My Journey of Resilience & Cannabis
I believe we all have stories throughout our lives that show us all how resilient we can be when life happens. I feel especially happy with my story of resilience in the cannabis industry for many reasons. First, we launched the Women in Cannabis Expo (WICE) in January of 2020. Moving in full force, we had signed our hotel contract, February of 2020 for the WICE event to take place, September of 2020 in Reno, Nevada. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and BOOM, just like that, mid-March the State of Nevada shut down. Secondly, cannabis is literally helping keep me alive. Yep, read that sentence again.
We were all living in uncertain times and finding creative ways to be resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. In my case I was navigating home schooling my oldest son, while taking care of my youngest son, who was 14-months at the time. And I was still trying to figure out how I was going to make the Women in Cannabis Expo (WICE) be a wonderful event that September.
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I kept up with business meetings, emails and phone calls. I kept striving, because first and foremost I am a person that gets shit done. Seriously, once I set my mind to something, watch out! One of the questions that came up from a potential sponsor for 2020 was “What will you do if you can’t have your event in person this year?” I said, “We’ll figure it out. Maybe we’ll host it online or push out the WICE event date. We will do whatever we need to do to make it work.” That potential sponsor liked that response, and we ended up securing them to be a sponsor for WICE in 2021. But that wasn’t just the “right answer”, it was the truth and the bottom line.
When you have resilience, and passion in your heart you can make things work. You learn how to pivot through what is happening. The weird thing was, at that time in my life I really had no idea what a doozy 2020 was going to be for me. My ex-husband and I had separated and had begun the divorce process which turned into a storm of ugliness. I also came within a few hours of losing my life. My journey of resilience to me at times feels surreal.
By August of 2020, the State of Nevada and the entire world were still in a pattern of hurry up and wait. Things were not opening, companies were closing, lock downs, and curfews were still in place. The places that were open had heavy restrictions. I on the other hand was still preparing for the first WICE event to take place that September of 2020. We had all adjusted to wearing masks, and keeping 6 feet of distance, etc. But what I didn’t know was one big life changing moment was going to happen and that moment was going to shift my life in such a way that it would make me value my company and the cannabis plant more than I could have ever imagined.
I have had several big health hurdles in my life. People are amazed because I look healthy. I am super active, but I have overcome many health obstacles in my 20s’ including pre-cancer of the stomach, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, two hiatal hernias’, left and right groin hernias, degenerative disc disease and type II diabetes. This list sounds like someone in their late 80s. All of these health issues are all in the center part of my body. I liked to joke with people and say I need “new car parts”. Laughter for me has been the best medicine along with cannabis.
Early August of 2020, I was at the beach in Lake Tahoe, Nevada with my boys. I bent over to get a bucket for my youngest. Nothing was in the bucket. It was your empty dollar store pale. My L3-L4 disc ruptured, and I fell to my knees with spams and pain. I went to the emergency room, but they wouldn’t do an MRI. They stated even with my health history they recommended seeing it time would heal my back, and sent me home with pain pills, and directed me to follow-up with my primary care physician.
I met with my primary care physician, and she agreed that it was now time to get an updated MRI of my spine. The last one had been done in 2002. I went through my health insurance process to get an approval and was scheduled for my afternoon MRI appointment on August 23, 2020. After my MRI appointment I went to dinner at Skipolini’s (one of my favorite restaurants in south Reno, Nevada). I went directly home after dinner. My ex was with our children. I checked in on the boys and asked my ex if he could watch the boys a little while longer while I took a bath. He agreed.
While in the bath, playing on my iPhone, listening to music and scrolling through social media, I began to have an intense stomachache. I shrugged it off, but it began to get worse. I got out of the bath and took some gas ex. I was used to getting odd stomach aches from time to time, because I had gone through pre-cancer of my stomach in my 20’s. However, this bellyache wasn’t getting any better with the gas ex or Zofran (an anti-nausea medication I have been on since 2007).
For a moment I thought, maybe I should get out of the bathtub. I could climb into bed and curl up into a ball. Maybe, I would fall asleep, and the pain would subside. The pain was getting worse. I decided to get out of the bath and move myself to the shower. In the shower I was able to vomit, but soon I was overheated, and I had passed out. When I came to, I knew I needed help. It felt like I was being stabbed over and over again in my belly area, and I was then becoming distended.
I crawled out of the master bathroom and bedroom, soaking wet, wrapped in a bath towel and began calling for help. My ex screamed from the other side of the house where our family room was, “WHAT?!” My oldest son came running around the corner to find me on the floor. He immediate asked me if it was my blood sugar I said, “No, I need help, please get help!” By then my ex had come around the corner to see what was going on. “What’s wrong? Why are you on the floor?”. Again, I said “I don’t know, I need help, my stomach hurts.” He then suggested to me that he call my mother. He could have her come over to watch the kids, while he took me to the hospital. It was roughly 8:30pm and my mother and stepfather were asleep by this time. I told my ex no, and began to beg for an ambulance, while moaning in pain. My oldest son, called 911. My ex took the phone from him. The 911 operator began to ask my ex-questions such as, “Is she conscious and breathing, what is going on, what are her symptoms, what is her medical history, etc.”
Remsa and the EMS team arrived within 5 minutes or so. They were trying to put a blood pressure cuff on my arm, but I couldn’t stop moving back and forth because it was the only thing that would help the pain. They asked my ex to get me cloths as they were going to load me up and take me to the local hospital. They gave me as much pain medication as they could, but nothing was touching the level of pain I was in. I asked the EMT worker if it could be my appendix. He said, “No, because it’s all over your belly area.” From that standpoint he wasn’t sure what was going on. He said once we got to the hospital, they would run some test. They asked me what hospital I wanted to go to, and I stated the one closest to my house. That was a mistake on my part.
I laid on the EMS gurney for an hour in the hospital closet to my house. The emergency room was packed. Once they found a hospital bed and a spot in the hallway for me, that was where they then had me lay down. Again, the pain was horrific and wouldn’t subside. I kept getting off the hospital bed, walking hunched back over to the nearest bathroom to throw up. One of the nurses told me I shouldn’t be getting up and down and that she could give me a barf bag. However, I had other disgusting things coming out of my other end and I wasn’t about to be in a hospital bed literally crapping my pants. Around the second hour, they took me back and did a belly x-ray.
When I returned from getting my belly x-ray, the male nurse who had been assigned to me, came over to check on me. I asked for more pain medication. He snapped at me and seemed irritated that I ask such a question. He said he had already given me the mass amount of medication allowed and that I should be passed out sleeping. But I couldn’t sit still because of the amount of pain I was in.
On the 3rd hour, I owe my life to the nurse who was sitting at the end of my bed in the hallway. I asked her if the emergency room doctor had reviewed my belly x-ray. She told me that they were really busy and behind, but she would go check. She had noticed the amount of pain I had been in for 3 hours with no relief from the medications I had been given. This female nurse agreed that something seemed to be wrong. She was going to go check with the emergency room doctor and let me know.
Within 2 minutes a team of medical staff rushed over to my hospital bed in the hallway of the emergency room. The emergency room doctor looked at me and said she was so sorry for the wait, but the belly x-ray showed her, that I had a bowel obstruction. We looked at each other and at the same time said, “emergency surgery”. She said they would get me a room right away and start prepping me for surgery. They were having staff call the on call general surgeon to get down to the hospital as soon as possible. The reason I said I made a mistake in choosing this hospital was because had I chosen the one near downtown that had a trauma center, I would have been triage right away for abdominal pain instead of waiting 3 hours. And I didn’t know how much time was of the essence in this moment.
This wasn’t my first experience with surgery, but this was my first experience with emergency surgery and a bowel obstruction. However, in my mind, I thought, it was weird that I had a bowel obstruction. I was a surgical tech for the operating room at Carson Tahoe, in 2007-2008. The bowel obstructions we operated on were when a person had a blocked stool, hence the words bowel obstruction. I had been going to the bathroom prior too, and upon arriving to the hospital. It didn’t make sense to me. How could I have bowel obstruction? The male nurse who had been short with me earlier came into my emergency room and apologized. He said they were going to try to give me different pain medication. It now made sense why all the other medication he had given me didn’t work. I had passed the pain threshold.
The male nurse than explained to me that he was going to put a nasogastric (NG) tube in. An NG is a long, flexible plastic tube inserted into a person's nose and threaded into the stomach. I have had these before when I had pre-stomach cancer and hiatal hernias, so I was familiar with the process. I said, “Okay, where is the lidocaine for my nose?” He responded that he didn’t know about the use of lidocaine while placing and NG tube in. He would need to go check with the head nurse. Moments later the head nurse came in the room with him and said, “She is correct, we need to get her lidocaine for her nose and then we will incubate the tube in her nose to her belly while she sips on water to help with the gag reflux, while we get the tube in place.” Once the NG tube was in place, they started to suction huge amounts of fluid that had been building up in my belly that was causing me to be distended. The extraction of the fluid actually bought me some pain relief.
By this point my mother was now in the emergency room with me. She asked the staff “Why does she keep making these odd sounds?” They told her “Because she is in severe pain.” The hospitalist then came in to see me and explained I would be having emergency surgery whereby they would be removing a section of my colon where the block was and that I was going to be in the hospital for 8 to 10 days. How long I was going to be in the hospital would depend on if I got an infection or if I was in fact healing. They then told my mother they were going to take me up for surgery and they would call her when I was in the recovery room after surgery.
I was wheeled up to the pre operating room area where two nurses began to wipe me down as one of the last parts of surgery prep. These two nursers were very kind. One of them said, “You poor thing, we’ll get you ready.” I didn’t want to move now that I had some pain relief by having the NG tube in my nose to my belly.
They wheeled me into the operating room around 1am, and I looked around the room. Every male in the operating room looked like they had just walked out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. I immediately thought, well at least I got waxed 2 days ago (Did I mention I like to have a sense of humor and try to see the light at the end of the tunnel?). The anesthesiologist introduced herself, as well as the on call general surgeon. “Well Miss Westlake, your medical records and medical history shows us you have had some extensive belly issues and you now have a bowel obstruction. We are going to do the best we can to take care of you and remove the bowl obstruction.” The Anesthesiologist then asked me to count down from 10. I said to her, “Please just put me out. I am in so much pain.” I woke up in recovery from surgery 5 hours later. The nurses were checking on me and said they were going to transport me to my hospital room. As they pushed my bed down the hallway with large glass windows, we all saw flashes of lighting in the sky. It seemed there was more of a storm to come for me.
They place me in an ICU hospital room. Due to COVID-19, visitors were restricted however my mother, stepfather, sister and friend Janet, all made it passed security to see me while I was in the hospital. I asked one of my nurses when I would be going home. She explained that unfortunately I would be with them for a while, and they would be bringing me a morphine pump. I was going to be bedridden for a minimum of 4 days with no food or water. I could have as many ice chips as I wanted. The nurse also told me, that I was lucky I didn’t wake up to a colostomy bag, because most colon bowel obstruction surgeries conclude with one. This means then that the patient has to come back for a second surgery for the surgeon to put your inside parts back to your bottom.
I lifted my hospital gown and blankets to see a huge bandage all the way down my belly to my private area. This was going to be one hell of a scar and my story around it was just getting crazier by the days. Later that day the hotel where I had booked the first WICE event called me on my cell phone. They wanted to let me know that I could still host my event the following month; however due to COVID-19, I could only have 40 people maximum. I explained to them that I had already lined up 40 speakers and I was currently in ICU having just had emergency surgery. It was time to make a decision to change the dates of the first WICE event. We agreed to move the new WICE event dates to September 27-29. 2021.
I kept the tv on in my hospital room for background noise, plus I could hardly talk. I had tubes in my nose and throat, I was horse from surgery and had been crying in pain. Little did I know, hour later my soon to be ex-husband would be on all the local news channels, as I laid in that hospital bed. He was being asked to resign from his elected position because someone had leaked our sealed TPO and divorce filings. In that moment, it felt like I was living in a Hollywood nightmare/movie. I thought, “this cannot be my life right now.” But it was. I was now in a fight to stay alive as they explained if I began to have complications, I would be taken back up for surgery with more of my colon removed, and that would in fact result in me getting a colostomy bag, along with multiple other surgeries. My IV pole consisted of saline, as well as huge dose of medications, including anti-nausea, blood clotting, and antibiotics to prevent infection. The second IV pole and machine was a morphine pump. I was so hungry, but all I was allowed to eat was ice chips.
My stepfather, Roggie was the first one to arrive to my room the day after surgery. He began to cry and asked me, “What happened?” Seeing him cry made me cry. I said, “I don’t know. I got home from my MRI appointment, went to take a bath and ended up in pain and requested help.” Roggie was also the first one there on day 4 while I was in the hospital when the nurses told me they were going to try to get me out of the hospital bed to walk for the first time with a walker. They got me up, and Roggie held my right arm as I had both my hands on the walker. We made our way down the hospital hallway and back to my room.
On day 8, I was released from the hospital, and my mother drove me home. 14 days after surgery I had my follow up appointment with the general surgeon. He explained to me that I had a rare bowel obstruction called a “volvulus bowel obstruction”. The volvulus bowel obstruction happened between my large and small intestine where they connect. What makes this a rare bowel obstruction is that a person has a limited amount of time to seek help. The intestines literally are knotted on themselves and cannot come undone. The volvulus has to be removed by emergency surgery. It is extremely critical to seek help right away because there are arteries that run through the colon and if they can’t flow, the buildup causes the colon to rupture. The person then bleeds out internally and becomes septic. The general surgeon also explained what made my case even more interesting. He said that my large intestines had never developed correctly when I was in utero as a baby growing in my mother’s belly.
When the fetus is developing inside the womb of a woman, the intestines line themselves with thin layer called mesentery membrane. The mesentery membrane attaches the large intestine to the abdominal wall. My large intestines did not have the mesentery membrane at all, and he was shocked that I didn’t have this happen to me as a child. He explained it was even more rare for it to happen to a person in their 40s. These types of cases, generally happen in children and elderly. He also explained that the volvulus I had was between the large and small intestines and in that location, they had to remove my ileocecal valve. The ileocecal valve is a nutrition valve, and the only one a person has in the colon. Now without my ileocecal valve, he said I would struggle to keep weight on, and this could also be problematic for my health that could result in me having vitamin deficiencies. Getting blood work done every 6 months would be critical to make sure I was not becoming vitamin deficient. I also needed to be monitored to make it past a 4-year surgical post operation of surgery, because also I now ran the risk of this happening again due to scar tissue, etc. Once you hit the 4-year post op mark, your rate of a reoccurrence drops significantly.
“Volvulus occurs when a loop of intestine twists around itself and the mesentery that supplies it, causing a bowel obstruction. Symptoms include abdominal distension, pain, vomiting, constipation, and bloody stools. The onset of symptoms may be insidious or sudden.”
“Rates of volvulus in the United States are about 2–3 per 100,000 people per year.”
“The mesentery is a fold of membrane that attaches the intestine to the abdominal wall and holds it in place.”
By December 2020, I had lost a lot of weight. I couldn’t keep food down, nor did I want to eat, because I would throw it up or lose it while being stuck on the toilet. (Sounds like a fun way to lose weight, huh? Not). I need to look at alternative holistic medicine. I drove down to a local dispensary not too far from my house. I did not disclose that I had a company within the cannabis industry. I explained to the Budtender that I had in fact tried cannabis at the age of 18, but had a massive panic attack. Back then a person got good pot of bad pot. Not like today, whereby you can get different flavors and strains. I also explained to the Budtender what was going on with me health wise.
The Budtender asked a few questions. For example, did I like to feel sleepy, or did I like to feel awake? After going through some questions and answers, the Budtender made some recommendations on edibles and flower for me. After that, I requested to purchase a pipe for the flower I was going to buy. After looking at the selection of pipes they offered under a glass countertop, I asked, “Where is the pink and where is the glitter?” To my surprise the Budtender answered, “We don’t have anything like that.” (Well discuss later on in our substack what led me to founding another company inspired by this moment).
My journey and resilience helped me survive. I survived by being resilient in seeking care by listening to my body tell me something was very wrong. I survived by being resilient during a public divorce while being in ICU. I celebrated my 1-year post op of lifesaving emergency surgery a year later when I hosted the first Women in Cannabis Expo.
Today, cannabis is one of the main reasons I am living. It makes me want to eat, and I rarely having vomiting or toilet lock down moments. I rarely have to take my anti-nausea medication, migraine medication, heart medication and several other medications I had “as needed” in my bag of tricks. I am thankful for the Budtender who educated me on different options and strains of cannabis. I wish more doctors would learn the power of this plant and how it can help keep people living while also replacing most or all other pharmaceutical medications.
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