Winlock 15-year-old Taylor Rehmeyer has battled an aggressive brain cancer for nearly a decade with chemotherapy and radiation. But she and her mother say it was marijuana that finally cured her.
“She got an MRI (in May) that said no major abnormalities. The doctors at Seattle Children’s Hospital don’t want to admit it was cannabis, but I don’t care. She’s cancer-free,” Karen Owen said in a recent interview. “It’s more than we could have ever hoped for.”
Taylor was diagnosed at age 6 with a rare brain tumor that has returned three times.
In September 2012, Taylor was one of the first children in America to receive proton radiation at Philadelphia’s Roberts Proton Therapy Center. The high-tech treatments worked — for awhile. Taylor’s tumor shrunk after initial radiation sessions but started growing again last August.
That’s when Owen, determined to heal her daughter, turned to marijuana oil therapy.
Marijuana oil is a burgeoning alternative cancer treatment, which some scientists have reported can kill or inhibit the growth of some types of cancer cells, according to the American Cancer Society. A 2007 Harvard Medical School study reported that chemicals found in marijuana cut tumor growth in lung cancer in half and prevented the disease from spreading.
Its use, however, is still controversial in the medical community. Marijuana oil is not federally regulated and is illegal in most states. Oncologists at St. John Medical Center in Longview did not want to comment. Taylor’s oncologist at Seattle Children’s was unavailable for an interview, but Owen said he didn’t credit marijuana oil for eliminating the tumor.
Owen, who uses medical marijuana for pain management, also had reservations.
“I absolutely had concerns about it. This is definitely out-of-the-box thinking, but we didn’t have any other choices,” she said. “We knew we would be under a microscope. Everyone had an opinion on what we were doing. But, with all the research I did, I knew it couldn’t hurt her.”
A gram of the oil costs about $50, but Owen gets the marijuana oil for free from a manufacturer in the Tacoma area.
Taylor started taking marijuana oil at a rice grain-sized dosage, building up her tolerance to 1-gram capsules for 3 months. A naturopath (an alternative medicine practitioner) monitored Taylor’s dosage, but she would still experience hallucinations that lasted about 10 hours, Owen said.
“I love the thought of (the marijuana oil) being natural. It really changed my life, but it did give me some trouble,” Taylor said. “I lost who I was.”
Owen said her daughter seemed like she was in an “altered state” on the medicine. However, Owen said she did not want to equate the medication to being “stoned.”
“It’s not an easy treatment. It’s not fun,” she said. “It is a very strong medicine, and that’s why it’s medicine. It’s not recreational.”
The medicine was so strong that Owen pulled Taylor out of school last November — about the same time the tumor started shrinking.
She now gets monitored every six months instead of every three months. She’ll have to take a rice-grain-size dose daily for the rest of her life to keep the cancer at bay, Owen said.
She’s improved enough to return as a freshman at Winlock High School in April, though she only attends four days a week for three hours each day.
Taylor said she doesn’t want to consider herself cancer-free yet.
“I refuse to believe it’s gone. I feel exactly the same as I did when it started,” she said. “As soon as you let your guard down, that’s when you start to go down in that hole. I learned that the hard way.”
But her mom has newfound optimism for the future. Instead of planning for the next MRI, the family can plan trips, such as Taylor’s trip to Florida to spend the summer with her grandmother.
“We’re just sitting here, standing on the edge of a cliff ready to hang glide but don’t know which direction to go,” Owen said. “We have choices now.”