Tupperware marked JACK ONLY;)

Mail isn’t what it used to be. Most days it’s just a pile of catalogs and junk. I sometimes go days without even glancing at my mailbox, but lately I’ve been checking it twice a day. I’ve felt like a kid at camp waiting for a care package.

Yesterday my care package arrived! It wasn’t a big box — just a slim envelop from the NJ Department of Health – our brand new NJ Medicinal Marijuana Program cards!!!

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Jack’s on plenty of medications – Hydrocortisone, Keppra, Fludrocortisone. He’s also had prescriptions for Ativan, Oxcycodone, and many others. Any time we need a refill, it’s easy. Drugs in this country are usually just a phone call and a quick trip to CVS away. Within an hour, we can have a pile of  medicine (many FAR more dangerous than marijuana) in our hands. Not so with the one medication that has truly transformed Jack’s life.

Not sure if you remember, but three years ago Jack started hopping (click here for that story). Sounds cute, right? It wasn’t. It was like he was stuttering as he walked. It made walking across a room tedious and a walk down the street nearly impossible. His PTs and OTs worked tirelessly. We all tried a variety of techniques and nothing seemed to work. Then I stumbled onto some research about how marijuana can help with spasticity (what we suspected was the underlying cause for Jack’s hopping). You can legally buy some marijuana/hemp products in most states (that are high in CBD – the non-intoxicating compound in marijuana and low in THC – the part of marijuana that makes you high), and I thought it was worth a shot. Before introducing anything to Jack’s medication list, I always check with his neurologist. I felt a little strange bringing up such an “alternative medication” for my 16-year-old. She quietly listened to me ramble on about my research, starting every sentence with, “Don’t judge and please don’t think I’m crazy.” She assured me that she wasn’t judging and brought in her colleague who was more knowledgeable about the benefits marijuana. Again, I told Jack’s story and filled him in on my research. He met Jack, looked over his chart and said, “Don’t buy anything online. I think Jack needs some THC and to be on Medicinal Marijuana. Let’s get him in the program.”

Seemed so easy — it wasn’t.

It took six months, piles of paperwork. loads of money and three doctors (including a psychiatrist for our non-verbal son) before getting our original cards. By the time we were able to go to the medicinal marijuana dispensary we were super excited to get started, but quickly learned our waiting wasn’t over. I needed to learn how to administer the herb to our boy. All they sell in NJ is the flower. The flower is the seed bearing part of the plant, including the buds that are smoked. Jack can’t smoke. I had to learn how to turn that flower into a butter and then into an edible (Jack’s favorite is a chocolate chip cookie). Even our wonderful doctor who had written the prescription, had little advice for us. It took some time and a few wasted batches, but we finally figured it out the right recipe.

It’s been a life changer. Jack’s walking better, sleeping better and all around more focused (odd because pot makes me anything but focused – not that I’ve ever experimented with marijuana. That would be illegal and immoral and just plan old bad). Two years in and we have our rhythm. Once every three weeks I infuse butter, bake, and fill the large Tupperware container in the fridge marked JACK ONLY — it is more work that it should be, but we’re all set.

Every 60 days we do need to get a new certification from our doctor. We’re grateful that our doctor doesn’t require a $200 visit every time. She seems to be one of the few people that understands that Jack is not going to grow out of his challenges (don’t worry — we do see her at least twice a year).

Everything has been going great until a few weeks ago when we received an email that we needed to re-register with the NJ Department of Health. More paperwork, more photos, more money and more proof that Jack still has spasticity.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Governor Phil Murphy spent a whole lot of time running for office talking about his commitment to not just opening up NJ’s Medicinal Marijuana Program to include things like oils and edibles, but making marijuana completely legal in NJ. I do support the legalization of recreational marijuana and could go on and on about the benefits to the NJ economy and that marijuana is far safer than alcohol or nicotine or half the drugs we all have in our medicine cabinets, but I want to focus more on those individuals – like Jack –  who are provided more comfort, less pain and better quality of life because of their access to medicinal marijuana. All I really want to say is – MAKE IT EASIER FOR PATIENTS. PLEASE TELL ME THIS IS THE LAST TIME I NEED TO REAPPLY FOR THESE SILLY CARDS and if you can’t do that, at least HURRY UP WITH THE EDIBLES!

I am tired of infusing and baking and having my house smell like a fraternity. I’m also looking forward knowing exactly what dose I’m giving my son without needing to test it myself (which I would never do because THAT is illegal and immoral and plan old bad). I’m also tired of any paperwork that involves proving that Jack is sick enough/disabled enough to do anything/to take anything that will help him enjoy the best quality of life possible.

Our new cards expire July 2020. Fingers crossed that changes won’t take that long.

For more about our cannabis journey click here.

Love, Jess

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Progress? This might be the key(board)

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Jack’s progress doesn’t always follow a straight path. Brain injuries are complicated, and sometimes things move forward and then backward. Sometimes even sideways. It’s only after months of consistency with something new, that we feel comfortable that it’s here to stay. Perhaps that’s why I waited to share this story. But just this week I was given more proof that Jack has found a new skill. Typing.

I will start at the beginning.

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Jack has been using an app called Proloquo2Go for 6 years. It’s a communication program that uses words and symbols that when touched, speak for him. Every speech therapist Jack’s had since he has gotten the app has been excited by the possibilities and worked with it hoping to make communication easier for our boy. Each therapist has played with the format on Proloquo2Go —making words/symbols bigger on each page, making words/symbols smaller again, limiting the amount of information, increasing the amount of information, etc.

There’s always hope, and there have been times over the years that we have seen some improvement, particularly at school (like all kids, Jack does more at school than at home). Although there have been some successes, I’ve never been 100% convinced that his “successes” haven’t been a little guided. When Jack uses his iPad he needs someone to support his elbow — it helps with accuracy. I’ve always worried that his guides might be guiding more than they realize. Like when you use a Ouija board and subconsciously you direct the movement (unless the spirits are really sending subtle notes like GET OUT to every teenager who has ever played with a Ouija board).

This summer, Jack’s speech therapist added a keyboard page to the Proloquo2Go mix. I thought she was reaching a little. If Jack can’t consistently articulate a sentence when given entire words, then how could he manage to type in a whole word? But, instead of arguing, I said what I usually do to his eager, optimistic team, “THAT sounds awesome!”

All summer both Jack’s aide, Monica, and his therapists swore that they were seeing improvement, but I didn’t pay much attention. Until . . .

Last month, Monica took Jack on an adventure to pick something out for his birthday. As they wandered through the mall to find the perfect gift, they walked into a store that had a large selection of socks. Socks are the new cool thing for teenage boys, and Jack seemed excited to take a look. He searched through the rack of socks before grabbing a pair that had a pattern with something that Monica didn’t recognize. She said, “Jack, do you know what that is?”

Jack smiled and nodded his head so Monica took out his iPad and asked him to spell out the word. This is what he wrote:

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Marijuana has helped Jack so much for the last year and now it’s helping prove to the rest of us that Jack’s progress is real!

I loved this story, but I tried not to get too excited. At home, Jack focuses very little on the keyboard page on Proloquo2Go and more on the I’M HUGRY and I LOVE YOU buttons (that’s a good one). I’ve been waiting for more proof that the keyboard might really be the key to something. I finally got some proof this week. Jack’s speech therapist sent me a note sharing with me that she was telling Jack a joke and handed him his iPad for a response. Jack typed “LOL”. Maybe not as impressive as “mariguana”, but I will take it!

Love, Jess

* Monica is not just Jack’s aide. She’s his school mom and my dear friend. And Caitlin is Jack’s therapist who cracks jokes and makes magic happen.

* Okay folks – laugh all you want. I know that it’s funny that MY son has taken up  a hobby that involves spelling. I’ve confused pallets with platelets and angels with angles and wander with wonder. I’ve never claimed to be a good speller and apparently Jack hasn’t perfected it either – but we both get our point across.

 

 

 

It’s NOT a Secret Anymore!

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An article I wrote about medical marijuana was published today on The Mighty – CLICK HERE TO READ IT!

If you are an avid reader of this blog you may recognize the initial story, but dig a little deeper – there’s a lot of information. Medical marijuana has been a life-changer for JackO. I hope sharing our story helps other people dealing with chronic pain/spasticity/anxiety/digestive issues – the list goes on and on and on.

Love, Jess

 

Medication or Menace? (the answer for us is clear)

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Another week, another article – this time in the Columbian (The Columbia High School Newspaper – our district supports the Torreys)!

When I was approached by a student at Columbia High School to be interviewed for an article about medical marijuana, I did pause to make sure my family was on board. I have shared it here before, but The Columbian is a different audience. Anna is a junior at Columbia and I didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable with me sharing our story with her classmates. She had two comments, “You share EVERYTHING with EVERYONE – I’m used to it. And, why would I care about people knowing Jack uses medical marijuana? It’s medicine.”

As always – Anna’s right. I do share a lot. I share to help me process what’s going on in our lives. I share to help other special families see that life does not need to be defined by disabilities. I share so “non-special” (is that a thing?) families can see that us special folks aren’t really that different. AND I share to spread the word about what works and what doesn’t.

Medical Marijuana has worked for Jack. It helps him focus and relax and eat Cheetos while watching bad TV – I’m kidding about that last one. That’s one of the problems – marijuana/mary jane/pot/weed/ganga/herb/cannabis – whatever you call it, it has a bad reputation. Many people categorize marijuana as simply a recreational drug and discount all of it’s medical benefits. People have their image of “refer madness” and have trouble wrapping their brains around the fact that it is a far superior and less dangerous drug than many medications that live in most medicine cabinets.

I expected some judgement from older generations about using marijuana for medicinal reasons, but I was startled to see that even high school kids seem to have a hard time excepting medical marijuana as a real medication. 54% of Columbia High School students interviewed for this article did not think it should be allowed to to treat illness on school grounds. I find that shocking. I do hope this article helps to educate and open people’s mind to new alternatives for treating people with nerve pain, spasticity, MS, cancer, seizures, glaucoma, etc.

Clearly it’s time for marjiana to find a good public relations team. Jack would be happy to be a spokesperson.

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Love, Jess (Pot Mama)

 

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Do as I say – not as your brother does

The response to It Shouldn’t be a Secret has been a little overwhelming. I went from not being sure if I was ready to share the news that Jack was using medical marijuana, to having over 4000 people read the post and fielding tons for phone calls, emails and texts filled with stories and questions.

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Overall, there has been very little judgement. In fact, it seems that everyone has a friend or family member who has used cannabis for medical reasons. Some of the most conservative people I know seemed almost relieved to share their stories that they had hidden away as if they had done something criminal. Wait – in much of our country marijuana IS criminal – THAT’S part of the problem.

The one hint of criticism came in a question asked repeatedly. How did we explain to Anna that her brother was going to experiment with pot?

First – Jack is not “experimenting with pot” – he’s trialing the medical benefits of cannabis (that sounds way more official).

We did approach the conversation carefully, but we were honest with Anna from the start. Anna is only sixteen, and by all means we do not condone the use of any substances by young people, but — BREAKING NEWS — teenagers have seen more than you think. Anna knows people who use pot for other reasons than trying to alleviate the spasms in their feet. She was not shocked by the word “marijuana” and she understands that what’s good for her brother is NOT good for her (or her curfew).

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Also, people need to remember that Anna is not your average kid. She was six-years-old when her family scattered and she was told that her brother might not survive. She has witnessed the reality of life changing overnight and the fact that there is often not a right and a wrong answer when searching for solutions. Instead there is often a “maybe if we . . . “ and “let’s see if this works”. Anna is interested in studying biomedical engineering. It took me a while to truly understand what that means other than many, many years of education post high school. My limited understanding now appreciates that Anna wants to help create treatments to save lives. ALD, cancer, ALS – watch out. When Anna sets her sites on something, she’s all in.

Now that medical marijuana has been a success in our house Anna seems to be wondering less about the smell in our kitchen and more about what in cannabis is helping Jack. The scientist in her is fascinated. Lucky for us, because I’m more interested in the fact that it’s working then why — it’s probably good to have one person in the house who understands the science behind it.

As far as the stigma on marijuana – we’re getting over that. The more research we do, the more solid we are in our belief that marijuana is a remarkable drug with a host of benefits. Just last week, top scientists at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine weighed in on marijuana and it’s health effects. After considering more that 10,000 studies, they concluded that marijuana is helpful for pain relief, muscle spasms related to MS (a disease similar to ALD), and for treating nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. I think it’s time we all take a look at our medicine cabinets and realize they’re filled with far more harmful things than cannabis. Hopefully we will continue to see positive change in policies regarding marijuana (although after today, who knows?).

So, that’s how we handled the Anna situation. We were honest. I’m not sure how Dan and I would have parented teenagers under different circumstances, but we have ended up be the kind of parents who answer questions honestly and openly. Anna might not know every detail of our histories or every decision we make now, but she knows her share, and Anna has turned into quite an incredible person – I guess we’re not doing such a bad job.

Love, Jess

Anna’s not completely without complaint. When I am baking for Jack, she always reminds me that I NEVER bake for her. Sorry.

It shouldn’t be a secret

If you’ve come to our house lately you may have noticed some changes. There are signs all over food in our kitchen saying “JACK ONLY” and there’s a lingering smell in the air. We had someone working on the alarm … Continue reading