Anne Gamet doesn't know how much longer she has to live, but all that matters to the 45-year-old Greeley woman is she's living, and she's going to keep fighting as long as she can.
She has a lot to live for — her 28-year marriage to Charlie, her 27-year-old daughter Miranda and her son 24-year-old Cody, who will not come second to any stares, stigmas or attitudes people may have when they find out how she gets out of bed each morning and how she falls asleep each night.
Because for Gamet, if it wasn't for the legalization of medical marijuana in Colorado, she wouldn't be living at all.
“When I first decided to do this, I told my husband I'm not going to do pictures,” she said of telling her story about what the medicine has done for her. “But then when I thought about it, I thought, ‘If I expect to put a new face on this thing, I sure as the heck can't hide my face.”
Gamet lives every day of her life thankful for the little pipe that sits on her living room table and the marijuana she legally buys to put into it.
“I don't think people understand,” she said. “I think they have this vision of people going down to the corner and buying a dime bag off some bizarre freak and that's not the way it is.”
Gamet admits when she went to Denver to get her medical marijuana license, it was a strange feeling, but her family convinced her she needed to do whatever she could to feel better.
Gamet knew something was wrong, but she couldn't pinpoint it. The severe pain in her abdominal area wouldn't go away. For a while she thought it was something digestive, and doctors sent her home with instructions for cleaning herself out. But when she started bloating up and couldn't walk anymore she went back.
“I couldn't lay down. I couldn't stand up. I was missing work,” she said. She told her husband she thought she was dying.
“If I don't go to the doctor right now, I'm going to die,” she recalled from their conversation on that October day in 2008. “Something is wrong.”
Something was terribly wrong. Her doctor sent her straight to North Colorado Medical Center, where doctors quickly put her in an ambulance and sent her to Swedish Medical Center in Denver.
“That's the best facility there is,” Gamet recalled what the doctor said. “You have cysts on your ovaries. I get down there, and they roll me up to the operating room and said, ‘I need you to sign this, I'm taking what ever I need to take.' I found out how severe it was later.”
“Cancer's a bitch”
In addition to a hysterectomy, doctors also removed part of Gamet's bowels and part of her stomach.
“They took part of everything,” she said. “It had invaded everything, and they're talking to me about what had just happened and that I'm going to have to go through chemotherapy. They were not able to get it all. I was in the hospital for a few days, and I remember I watched the Susan Komen race and thought, ‘Man, I'm not going to be here for next year's race.'”
Gamet immediately started chemotherapy. Sometimes, she wondered what was worse — the ovarian cancer doctors diagnosed her with or the treatment to rid herself of it.
“They can knock it down, but cancer's a bitch,” she said. “It will keep coming back. The bad thing about ovarian cancer is most women don't know they have it until it's too late.”
For months, as Gamet threw up, lost her hair, lost her energy, lost her appetite and lost her ability to go to the bathroom, she waited as the disease continued eating away inside her, getting worse and worse and worse.
“In July, my numbers just kept going up and up and up,” she said. “People don't understand how trying it is trying to live.”
To pill or not to pill
Gamet takes 12 pills each night so she can live. And that doesn't include the morphine doctors originally prescribed for pain or the Marinol she could try to help reduce the effects of nausea. The morphine made her sick and she has trouble keeping down the pills she takes already.
Marinol is an FDA-approved synthetic form of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
“There are only so many pills you can take,” Gamet said. “They give you a pill for nausea but if you're throwing up, that pill's coming up too.”
Then, after months of chemotherapy treatment with Carboplatin and Taxotere, doctors changed her treatment to Doxil, and the cancer has began shrinking, giving Gamet a new hope on life.
Unlike the previous two drugs, Doxil can be taken indefinitely, but it has its own additional set of side effects.
“It destroys all the nerves in my body,” she said. “I can't be touched without it hurting. It's like having pins and needles in your body all the time. It just drives you nuts.”
That's when Charlie started investigating the use of marijuana to help some of her symptoms.
Growing up in a small town in Nebraska, Gamet raised her children to stay away from drugs, even moving quickly from Arvada back to Nebraska when she noticed teens using drugs in the park across the street from her home.
She worked as a lab technician for Zateca bean factory north of Greeley for five years before her diagnosis, and Charlie is a surveyor. The couple had been living the American ideal of a family their entire lives. So it took a lot for Gamet to consider marijuana.
“I'm about the most prim and proper person there is,” she said with a laugh. “That's why this is so weird for me. My daughter has been afraid to bring her boyfriend over here because she doesn't know what to tell him.”
But in August, she finally bit the bullet and went to Denver to get her permit. Although the experience was scary at times, she's glad she did.
“There were these two girls coming out of the dispensary laughing, ‘We got our permit. We got our permit,” she said. “I never went back to that dispensary.”
Instead, Gamet found In Harmony Wellness in Windsor, and in a few short months, she feels like her caregivers Tina Valenti and Derek Cumings have helped her change her life.
“It stops the nausea,” she said. “It calms the nerves so they don't hurt so much. It's helped me eat so I can put some weight on. It's stopped my panic attacks. It makes it so I can sleep. And one form of it gives me a little bit of energy so I can function during the day. Sometimes in the morning, even though I've told myself I'm going to get up every day and shower, some mornings I can't. But now I'm able to get up and get my butt in the shower and put on my face. Tina and Derek know what my needs are. I depend on them to know what the heck it is they've got.
“The reason I've decided to do this (interview) is because I know there are cancer patients out there that are struggling every day with: ‘Am I going to wake up tomorrow? Am I going to be able to function tomorrow? Is something going to happen when I go in to get my next set of numbers? If there are people that are struggling, they don't have to struggle so much. I wrote on Facebook one time that I wish I had a miracle pill. This is my miracle pill.”
THE GREATEST GIFT …
Over the past two months, Gamet's condition has continued to improve. She calls it miraculous. She credits Dr. Douglas Kemme and his Greeley cancer team for finding the right medications for her condition. She credits Colorado voters for passing Amendment 20. She credits Valenti and Cumings for knowing what they know about the different strains of marijuana and what each strain will do. And she credits her family for standing behind her and giving her the support she needs. She only hopes others reading her story who may have not believed in the medicinal benefits of marijuana in the past will keep and open mind.
“What a Christmas present,” she said about her improved health. “I still have a ways to go, but they can extend my life with the Doxil. And the way I look at it, is if I can be on it indefinitely, and it continues to shrink at the rate its shrinking it, then I'm going to do good.
“My husband didn't know what to do with me after a month of watching my numbers go up and listening to me go, ‘I'm going to die. I'm going to die. I'm going to die.' All of a sudden, I smoke a little something and I'm not thinking about dying. I'm living, and I'm making the most of what I can.”
January 2, 2010