Cannasouth is a bio-pharmaceutical company specialising in medicinal cannabis.
Helen Henderson was celebrating conquering the Abel Tasman Track at a cafe with her two granddaughters when she was struck down by a seizure.
A large tumour known as a glioblastoma had lodged in her frontal lobe and developed tentacle-like limbs that were stretching into her brain.
“It's the most aggressive, fast-growing tumour you can have,” Helen said. “And no-one's cracked any treatment for it.”
Henderson, who is in her 70s, underwent emergency craniotomy surgery to have the 28-millimetre growth cut from her brain on Christmas Eve 2018.
“They told me my survival rate was 10 to 15 months and no-one survives two years.”
The starting date for her treatment, February 18, 2019, is emblazoned on the radiotherapy mask, which she keeps as a reminder of that time.
The Timaru retiree didn't have time to hike during her working years, the Abel Tasman was just the second Great Walk she had done after taking on the Milford Track three years prior.
She planned to do the Akaroa coastal track with her two grandsons, but instead she was immersed in radiation and chemotherapy treatment.
After finishing the treatment, Henderson began signed up for a medicinal cannabis trial run out of Prince of Wales Private Hospital in Randwick, Australia.
The 12-week clinical trial tested the effects of medicinal cannabis on brain cancer sufferers, giving individuals doses of either pure tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or a mixture of THC and cannabidiol.
“I finished radiation and chemotherapy and felt I had no other option,” Helen said, who's been told if the brain tumour begins growing again, she will be dead within a short space of time.
“I could have died within two or three months and didn't want to be sitting on my hands.
“When I'm taking it [medicinal cannabis], it gives me hope.”
Though not in remission, the tumour had shown no regrowth since it was removed more than a year ago and she had not had another seizure, Helen said.
“I'm stable at the moment but nobody can say why. Perhaps its the radiation, or the chemo, or it could be the medicinal cannabis.”
She's travelled to Australia four times in the past 18 months to take part in the trial. But if rules around importing cannabis-related products into New Zealand were relaxed, she wouldn't have had to travel at all.
Helen had been “quite anti-cannabis” before her diagnosis, but the trauma of being diagnosed with a terminal illness has changed her views on the upcoming cannabis referendum.
“I never would have tried it until I was in this situation but when you've got a death sentence, you go for whatever you can,” she said.
“I never would have voted for cannabis. Now, with more experience and knowledge of what it may do, I have a totally different attitude.”
While she does not want sweeping changes to legislation, worried it would become too hard to differentiate between those who were ill and those looking for a “fancy ride”, loosening the rules around importing CBD oil would mean better access to out-of-the-box treatment for people in her situation.
Helen has her next MRI scan to check progress in April.
Until her results come back, Helen has no idea how medicinal cannabis is helping her tumour. But even just lulling her to sleep each night is making enough of a difference to her life.
“That [sleep] is quite important when you get something like this,” she said.
“I had a bad reaction to light and noise and the cannabis has helped that too.”
Helen's partner, 90-year-old Noel Dellow, is also suffering from terminal bowl cancer, and they are getting by as best they can.
“We've gotten through the scared stage. It's sort of what is, is,” she said.
“We're living in a rather critical situation so I just plant another bush, another flower”
Sunday Star Times