients and their caregivers.  Through no fault of their own, many healthcare professionals are not privy to the issues patients face during their cancer journey.  Unless they’ve been through it personally, physicians simply aren’t aware of the many ways they can ease the cancer burden for their patients, often in the smallest gestures.

Our newly appointed “Patients Included” status affirms our commitment to including the patient voice in our published material.  We thought this article would be of interest to our readers.  Please share!!


Read the full article here:  Resolutions of a Cancer Doctor by 

Further reading:  When the Doctor’s Mother Has Cancer by 


A Ballsy Sense of Tumor: Getting through the holidays

by Justin Birckbichler


There is something magical and special about the holiday season. However, in December 2016, instead of hanging ornamental balls from the tree, I was in the thick of completing chemotherapy to battle the cancer that had spread from my testicles to my lymph nodes.


My battle with cancer isn’t the only history of trying times in the holiday season. In high school, I struggled with pretty severe clinical depression. One of my lowest points during my struggle with depression was around the holidays in 2007. I was angry, sad, apathetic, and just all around down. I was in therapy and on anti-depressants to help and eventually came through a stronger person. However, the holidays were something that helped me rally and keep on living.


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Your Guide to Medical Marijuana

With the legalization of marijuana fast approaching in July 2018 in Canada, as well as states across the U.S., there are many online resources, touting anything from the benefits of cannabis for cancer pain and nausea, to cannabis being the cure for cancer.  What is the truth?  What is based on scientific evidence?  We believe, given our mandate and vast readership of patients, caregivers and health professionals, that we have a responsibility to take a lead and keep our readers up to date on the latest evidence-based resources,  government guidelines, and current news, regarding purchasing and using medical marijuana for medical purposes so you can make informed decisions.

Please check back to this page often for updates and feel free to share it with your physician.

We’d like to hear from patients who have experience using medical marijuana to manage cancer treatment side-effects.  Please email Karen Irwin if you’re interested in sharing your story.


Procedures for Accessing Cannabis for Medical Purposes from a Licensed Producer, Government of Canada Website

The following steps outline the process to obtain cannabis for medical purposes from a licensed producer under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR).

Health Canada maintains an updated list of all licensed producers on its website. Health Canada does not authorize the operation of retail storefronts, such as “compassion clubs” or “dispensaries”.

To register with a licensed producer under the ACMPR, you need to follow the following steps:


Marijuana Laws, Health Canada’s Role, Health Care Practitioners, Licensed Producers, Patients, Law Enforcement


Globe and Mail Articles

It’s expected that Shoppers, which is owned by grocer Loblaw Cos. Ltd., will sell both dried bud and cannabis-infused oils to medical patients on the internet. Canadian regulations restrict the sale of medical marijuana in storefronts and pharmacies. The drug is sold today on the web and delivered to patients through the mail.

Clearing the Air, October 2017

With legalization on the horizon in Canada, dispensaries are marketing marijuana as a cure for what ails you – including cancer. Do the claims hold up? Adriana Barton takes a closer look at the science behind cancer and cannabis.



Study Finds Up to One-Quarter of Cancer Patients Use Marijuana 

A new study conducted in a cancer center in a state with legalized medicinal and recreational marijuana found that approximately one-quarter of surveyed patients used marijuana in the past year, mostly for physical and psychological symptoms. Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the study also revealed that legalization increased the likelihood for use among patients.



Olivia Newton-John Uses Medical Cannabis to Help with Her Cancer Pain

Still, treating metastatic cancer and its symptoms is serious business. In addition to undergoing photon radiation therapy, Newton-John says she has been using cannabis grown by her husband to help with the pain caused by her illness. Although it’s still a somewhat controversial topic in the U.S. (and illegal at the federal level), some experts believe medical cannabis really can help with chronic pain—especially pain that’s related to cancer.


Current Oncology Special Supplement Issue:  Use of Cannabinoids in Cancer Care

This Current Oncology supplement brings together the work of some of the leading minds around the world who have dedicated themselves and their laboratories to understanding the role of cannabis and cannabinoids in the pathophysiology and management of cancer. This collection of papers takes us on a journey from bedside to bench and back, and provides a series of important sign-posts that will help to chart a path to better cancer care.

Following are the articles found in this supplement:

Cannabis and cancer: toward a new understanding

The treatment of cancer, including the disease itself and the symptoms associated with cancer and its therapy, is one of the most important emerging frontiers in cannabinoid therapeutics. With new regulatory environments opening up in Canada and around the world, access to a variety of quality-controlled cannabis-based products and administration techniques is becoming a reality for patients and their families desperate for new approaches to the devastating effects of cancer. The same is true for scientists and clinical researchers, who are starting to realize that, after years of deep freeze on cannabis-related research, funding, and materials, a thaw is starting. The promise, and even the hype, can reach hysterical proportions, with claims of cannabis cancer cures circulating in cyberspace at a furious pace. The challenge in the coming months and years will be to channel this interest into a productive clinical research program that informs and enlightens all those affected by cancer and its ravages.

Pediatric Oncology:  In vitro and in vivo efficacy of non-psychoactive cannabidiol in neuroblastoma

Neuroblastoma (nbl) is one of the most common solid cancers in children. Prognosis in advanced nbl is still poor despite aggressive multimodality therapy. Furthermore, survivors experience severe long-term multi-organ sequelae. Hence, the identification of new therapeutic strategies is of utmost importance. Cannabinoids and their derivatives have been used for years in folk medicine and later in the field of palliative care. Recently, they were found to show pharmacologic activity in cancer, including cytostatic, apoptotic, and antiangiogenic effects.

A user’s guide to cannabinoid therapies in oncology 

The most studied and established roles for cannabinoid therapies include pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and anorexia. Moreover, given their breadth of activity, cannabinoids could be used to concurrently optimize the management of multiple symptoms, thereby reducing overall polypharmacy. The use of cannabinoid therapies could be effective in improving quality of life and possibly modifying malignancy by virtue of direct effects and in improving compliance or adherence with disease-modulating treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Integrative Oncology:  Integrating cannabis into clinical cancer care 

Much attention has been paid to the unearthing of the 2500-year-old mummy known as the “Siberian Ice Maiden.” Discovered in 1993, her subterranean burial chamber included a pouch of cannabis among other archeologic findings1. Magnetic resonance imaging revealed that the princess had a primary tumour in the right breast, with axial adenopathy and metastatic disease. It is hypothesized that the cannabis was used to manage her pain and perhaps other symptoms, or even possibly as a treatment for her malignant disease.

Widely used as medicine during the ensuing millennia, cannabis disappeared from the pharmaceutical armamentarium in the 1940s as its prohibition took hold. Today, we are in the midst of what appears to be something of a medicinal cannabis renaissance, with patients across the globe gaining increased access to this potent botanical medicine. In a 2014 WebMD poll, 82% of oncologists indicated their belief that patients should have access to cannabis, ranking highest among medical subspecialists in their support2. Regrettably, most oncologists trained during the era of cannabis prohibition and have no knowledge of how to use the plant as medicine. In these days of targeted therapies and nanotechnology, the modern oncologist might feel somewhat ill at ease recommending a herbal intervention, notwithstanding the number of potent cytotoxic chemotherapeutic agents derived from plants.

Cancer Narrative:  Why I chose to use cannabis 

I just learned that my ovarian cancer is back and that I need to start chemotherapy. At 5 feet, 7 inches, I weigh only 95 pounds, having lost 30 pounds since the surgery. I don’t want to lose any more weight. And so I research options to help with appetite. All recommended products have side effects I don’t like. The one exception is cannabis. I decide to ask my oncologist for a prescription.

Anticancer mechanisms of cannabinoids 

In addition to the well-known palliative effects of cannabinoids on some cancer-associated symptoms, a large body of evidence shows that these molecules can decrease tumour growth in animal models of cancer. They do so by modulating key cell signalling pathways involved in the control of cancer cell proliferation and survival. In addition, cannabinoids inhibit angiogenesis and decrease metastasis in various tumour types in laboratory animals. In this review, we discuss the current understanding of cannabinoids as antitumour agents, focusing on recent discoveries about their molecular mechanisms of action, including resistance mechanisms and opportunities for their use in combination therapy. Those observations have already contributed to the foundation for the development of the first clinical studies that will analyze the safety and potential clinical benefit of cannabinoids as anticancer agents.

Use of cannabinoids in cancer care: palliative care 

The opportunities to improve and expand palliative care are many. In this supplement, Current Oncology is presenting a discussion on cannabinoid therapeutics. I believe that, as a therapeutic class, cannabinoids have an important role to play in oncologic palliative care—a role that I predict will only grow with time, as knowledge and acceptance of these agents becomes mainstream once more, as in the 19th and early 20th century in North America and Europe.