Merlin, Ore.–“I wanted to die.”
Jessamyn Way of Merlin said that was her exact thought after delivering her fourth baby in 2009. It should have been a happy moment, but clearly it was not.
Jessamyn had complained about headaches throughout her pregnancy, but it wasn’t until right after giving birth that doctors discovered she had a ventricle brain tumor. She was rushed to the hospital for emergency brain surgery and was given a five to 10 percent chance of surviving.
“The headache was just so horrific that it didn’t matter to me to live anymore,” Jessamyn said.
Doctors told Jessamyn if she did survive, it was unlikely she would be able to walk or talk normally.
Jessamyn beat the odds. She survived the surgery with all of her motor functions intact. But the relief didn’t last long.
SUFFERING FROM EPILEPSY
As is common with most brain operations, Jessamyn was left with postoperative epilepsy. The stay-at-home mom said she was forced to spend the majority of her time in a dark room with pillows over her head to avoid lights and sounds that would trigger seizures.
It was hard on her. But it was especially hard on her children.
“[My son] had to call 911 and have them take me away one day cause I fell to the ground and was doing my thing. That’s hard for a 10-year-old,” Jessamyn said. “I taught my youngest boy, who was three at the time, I taught him how to call 911 for me.”
Jessamyn said she would suffer as many as 15 seizures a day, lasting anywhere from five to 30 minutes, even while taking her prescribed anti-seizure medications.
“Unfortunately none of the medications they gave me worked. Or I’d break out in hives and be allergic to them,” Jessamyn said.
Four years later in 2013, a doctors visit revealed things could get worse. Jessamyn’s doctor found another cancerous tumor in her brain stem, a place it could not be removed.
“Most people will live for a maximum of six years,” Jessamyn said.
Jessamyn was not about to let the news bring her down again. She said had enough of living life in the dark. Instead of sulking in it, she sought out new treatment.
SWITCHING TO MEDICAL MARIJUANA
A friend had encouraged her to try medical cannabis for her seizures in the past. Jessamyn said she was hesitant, but after learning of her new tumor she gave it a try. After learning more about the medicinal benefits, and eventually learning how to grow and create a strand that would work for her. She started taking a few spoonfuls of cannabis oil a day along with her regular medication. Jessamyn was shocked and amazed by the results.
“I was diagnosed with IBS and GERD and Fibromyalgia and sleep issues that being on all those other medications had done. As I backed off the pharmaceuticals and upped the cannabis, everything started getting better.”
Jessamyn said the cannabis also helped her stay focused on a healthier diet and lifestyle, which lead to shedding more than 100 pounds.
Feeling healthier and suffering less seizures, Jessamyn felt more confident to try for something she really wanted; Another baby.
She lost one just a month in, hadn’t even made it to the doctors yet. The second time, she had to have the fetus removed because it was not forming correctly.
Jessamyn was disheartened, but realized trying to conceive while still taking several painkillers a day was not ideal.
“I did this whole entire change and went fully on the cannabis. I got better. And we decided to try one more time,” Jessamyn said.
Nine months later, a perfectly healthy baby girl named Ahyoka was born on March 9, 2016.
Jessamyn’s pregnancy was closely watched by doctors at the University of Washington. Most doctors would advise pregnant women stay away from cannabis, but Jessamyn was a special case.
“They saw my backgrounds and they saw that I had lost babies on the pharmaceuticals and that pharmaceuticals had not worked for me. They said, ‘Whatever you’re doing right now is working and they’re good. Don’t Stop,’” Jessamyn said.
With the help of cannabis oil Jessamyn was able to deliver Ahyoka and shortly after, another healthy baby girl named Anya.
The oil was working so well, Jessamyn even decided to move to Merlin because Oregon has less restrictive rules than Washington, and better weather for growing cannabis.
While Jessamyn enjoys her new home, she said she is upset at the fact that she feels “trapped” to the cannabis-friendly states. Even more, she lives in fear that the federal government will work towards taking it away completely.
In January 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions lifted an Obama-era policy that kept federal authorities from cracking down on marijuana in states where it is legal. It was then that Jessamyn decided she was going to sue Sessions.
“He needs to understand that this is not a drug. This is a medication that keeps people like myself alive,” Jessamyn said. “Him taking this from people like myself is frightening and harassing.”
Jessamyn has attended several town hall meetings held by Oregon senators to share her story and ask that they will stand up for medical cannabis.
A medical nonprofit out of Washington called HRA Squared has heard about Jessamyn’s story and is not only supporting her emotionally, but financially. They are currently in the process of setting up a donation page for Jessamyn’s attorney.
“She’s a remarkable story, let alone a remarkable woman. And the scientific evidence is irrefutable,” said S. Rowan Wilson, a cannabis advocate and founder of HRA Squared.
Wilson said she is prepared to help Jessamyn with her fight against sessions because “the government should not be prohibiting what we chose to put in our bodies.”
Jessamyn is hoping her lawsuit will give her a chance to share her personal experience with Sessions and the nation in hopes to change the stigma surrounding medical cannabis.
“It’s not just an unusable drug that I’m getting high on. It’s a medicine that keeps me alive. And without it, these two amazing little girls would’ve never been born,” Jessamyn said. “It’s not a drug. I don’t do drugs. I don’t even drink coffee.”
Jessamyn also hopes to help pave the way for a federal government that is less restrictive on medical cannabis. She said that over the years, travel has become more convenient for Americans with disabilities and medications, and she wants to be considered as one of them.
“I can’t get on a plane with my oil and go talk to him myself,” Jessamyn said. “Those laws need to change. I need to be able to go wherever I want to go and be just like any other American citizen.”
NBC5 News anchor and reporter Kristina Zagame is from Boston, Massachusetts. She comes to us from KQTV in St. Joseph, Missouri where she was the evening anchor and executive producer.
Kristina received her degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of South Carolina. She spent a summer interning for an international online magazine in Santiago, Chile. She also covered Hurricane Maria relief efforts in the Virgin Islands.
When she’s not in the newsroom, Kristina loves exploring, dancing and live music.