How Cannabis Helped The Fox Family When Breast Cancer Hit Home
Rachel Fox, Customer Care Associate at Ethos Cannabis, recalls the moment her mom, Vida, was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer.
“Cancer runs in our family, but I never expected it to hit home,” Rachel shared. “So when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was a shock to her and to me. She was perfectly healthy.”
Thankfully, Vida did not need to undergo chemotherapy or radiation, and her cancer was treated through surgical means. But the anxiety that came with the diagnosis took a toll on both Vida and Rachel’s mental health.
“My mom showed me so much bravery, but it really was a lot for her,” Rachel said. “We were thankful that it was caught early, but it was still devastating for her and for our family.”
The breast cancer-anxiety connection
Vida is far from the first person diagnosed with breast cancer to also have anxiety. Studies have found that those with breast cancer are at greater risk of developing anxiety and depression. Multiple studies have found that as many as 35% or more patients develop anxiety, depression, or both once they are in remission. Those who already have anxiety or depression are also more susceptible to the conditions worsening after a breast cancer diagnosis.
Anxiety in breast cancer patients can take many forms. Patients can experience anxiety due to the stress of the diagnosis itself, nervousness around treatments, waiting for test results, follow-up appointments, and uncertainty about the future, among other triggering thoughts and events. This anxiety can be temporary, or it can linger long after treatments have stopped. And that anxiety takes a toll on all aspects of a patient’s life, from maintaining daily activities to getting proper rest.
“My mom’s anxiety would not let her fall asleep and stay asleep, which made recovery even more difficult,” Rachel shared.
The anxiety takes a toll not just on patients, but on their caregivers.
“My parents jokingly called me ‘nurse Rachel’ because I took my mom to almost every appointment,” Rachel said. “It was important that I was there, but it affected my mental health, too.”
Making Mom “comfortable as a patient”
Rachel’s family was no stranger to cannabis before Vida’s cancer diagnosis. They have family members who work in the cannabis industry in other states, so the plant was always a part of their lives in some way or another. But becoming a patient was a new frontier for Vida, who Rachel said still felt a stigma around cannabis, even with so much positive exposure in her life. She applied for her card when Rachel made a career change to work in Pennsylvania’s cannabis industry, and the rest is history.
“Working in the cannabis industry almost gave my mom permission to become a patient,” Rachel said. “The door has always been open, and she was open to it, but it took some time.”
Vida initially tried cannabis to help resolve her sleep issues, eventually finding a product type that worked best for her.
“At first we tried vaping at night, but switched to tinctures when she realized vaping didn’t help her stay asleep as much,” Rachel said.
Eventually, Vida incorporated cannabis into her daytime routine as well.
“My mom realized that she can consume cannabis during the day to help her anxiety without affecting her daily life,” Rachel said. “She’s deep diving into her care, and it’s beautiful.”
Now, Rachel and Vida love to learn more about cannabis, studying cannabinoid profiles and learning more about the therapeutic properties of terpenes together.
“We look at the menu together… we take a look at the terpenes to see which products can help with her anxiety and now with her chronic pain as well,” Rachel said. “She uses an Ethos pamphlet to track what works for her, which products she’s trying in which amounts and how she feels. I feel like I’m funneling lots of information to her, and she’s taking all of it a step further by applying it to her daily life.”
Rachel is a patient in Pennsylvania as well, who consumes cannabis to manage anxiety.
“Cannabis and therapy have been amazing for me,” Rachel said.
Applying cannabis experience – and knowledge – to help patients
Rachel said her mom’s story shapes how she interacts with patients as a customer care associate.
“I find that people just want to be heard, that they want compassion and kindness,” Rachel said. “Because I’ve gone through this with my mom’s breast cancer diagnosis, I feel I can provide that empathy.”
As a Customer Care Associate, Rachel helps connect patients to pharmacists and dispensary associates who are friendly, amiable, and caring.
“At Ethos, the focus is on the patient and there’s more advocacy for patients, so… my mom feels so taken care of and so cared for,” Rachel said. “It’s the details that matter, too – they know her name when she walks in.”
This welcoming environment makes a tremendous difference for Vida and other patients, who appreciate that they feel comfortable and safe asking questions.
“I trust that my mom is cared for at Ethos, and I tell that to patients all the time,” Rachel said. “If I trust the care that my mom gets at Ethos, I can trust Ethos with anyone’s care.”
What you should know about breast cancer and cannabis
Cannabis can have a profound impact on breast cancer patients in three major ways: To help manage cancer symptoms like pain, help with the side effects of cancer treatment, and to help ease the anxiety and depression that can accompany a breast cancer diagnosis.
For patients like Vida who experienced anxiety around their diagnosis, cannabis can be a helpful part of a routine. That’s because anxiety responses and the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) are intertwined. Endocannabinoids influence how neurotransmitters interact with the brain, quieting down anxiety when CBD or low amounts of THC are involved or exacerbating anxiety if too much THC is involved. As a result, paying close attention to the cannabinoid ratio of a product, as well as its terpene profile, plays a key role in cannabis for anxiety.
While breast cancer does not always cause pain, it can be quite uncomfortable for patients who do experience it.
Cannabis may help because endocannabinoids produced by the body can dampen pain signals sent from the brain to the area in pain. Since endocannabinoids are made, put into use, and recycled quickly, cannabinoids in cannabis like THC and CBD can act as a supplement to what the body already produces.
Additionally, surgical interventions like mastectomies often require weeks of recovery. Cannabis can help manage spikes in pain during recovery, whether through quick-acting inhaled products or long-lasting ingestible products.
Side effects of treatments
Cannabis can help with the nausea, vomiting, and appetite suppression that many experience due to chemotherapy and radiation. The connection is so strong that a synthetic version of THC, called Dronabinol, is a pharmaceutical prescribed to some patients.
It’s believed that cannabis is effective because of its impact on the production of serotonin, a hormone that plays a part in nausea and vomiting. It can also impact a physical and mental phenomenon known as anticipatory nausea, where patients awaiting chemotherapy or radiation feel queasy. Cannabis is believed to impact appetite by influencing the release of the hunger hormone called ghrelin.
Neuropathy caused by chemotherapy and radiation may be helped by cannabis as well. This type of pain can be quite difficult to relieve, but cannabis has shown some promise to help alleviate neuropathy’s burning, tingling, numbing, or painful sensations.
Honoring Breast Cancer Awareness Month all October
Outside of work, Rachel said she and her mom Vida have participated in awareness walks and fundraisers throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She was also a member of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority as an undergraduate; the sorority’s main philanthropic cause is breast cancer education and awareness.
“Breast Cancer Awareness Month has always been on our radar, although I was in undergrad before my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Rachel said.
But Rachel’s activism is not just relegated to October. She brings her mom’s story to work each day, where she can help Ethos patients access the care, answers, and cannabis products they need to feel better.
“I think that everyone should advocate for themselves – for their health, their mental health, or cannabis,” Rachel said. “And if you need a hand held through that process, Ethos is the place to go because we empower our patients to make the best, next move for their well-being.”
We want to hear from you. Whatever you think. At Ethos, you’re at home and your voice is heard.