November marks Diabetes Awareness Month and cannabis plays a key part of many diabetics’ health journeys. MedicateOH shares Jamie Dodd’s deeply personal essay “Brave & Quiet” that details her diagnosis with juvenile diabetes and how she says cannabis improved her quality of life.
Brave and Quiet: The Battle Cry of a Silent Warrior is a medical cannabis advocacy narrative by Jamie Dodd. In this deeply personal essay, she tells her story of her diagnosis with juvenile diabetes and how, years later, cannabis improved her quality of life. Also known as Type 1, insulin-dependent diabetes is a chronic and painful condition where the pancreas makes little or no insulin.
Even after decades of research, type 1 diabetes (T1D) still has no cure; however, the painful condition can be managed by controlling the amount of sugar in the blood using insulin, diet, and lifestyle to prevent complications. Jamie relates her discovery of cannabis and how it has helped her manage her chronic pain associated with T1D.
Here’s her story:
Being diagnosed as an extremely brittle juvenile diabetic before I had finished middle school is my trauma. I remember few events so vividly. They play back in my mind like a freeze-frame, where each individual moment stands still becoming as visceral in my memory as the day it happened. That day of my diabetes diagnosis stays ingrained, imprinted, scarred in my memory and will for my lifetime.
Age 14, odd symptoms out of nowhere
On March 14th, 2005, I sat on the exam table’s crinkly paper in a stifling room at my pediatrician’s office. Infants and small children screamed and laughed as if the walls were made of sheets rather than wood and plaster that could provide privacy. I was more than willing to miss my first three periods of classes on that Monday morning, just like most 14 year-olds.
Over the course of weeks leading up to this date, I had been experiencing odd symptoms that seemed to come out of nowhere: Charley horse cramps, extreme thirst, nausea, and a desire to sleep beyond that of a normal teenager. Before leaving the house that morning, my mother watched me eat a quick breakfast of two bowls of Honeycomb cereal. She realized that that particular breakfast would be the last typical meal that I would ever experience.
Getting a blood test
By the time we reached my doctor’s office, my optimism for having a day of feeling good was fading. I was so painstakingly thirsty as I was taken back to that little exam room. Before the nurse could shut the door on her way out, I was under the faucet of the room’s little sink trying to suck gallons of water into my system.
Dr. Lall came in as I was under the tap for the second time. The thirst was so demanding that I didn’t hear much of the conversation between her and my mother. My mom, ever concerned for my health, asked for my blood sugar to be tested, knowing this test would require a needle poke that I most certainly did not enjoy. The irony of this moment is almost comical, looking back now as an adult with Type 1 diabetes.
The nurse entered with what looked like a calculator and a clean lancet, explaining to me the process of what she was doing. A quick jab later, and she was squeezing a small drop of blood onto the test strip inserted inside the glucometer.
As we waited for the results, I asked, “What’s a normal reading?” The nurse was just beginning to answer when she stopped abruptly while a frown on her face quickly replaced a friendly smile.
Retesting, waiting for results
“I’m going to do a retest before I go grab Dr. Lall, just to be sure. Don’t worry, I think it’s the fault of the machine,” she explained. After a second reading, we were pulled into an office in the back and told the results. My blood sugar was too high for the machine to read it. The glucometer maxed out when the reading exceeded 400mg of sugar per volume. To get an accurate glucose reading at this point would require a blood draw and lab culture. My symptoms were of Type 1 diabetes.
The hospital across the street was already readying a room for me with haste. My life as I knew it would be irrevocably altered in ways I could never imagine. My glucose was the highest it had ever been in my life that morning, 42 mg shy of 900, nine times higher than what is a normal blood sugar reading. Nobody we spoke with could understand how I was not in a coma, or even still alive for that matter. A blood sugar reading that high is undoubtedly critical.
It was unfathomable that I was not only completely functional, walking and talking in a normal capacity. I asked repeatedly if I was going to make it back to school before gym class was over. A blood test that could show the average of my glucose levels over a three-month period showed that I had been functioning with a glucose of 400, still four times higher than a normal glucose level.
I was hospitalized for a week and received a crash course in a disease that I had barely even heard mentioned. I now had to assume my life with a new diet, glucometer, and two types of insulin. I never realized how life-altering this would all be, in my naïve teenage innocence, I had truly believed my life wouldn’t be affected much.
I had no idea the amount of emotional, mental, and physical stress this traumatic diagnosis would inflict on me by age 32. I had no idea that I entered that hospital as one person and left another.
Trauma changed me
Trauma is the brain’s emotional response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope. It causes feelings of helplessness and fear while diminishing the person’s sense of self and their ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences. Trauma is subjective, pervasive, and defined more by its response than its trigger.
By 24, diabetes had maliciously beaten me down. In a decade of life where most of my friends were completing their degrees and celebrating achievements made at universities before entering the working world, I had spent most of my 20’s in the ICU hospital bed, strung up to IV insulin drips. My blood became toxic inside me. I withered away to nothing, begging and pleading to any power higher to let me keep my life and not make my parents endure the suffering of burying their child.
I dare not utter this next statement lightly, but full of conviction because it is my truth: If it weren’t for the two beautiful children that I have been so insanely lucky enough to birth without complications, I’d have rather just died of this disease than live with it for the rest of my life. This thought is said within context; I’m not suicidal or wish for death by any means. This disease is just so unimaginably terrifying, exhausting, and consuming.
That is the reality and severity of those of us living with it. At 14, I was told how I would more than likely die prematurely—a world-shattering concept as a teen. Being a brittle diabetic means that my form of T1 is especially difficult to manage, and often disrupts daily life. I experience severe swings in blood glucose that are unpredictable and may leave me in poor health. My local ER knows me on a first name basis and my number of visits is a 3-digit count.
Medicinal cannabis changed me
In 2015, my brother Jordan started making his first visits back home since moving to northern Michigan where medical marijuana had been legalized in 2008. A long time-friend of his had finally convinced him to make the move up and join his licensed grow operation in 2014. My big brother had always kept me safe and on the right path, so I listened attentively to the passionate information he had for the cannabis plant. I was intrigued by the vast knowledge he obtained because it was beyond the stigma of most so-called stoners I had known. Jordan spoke about things like cannabinoids and told the triumphant tales of the Stanley brothers and Charlotte Figi. I tried to remember these then foreign-to-me terms and names to research on Google when I was alone later.
With Jordan’s advocacy and my research, I became an instant optimist in the healing properties of this plant, so enamored with the idea that something that had helped so many others could hopefully help me too. I never expected a miracle when it came to this plant. I only held the simple hope that it could provide a better quality of life.
That’s the thing about this medicine, really. Most patients are only reaching for a better life, no matter how big or small the impact is. This medicine is a refuge from failed attempts with conventional medicine for most of us. And that refuge usually comes in the moments that we are the most desperate, the moments where we have become most burnt-out from our battles, and I believe it to be true still that that’s what makes it so utterly beautiful.
The first strain I tried: Sour Diesel
The very first strain of medical marijuana Jordan ever brought to me will always reverberate in my memory. Still, it remains my very favorite strain: Sour Diesel, a classic. It was love at first toke as it gave me such an uplifted sense of being, Not only did Sour Diesel alleviate the stress I carried daily from trying to control my disease, but it allowed me to function throughout the day without experiencing the vast amount of physical pain I had unknowingly become accustomed to. It wasn’t until that moment that I grasped how much I had silently suffered every day for years, until I had finally gotten the chance to experience solace from that suffering feeling. All because of this plant!
Cannabis is my driving force
Without a shadow of a doubt, my experience with medical marijuana that summer paved the way for what my career and passion in life are today. It’s the driving force behind the work I do. There is nothing better than hearing that I’ve made a difference in someone’s life with this wondrous plant medicine.
My favorite milestone in my medical marijuana journey has always been consulting with my very first patient at my very first dispensary job in 2020: the saintly woman from the beginning of this story, my mother. She was just shy of the one-year mark of her own diagnosis of breast cancer and a few months into starting chemotherapy, which had wreaked havoc on her. Medical marijuana alleviated the stress and sickness that chemo had added to her disease.
I witnessed my mom’s transformation from couch-ridden and hopelessly clutching a bottle of opium tincture back to exuberant and hopeful. She was finally able to start living life again with much better quality, just as I had. 2020 marked five years of no hospitalizations for myself. In fact, my doctors told me that I had become one of their healthiest patients on file! I finally felt free from the anchor of being miserable, finally alleviated from the feeling of desperation for the suffering to end. My disease will always control and dictate my life and I feel some resentment. But I will always choose to be this new, healthier version of a sick girl.
Why isn’t diabetes a qualifying condition?
To clarify, my qualifying condition within the Ohio Medical Marijuana program isn’t T1D, regardless of how much cannabis improved my condition. My qualifying condition is chronic pain as a residual side effect of the disease I endure. According to my recommending doctor within our program, my qualifying could also be PTSD as a residual side effect of T1D trauma.
Year after year, I’ve sat silently and patiently, waiting to see if diabetes—which affects more than 130 million people nationally—will be added to Ohio’s list. Regardless of my own successful testimony with marijuana and others I have heard directly from other T1D patients within the Ohio program, our genetic disorder has never been added. My story has detailed the physical hurdles I have had to endure over decades as a result of my disease. Without question, medical marijuana helps alleviate most of the burden.
A person living with diabetes is nothing short of a warrior. We live every day without the luxury of knowing the next moment is guaranteed; that every second of living with this disease is nothing shy of a battle for our lives. Even taking the life-saving medication that is synthetic insulin could be a misjudged dose or an abnormal response from our bodies, a fluctuating outcome that could cost us our lives. So whether it be physical, emotional, or mental infliction as a result of T1D, we are living in a world that is defined by the word trauma.
My purpose is to create change
My testimony doesn’t seek sympathy, empathy, or apology. I will always fight tooth and nail because this suffering is nothing short of an endless war within myself, and this testimony is my battle cry. It is absurd that T1D does not qualify a person in Ohio to seek refuge within our state’s medical program; in fact, it is an outrage. My purpose is to create a change that forever transforms the community of warriors, I know this with every fiber of my being. I refuse to allow my suffering to be for nothing, so I refuse to quit pounding on the door of the higher powers at the Board of Pharmacy and the Statehouse until this wrong is righted.
My favorite Ernest Hemingway quote says it best, “You are so brave and quiet I forget you are suffering.” I’m far from done with being brave in my lifetime. I refuse to be quiet anymore. I will leave you with a challenge. Are you brave enough to join me?
[…] Diabetes Awareness Month and cannabis plays a key part of many diabetics’ health journeys. Jamie shared her story of her diagnosis with juvenile diabetes and how cannabis improved her quality of life. Also known […]
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