Health and wellness touch everyone’s life differently. This is one person’s story.
At the age of 23, my world was completely flipped upside down. Just 36 days before I was planning to walk down the aisle, I was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.
Before receiving my diagnosis, I was a fitness social media influencer, with a YouTube channel and Instagram account that chronicled my fitness regimen and my journey to my first National Physique Committee competition. How could a very healthy and active 23-year-old woman’s world flip upside down in a matter of seconds like this?
When I first started chemo in August 2016, I was told horror stories about people’s experiences with chemo. So to say I was terrified would be a bit of an understatement.
Over the course of my treatment — countless rounds of chemo, many hours of surgery, a temporary ileostomy bag, and a new allergy to dairy — my weight dropped from 130 to 97 pounds, from muscle to skin and bones. Sometimes, I’d look in the mirror and not even be able to recognize myself. Physically, I looked like a different person. Mentally, I had times when I got sad.
Fortunately, I had an amazing support team by my side. They were always there to champion me, reminding me to look inside and remember that I was still me, still beautiful, no matter what my shape or size. And it was that support team who first suggested trying medical cannabis.
How cannabis changed my cancer journey
At first, I was pretty resistant to the idea, and didn’t want to hear what they had to say. I had been an athlete in high school and college, so cannabis was always a bit taboo. I was worried that people would see me as a “druggy.”
But my mind was changed when my dad — who’s completely against cannabis — told me about his friend who was taking it during their own battle with back cancer. They were reaping amazing benefits. When I found that out, I was sold.
I was very fortunate when it came to the side effects of chemo. Though I experienced weight loss, hair loss, exhaustion, and sometimes blisters, I never once got sick. I even found myself already back at the gym just a couple of days after my last treatment.
Part of that I credit to taking medical cannabis, which I began in December — 1 gram each of CBD oil and RSO oil (THC) per day, distributed in three pills. It was instrumental in helping me not feel nauseous and sick.
In fact, even when I was on one of the more intense forms of chemo, called Doxil, for about seven rounds, the only side effect I got were blisters on my tongue from citrus. My doctors and nurses were shocked that I hadn’t gotten sick once from this chemo.
Another huge benefit of taking medical cannabis was that it helped with my appetite. After my surgeries, my stomach became very sensitive and small. I’d get full very quickly. I’d also get so frustrated with myself: I wanted to eat full meals, but my body just couldn’t handle it. I was already on a strict diet because of surgery, and with a sudden new allergy to dairy along with an ileostomy bag in place, I was losing weight very quickly.
It got to the point where my husband had to almost force me to eat just so I wouldn’t lose any more weight.
When I started taking cannabis, my appetite began to come back. I started to crave food — and yes, the “munchies” are a real thing. I’d snack on everything I could get my hands on! I was finally able to finish my entire dinner and still be able to eat a piece (or two) of dessert.
I do still have days when I struggle with my stomach. Sometimes, I’ll get mini-blocks that work their way through and, when they do, make me feel nauseous and extremely full. But I’ve found that when I take cannabis, those feelings soon go away, and my appetite is back.
A mental break, as well as a physical one
Another thing I struggled with during chemo was feeling both exhausted and wide awake at the same time. During most chemo treatments, they give you a steroid beforehand to help with side effects. But one side effect of the steroid was that I’d end up staying awake for long periods — sometimes for up to 72 hours.
My body was so exhausted (and the bags under my eyes would scare small children), but my brain was wide awake. No matter how much I forced myself to try and sleep, I couldn’t.
I needed a mental and physical break. As I did more research on THC, I found that it could help with insomnia — and indeed it did. Taking THC helped me go to sleep with no problems and wake up the next morning feeling well-rested — even on chemo days.
One thing they don’t tell you about chemo is that the over-exhaustion that can come with it can cause you to start shutting down mentally. And that’s when I’d sometimes have my breakdowns. The world often felt like too much, and my anxiety would kick in. But when I took my THC and CBD pills, both the exhaustion (thanks to sleep) and anxiety would go away.
An open mind
I’m a firm believer that medical cannabis helped me win my fight against cancer. THC and CBD helped not only with nausea, but with the side effects I was experiencing from chemo and the insomnia that I dealt with on the nights after my treatments.
Many people are closed-minded when it comes to THC and, at one point, I was one of those people. But if you keep an open mind and do just a little research, you’ll be surprised at what you might find.
Though there are still days when I struggle with the side effects from surgery, I know that I’m blessed to even have that bad day. My battle with cancer taught me that no matter how dark or scary the storm may seem, there’s nothing that a smile and positive mindset can’t accomplish.
Based in Seattle, Washington, Cheyann is a social media influencer and the creator behind the popular Instagram account @cheymarie_fit and YouTube channel Cheyann Shaw. At the age of 23, she was diagnosed with stage 4 low-grade serous ovarian cancer, and turned her social media outlets into channels of strength, empowerment, and self-love. Cheyann is now 25, and there’s no evidence of disease. She’ll start traveling around the world to tell her story and help those who feel like there’s no hope left. She’s inspired thousands with her faith and positivity in the darkest time of her life. Cheyann and her husband plan on moving back to Florida and starting a family. Cheyann has shown the world that no matter what storm you’re facing, you can and you will get through it.