How Medical Cannabis Helped My Cousin in His Last Days

Minh was just a 40-year-old teacher when he received a terminal diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer. This is his story.

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“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

That was a quote from my oldest cousin, Minh. Memorable quotes were his thing. Minh liked to stand on the shoulders of giants to take inspiration from the view. He admired all of the greats like Nietzsche, Faulkner, Einstein, Tesla, Gretzky, and Yoda. Especially Yoda. The whole family, all of the cousins, we knew him as a quote machine, ready to dish out random pearls of wisdom to address any occasion.

We lost Minh to lung cancer last year. He was 45-years-old when he died and had enjoyed an illustrious 20+ year career as an educator. As a teacher, Minh was just like Robin Williams’s character in “Dead Poets Society” — always smiling, always beaming with positivity and hope.

When it came to our relationship, Minh took on a natural big brother role and always listened to what I had to say when no one else would. He was the type of person who was always willing to give you a helping hand as opposed to a hand-out, and he always made sure you knew the difference.

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Throwback to better days at Toronto Comic-con

Minh was a proud man but also a very stubborn man. During his three-year battle with cancer, he constantly shooed away his doctor’s repeated attempts at increasing his pain meds even though the growing orange-sized tumour pressing against his spine was getting worse.

He hated the common side effects that came with opiates from constant nausea, vomiting, constipation and general dampening of his mental faculties. Being an avid fan of Frank Sinatra, Minh always told me that he was going to do it “his way.” To spare us the grief and worry, he hid his pain from us and downplayed his condition until he just couldn’t anymore.

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Towards the end of his battle, the pain became too much for him to bear. The chemotherapy sessions and unrelenting radiation treatments stole a little more out of him each time. His favourite foods lost their flavour. Falling asleep had become a maddening struggle. He barely makes it through a matinee showing of “The Last Jedi” because of excruciating cancer pain in his lower back. Bit by bit, subtle cracks started to appear in his invincible optimism. He began to lose his smile, and something else crept onto his face that I had never seen before. Quiet desperation.

Minh eventually became bedridden, and his voice, once loud and proud, was reduced to a scratchy whisper. I watched over time as my big brother was being methodically drained away by disease and depression. There is nothing more painful than watching your loved ones suffer as you feel utterly and completely helpless.

I shook my head in disbelief when a family member brought up medical cannabis as a legitimate way to manage Minh’s pain. On top of his nightstand was an entire pharmacy. If all of those heavy-duty pain medications couldn’t help him, what could marijuana do?

But times were getting desperate, and it was time to explore any options.

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I remember Minh’s wife administering drops out of a CBD tincture onto Minh’s tongue and how we waited for his reaction.

Ten minutes passed, and we heard him let out a sigh of relief and fully open his eyes for the first time in weeks. He saw me beside him and squeezed my hand. The light behind his eyes returned, and so did his trademark smile. It was working.

Medical cannabis wasn’t a mystical, magical cure-all. Still, it was clear that it provided tremendously positive benefits in helping Minh with his appetite, insomnia, nausea, well-being and, most especially, managing his cancer pain.

The next following week saw me on a mission scurrying around Kensington Market, desperately looking for illicit vendors who sold CBD gummies and other edibles that Minh could consume since smoking cannabis was entirely out of the question. This was 2017 and marijuana had not yet been legalized, so selling and distributing were still very much punishable by law.

But I had seen firsthand how medical cannabis had restored my cousin’s quality of life to the degree that pharmaceutical drugs couldn’t. Literal little drops of CBD had given him back immense precious joys. In late February of 2018, Minh’s condition rapidly worsened. He passed away in his home, surrounded by his family. Three weeks before his death, Minh was showing our littlest cousin how to play with his train set. He was enjoying some home-cooked won ton soup and had just finished watching “Thor: Ragnarok” with me. He left so much of himself with us that it never feels like he’s truly gone.

Medical Cannabis is a Safer Alternative for Pain

I share this story because even though medical cannabis has been legalized here in Canada, there remains a cloud of social stigma around its benefits. This is mainly due to the public perception that marijuana users are stereotypical hippies and societal outcasts.

Often, when radical change is introduced, the public mindset is slow to catch on. In the case of medical cannabis, it’s best to let the facts speak for themselves.

Numerous published studies from Health Canada have revealed medical cannabis as an infinitely more safe and effective method in managing pain, promoting sleep and inducing appetite. Medical cannabis isn’t just for terminally-ill people like Minh, either. Medical cannabis has been proven to treat a broad spectrum of health maladies like chronic pain, arthritis, epilepsy, seizures, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, HIV, neurological diseases and more.

The man in the below video has a crippling case of Parkinson’s. Observe as a single drop of medical cannabis instantly treats his dyskinesia.

Retired police chief, Larry Smith tries CBD oil to treat his Parkinson’s disease

We should seriously consider other alternatives to prescription pills. We need to wean ourselves off Big Pharma’s synthetic stranglehold and explore more earthy options. For all of our science and research, we’re still just beginning to grasp all of the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis.

Even though Minh’s life was cut short, we can give him and others like him back some semblance of life, dignity and function in safe and holistic ways. The answers are just outside of our existing realm of knowledge. We need courage and compassion, and the rest will follow.

Do you want to learn more about medical cannabis? Please visit

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