Starting at the very beginning...
After recently arriving back to my hometown, Basingstoke Hampshire from an extended holiday in Thailand, I noticed a small mole on my back that looked a bit dodgy. I booked an appointment to see my GP at the Crown Heights Medical centre, and he decided upon first glance that the mole needed to be removed and tested immediately. They took a small incision and sent it off for biopsy.
In less than a week I received a phone call back from the medical centre confirming that my mole was indeed malignant melanoma. I was booked in for further testing at Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital, where they ran a sentinel node biopsy, noting a flare in my right armpit. I was then taken in for a wide resection surgery of the mole site, as well as a full Lymphadenectomy in my right armpit.
After a few days the tests had all come back clear and I was told there was no further evidence of the disease anywhere in my body. I carried on with life as normal, only now I would go for skin checks every three months. My dermatologist quickly noticed another mole on my back, just slightly higher than the previous one. They decided to monitor it and since there was no change, no further actions were taken until I started to get itchy feet and wanted to go travelling again..
Just having gotten over this cancer scare at the age of 26, I knew I wasn’t going to waste another second of my life doing the same old 9-5 grind that the majority of the population falls into. I wanted to travel, Thailand was calling me back and I couldn’t sit in fear in my bedroom playing video games another minute. It was time to live.
I told my dermatologist about my plans to return to Thailand and after a little persistence, she agreed to remove the second mole on my back so I could leave the country without any medical worries hanging over my head.
Whelp…That mole came back malignant as well.
I then went in for another wide resection surgery. The tests all came back clear for the second time, and the doctors felt they had contained the melanoma before it had a chance to spread.
That was good enough for me, I was off!
Enter Natalie. After spending this entire time living my life to the fullest in Thailand, I met this Canadian girl at a party and we hit it off like wildfire. She had been living out here already for almost 4 years and I liked how she seemed more mature, and switched on than the regular tourist girls I had met in the past. Pretty soon found myself shacked up with her and 2 dogs in a beautiful jungle house on Koh Phangan.
We had only met 7 months earlier at this point but we knew we were made for each other. After starting our very own successful marketing and web design business, with me landing a monthly residency DJ slot at one of the biggest parties in South East Asia, and a world of opportunity literally at our fingertips. I finally had everything I ever wanted, and so did Natalie. We were the happiest we have ever been and were excited for what the future would hold. We felt responsible to start giving back to our Thai community that gave us so much and began to participate in volunteer and charity projects around the island which only furthered our bond with the country we now called “home.”
I started feeling a bit off, and couldn’t explain why. Some of our close friends had recently left the island, so I had chalked it up to a bit of loneliness and continued on as normal. But these feelings didn’t go away. They got worse. I started to let my responsibilities within the company slip, and Natalie was increasingly taking on more of the work which was creating a strain on our relationship. I loved Natalie, our lives, our jobs and the work that we did, where had my spark gone?
I woke up one day with a pounding headache. Up until that point in my life, I didn’t even really know what a headache felt like as I never suffered from one before. I went to the pharmacy and got some paracetamol, took two and within an hour the headache was almost gone so I continued on with my day as normal. Being a web designer, I spend a lot of time staring at a computer screen, and with the forever changing air pressure in Thailand’s tropical climate, I figured this is probably the cause and didn’t worry too much more.
But then I woke up the next day and the headache was back. The headaches continued to come back off and on with increasing severity over the coming weeks. I tried to play it cool, thought it could even just be a bout of dengue fever which is common in that part of the world, and figured I would get over it eventually.
Natalie, on the other hand, was becoming more and more worried by the day. I had been letting her down time and time again do to my mood and my headaches. She was confused, was I falling out of love with her? I couldn’t explain what was happening to me and neither could she. We would go see our local pharmacist (which are more like walk-in doctors in Thailand). He didn’t seem too worried about the symptoms, would just give me more paracetamol and send me away.
Then it happened…
“I’m going to hand the storytelling over to Natalie from here. As you can probably appreciate, I can’t really remember what happened to me clearly from this point forward.
September 25th 2018
The worst imaginable thing happened that I pray nobody else ever has to live with. George woke up one night, covered in sweat and completely lost. He was unable to process his own thoughts into words or make sense of anything that was happening to him. He was paralyzed with fear and pain.
I tried to get him to tell me what was happening but his words came out as gibberish and I thought he was having a stroke.
With the strength only found when put in a life or death situation, I got George on my back, pulled him onto my motorbike and I drove as fast as possible to the hospital. They didn’t take us seriously at all when we first went in. The night before was one of the biggest beach parties in the world, so they just assumed he was a hungover tourist due to the language barrier. It wasn’t until George started vomiting violently all over the reception floor, that they decided to admit him. They put him on a drip, and left us alone. I took my eye off him for no more than 5 minutes, and when I came back he had ripped his IV out of his arm – completely confused as to where he was and who I was. I screamed for the nurses and they finally came running in and took us seriously.
They could see right away he was not lucid, they did the tests, cleared him of dengue and meningitis and then suddenly, without warning, we were on a boat being emergency transferred to the nearby, Koh Samui island for CT scan. I had no time to think, no time to process what was going on. I just needed answers and I needed George to be ok.
Within hours of having a CT scan, the doctors could see what was going on in his brain and our absolute worst fears were confirmed. What happened in those next few hours, I couldn’t tell you, but the fear, sadness and heartbreak took over when we learned that George had several tumors in his brain. There was one tumour in particular needed immediate attention and George was scheduled for surgery on the 29th of September on his Left Frontal Lobe.
With a strength and courage I have never seen in a person before, George stood tall and strong and didn’t waiver in his determination to fight whatever was attacking his brain. He never cried, he didn’t get angry he just kept smiling and telling me he would be fine and everything will be okay.
The doctors at Koh Samui Hospital put george on a dose of cortisol steroids to help alleviate the pressure in his brain which was causing his intense pain and confusion. This helped to bring george back to a normal headspace where he was able to converse and act almost as normal in the days leading up to his surgery.
After a strong recovery and an incredible out pour of love and solidarity from friends and family around the world Sarah, George’s mother, was able to raise a staggering £28,000 to pay for his medical bills and bring him home to the UK for further medical treatments. I never thought twice about staying by George’s side to help him fight this thing so I went along too. We arrived in Manchester on October 11th 2018 and got George admitted to the Royal Stoke University Hospital in North Staffordshire, where George’s family currently lives.
Upon our first appointment following an MRI, we discovered that George had upwards of 12 tumours in his brain, many of them about the size of a pea. There was a large black space where the surgeon successfully removed most of the larger tumour in George’s frontal lobe. Unfortunately the hospital in Thailand could not provide the hospital in the UK with a tumour sample, so George underwent a second brain surgery on October 26th to gather tissue for biopsy.
Following this surgery we were called for a meeting and introduced to our oncologist Dr. Brunt, where he told us the devastating news. Stage 4 melanoma metastasis of the brain. He then followed it up to say George had tested positive for something called a BRAF mutation, which means his tumours are more aggressive and faster growing. He told us not to worry too much about testing BRAF positive as it actually meant he had another treatment option he wanted to “Keep in his back pocket” until the time was right.
He prescribed George 10 rounds of full-head radiotherapy and once that was completed George was to begin taking immunotherapy (pembrolizumab) once every 3 weeks.
George made it through most of his radiotherapy fairly easily with minimal side effects, or irritation. He had lost all of his hair but certainly not his spirit. He was tired most days and regularly complained of headaches, but he never stopped smiling and he never stopped telling me it would all be okay.
George was scheduled for his first dose of immunotherapy on December 17th 2018. I was extremely nervous about George starting immunotherapy, as I had read so many horrific stories of extreme side effects online. I also didn’t think he was strong enough to start another round of treatments as he was becoming weaker and more withdrawn everyday.
In the days following that round of immunotherapy, George went completely sideways, literally. He lost all sense of balance, often falling into walls and having trouble walking straight. He was constantly leaning to the left, he couldn’t follow a conversation and I knew something was wrong.
I called his mother and got her to take us into the hospital. They ran an MRI revealing George’s tumours had grown substantially since the first scan in October, some now the size of golf balls. They concluded that the radiotherapy didn’t work and now George was too poorly to continue with the Immunotherapy. They gave us another strong round of cortisol steroids to help bring George some comfort and sent us home with him to die.
No other medical options were presented to us. They said if George continued to deteriorate at the rate he was he would be gone before the winter was through. We were all in shock. Had we lost the battle? Would this would be our last Christmas with George? Everybody around me seemed to think we were going to lose him, but I wasn’t about to accept that just yet.
I had been researching into cannabis as a way to treat cancer for quite some time. George and myself have always been recreational users, so we weren’t morally against trying it. I had seen several documentaries in the past about people suffering from different chronic illness that had found help from oil derived from cannabis. I had read Rick Simpson’s story along with dozens and dozens of others that all had miraculous recoveries with the use of this plant. Although I still wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into, I knew this was something we had to try. Even when George was in the hospital in Thailand these beautiful strangers heard of our story and came to visit us. They brought some CBD oil with them for George, and said it could really help with George’s pain levels and anxiety.
We had tried to purchase some CBD oil online as soon as we arrived back to the UK. We also thought we found THC oil through a friend of a friend at the same time. We had no idea what was in the oil but out of pure desperation we bought it for £600 and took it blindly with a teaspoon. Looking back now, it definitely wasn’t the right stuff. It was thick and tasted sweet like honey. Having never seen this mysterious cannabis oil before I had nothing to compare it to. Although I do believe there was a level cannabis in the oil, I do not believe it was processed correctly, and in the end did nothing to help George.
When we got home from the hospital after that horrible night they sent us away, I tried ordering another oil from another source. This oil looked much different. It was very crude and thick. It was very hard to manage, and through my own inexperience we decided to put it into capsules and take it orally.
We had been taking the oil capsules for about 2 weeks at this time. We actually noticed George’s sleeping patterns began to improve, and he was mentioning the headaches less. He was slightly more mobile, although he still required a lot of assistance with simple daily tasks. George was eating like crazy due to the combination of cortisol steroids and cannabis; causing him to put on a bunch of much needed weight.
We went back to see the oncologist on the 5th of January. After a long, depressing meeting, and not too many answers I decided to bring up this “back pocket,” treatment Dr. Brunt was apparently keeping for the right time. He looked up at us, seemingly a bit surprised by my request, and said we could try it although he didn’t have very high hopes for it working on tumours this advanced.
He prescribed George the targeted therapy pills called Tafinilar/Mekenist, which he began taking on January 7th. On January 9th George suffered his first an only major seizure. It was the most terrifying moment of my life as I struggled to keep George safe during his convulsions, whilst frantically trying to call 999.
When we got back home from the hospital that night I thought to myself enough was enough. I started up another GoFundMe page and desperately shared our story with the world asking for help. We were able to raise another £7,000 to help fund our search, and though all the shares we were introduced to tons of people willing to help us! We were given better dosing guides by cannabis experts, and we were even given a free 5 month supply of CBD from a very generous company in Spain as well. How amazing is that?
We found out that the way George was taking the oil and how our oil was processed was all wrong. We found out about the sublingual method, the entourage effect, carrier oils, bioavailability, and all these other things we simply had no idea about before.
The oil we had was still clearly helping George, but we were essentially wasting a lot of what he was taking.
During my time extensively scouring the web for answers, I was introduced to a man through a Facebook group. He was making the oil, providing real life testimonials, third party test results showing 75% THC, and lifestyle and diet coaching to boot. Bingo, this was our man. We finally found him. His oils cost £65 per milliliter but after reading the piles of patient reviews and seeing how professional he acted, I knew we had to try it no matter the cost.
This friendly stranger sent out a months worth of oil to us on next day delivery, along with a novel of tips and tricks on how to take the oil properly, what to do to help Georges cancer specifically, and a promise to always be there at the drop of a hat for support and advice.
We immediately started on a dose of 1000mg THC and 1000mg CBD every day. George already had quite a high tolerance at this point so we knew we could push the boundaries a little bit.
Within days of starting this cycle I noticed a massive difference in George. He continued to take the TAF/MEK targeted therapy pills alongside the oil for the next 5 weeks. During this time he made huge improvements. He was suddenly able to eat with a fork and knife unassisted again, he was able to dress himself again, he was getting out of the house and going for walks with me again. It was the turning point I never thought George would live to see.
All of a sudden, after feeling quite good for the first time since his diagnosis. George woke up one night with a bad stomach. After having to head to the toilet several times throughout the night we had a feeling he was starting to see some side effects from the therapy. After 2 days of the same symptoms, George became dehydrated and stopped eating. We took him to the hospital, he was put onto a drip and three days after the symptoms still hadn’t slowed down. Not even the strongest nausea and diarrhea medication on the market made George feel any better. He stopped eating for 13 days, and went down to 50kgs in weight.
During this time I was on the phone to Dr. Brunt, leaving messages about stopping his medication as we believed it was what was causing him all this grief. None of my messages were returned. George’s at-home nurse told me he believed that what George was experiencing was not side effects but indeed his condition slowly taking his life. They sent George home with no resolution. George decided to stop taking the TAF/MEK on February 15th on his own terms and decided to use only the cannabis oil moving forward.
Since George was having such a hard time ingesting anything, we decided to try the cannabis oil as a suppository after quite an embarrassing conversation. Although awkwardly messy, we got a laugh out of it, and honestly think this was the best decision for him at the time.
By March 1st George was back in action. There were no signs of any lingering side effects in sight! He was back to eating, back to drinking, back to going out for walks with me and acting a little more like his old self every day. He went from taking over 30mg of oral morphine per day in December, to absolutely zero. By this stage he hadn’t even touched a paracetamol in weeks!
We had an appointment with his oncologist, and were finally able to tell him in person that George stopped taking his targeted therapy pills. He told us that 5 weeks wasn’t enough time for the treatment to have any effect on his cancer.
We were apparently back to square one in terms of George’s conventional treatment plan. However, we were feeling more empowered and excited about our cannabis plan than ever! We were losing faith in the doctor’s opinions very quickly. If the TAF/MEK didn’t have enough time to work in George’s system, and almost killed him instead, then why was he suddenly feeling so good? Wasn’t he supposed to die already or something? I mean it’s almost time for Spring now…
On March 21st 2019 George had his third MRI scan, revealing the tumours had suddenly and inexplicably stopped growing in their tracks. They even reported a slight reduction in the residual swelling! Winner winner, chicken dinner. The oncologist gave us little to no insight if this was a good outcome, if this was something that is commonly seen in their practice, or why the tumours might have stopped growing with no successful intervention on their behalf. We were simply told to take this with a pinch of salt and sent on our way.
I had also been doing some more research into the TAF/MEK at this time, and found that there were lower doses of the medication that could be prescribed to help alleviate the strong side effects patients were experiencing. We headed in for our routine monthly appointment. We declared to the doctor that George was still abstaining from the targeted therapy. He told us that if we were to discontinue the treatment for any longer, we would lose all funding for the medication indefinitely. Thus, leaving us with no financial backing from the NHS.
Worried that we were about to close a potentially valuable door for George, I asked about trying the lower dose of the medication, and referred to some articles I had saved on my phone. The doctor agreed that we could try the lower dose of TAF/MEK, wrote us a prescription and off we went.
By this time we were merely using the system as a tool on our artillery, we knew we couldn’t necessarily trust the doctor’s word as bible.
Would he have even prescribed the TAF/MEK to us had we not brought it to his attention?! He repeatedly ignored the obvious physical gains George was making and actually completely discouraged us from continuing to use the oil all together for fear we were going to, “make George worse.”
We held onto the pills apprehensively without taking them for a while, but as George continued to get better and stronger everyday, we felt that we could put up a better fight against the potent medication. George started going to the gym a few times a week by this point and was completely back to normal. He was a changed man, but we knew we had to tackle this disease from all angles, so we decided to start back on the lower dose of TAF/MEK on April 20th 2019.
We celebrated George’s 30th Birthday, a feat none of us thought he would be able to accomplish. George was 100% back to his old self. He gained 1.5 stone, was back designing websites, playing music, socializing with friends, and living life to the fullest. The cancer doesn’t even seem like its real anymore. He went from taking over 30 pills a day to just seven (the targets pills) and his trusty cannabis oils. The last year’s nightmare quickly dissolved right before our eyes, and we were back to planning our future together again. I had my George back finally!
The doctor’s didn’t seem as hopeful, however. During one of George’s check ups on June 12th, he asked the doctor when he would be able to start driving again. To which he solemnly replied, “based on your MRI scans, I don’t think you will ever get to a position where you are able to drive again in your life.”
We sort of just smirked at his response and knew we were going to prove him wrong.
Now for the moment you have all been waiting for! On August 2nd 2019 George had his fourth MRI scan, revealing an almost complete reduction of all the tumours in his brain! The doctor must not have reviewed the scans before our appointment, because when he opened the files on his computer he nearly fell off his chair! The largest tumour is now the size of a 5 pence piece and the rest of them are completely gone! The doctor said that he expects it to disappear fully by the next three month scan based on how rapidly the cells have died so far. He actually said this was the best day of his medical career, he wants to write a medical journal about it, and that George can expect to remain stable for at least a few years to come! He actually shook my hand for the first time, smiled and told me we were doing the right things. What changed? He surprisingly admitted that cannabis seemed to have had a positive reaction alongside the TAF/MEK, as they were never expecting to see results like this, especially so soon.
Was it the targeted therapy? Was it the Cannabis? I can’t tell you exactly what all this means through a microscope. What I can tell you, is what I saw. And what I saw was a man on the brink of losing his life to a vicious, unforgiving cancer and poorly prescribed medications by doctors that never seemed to give a sh*t. I saw that man make a miraculous turn around by ignoring the statistics and doctor’s recommendations and taking his medical treatment into his own hands. I have seen what this oil can do if you know how to make it and take it properly. Everyone around us has. Mainstream medicine and cannabis can and should coexist together. To make this happen we need to speak up about it, and as long as somebody is willing to listen to us we will continue to tell our story.