“Relax, Ma,” Annie persisted to tell her mother (Mema). She didn’t want her family’s anxieties to stir things up. August 12, 2015, my Aunt Annie Castro turned 47. Not long prior, in July 2015, she’d been suddenly struck with cancer—a tumor in her lung—and pneumonia. Her daughter had just become pregnant and Annie was in positive spirits about becoming a “Glam-mama” as she’d lovingly say. Two decades before, Annie would sneak joints to her mother-in-law to aid the process of chemotherapy. We would’ve done the same for her and more if we had time and distance on our side.
Mema asked doctors about cannabis during Annie’s hospitalization at New York Presbyterian Hospital. They answered, “We don’t do that here.” Annie, mother of three, was faced with the tragic life decision of relying on life support for weakened lungs. Annie asked professionals, “Will I have a chance to be taken off life support?” Doctors responded, “No.” Trusting doctors, Annie said no to life support under a mindset clouded by prescriptions, pain, confusion, depression, exhaustion and maternal instincts. No capable witnesses were there to encourage her; answers were beyond the scope of her reality.
For almost three years, Annie battled chronic pain and severe lethargy from lupus. The autoimmune disease required she ingest at least ten prescriptions. In California, with her brother Pjay and I, cannabis would be an option. As 215 patients, we knew she had options and were doing homework on the 90-day Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) regimen for Mema, who has COPD. The trouble was safe access to cannabis, she was not living in the right time or place for procrastination.
In 2014, my father and I made our annual visit back East. A relaxing time with family quickly turned into serious conversation about Annie’s health. We knew she was going through a tumultuous marriage while disabled by lupus, and offered space and safe cannabis access. “There’s too much sun,” Annie responded. She was a defensive lioness, holding her ground and keeping her family together—grasping at excuses to stay.
Cannabis could have provided relief from abdominal pain, while a topical would reduce her swelling and lesions, and RSO could have reduced cancer risk. Instead, she was dependent on failing prescriptions. Cannabis was appealing to Annie—we know she was drawn to it for anxiety relief, PTSD and her love for smoking.
“[As teenagers] Annie caught me sneaking out of the house to see a girlfriend. She said, ‘I’m gonna tell Ma,’ and I’m like, ‘What can I do?’ She blackmailed me and told me I had to go buy her some weed. I ended up getting robbed for jewelry at gunpoint, they threw me out and took my money. It made me feel like [cannabis] wasn’t something I should be doing. It was a felony at the time.” -Pjay Castro
Reservations about cannabis go back to her oldest children being taken into custody because she was caught using in public. When she turned 47, her youngest son was eight and her brightest star. She would never want to put him at risk nor her family’s Medicaid benefits. Before battling cancer, she was reluctant to advocate for herself. On July 23 however, she sent a text message reading, “I need oil,” the message was delivered, though without the notion of urgency.
Annie began chemotherapy without us being informed. We called numerous times and asked for family communication. While we were afraid to cross the line, trusting our gut instinct to fly to NYC would’ve been wise. Chemotherapy can be relieved with a proper cannabis regimen, especially RSO.
We packed for Sacramento International Airport after receiving the call that she may not make it. Anxious for the ride, I recited how I would engage her, intending to do our best to get her medicine at any cost. The sound of tickets being scanned was reminiscent of a cardiac monitor while we drowned in fear.
As we prepared for landing, my dad woke up and said, “I’m scared,” after a dream. In the dream, Annie used her humor to say, “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.” We landed 30 minutes after she died and cried like banshees. Spending 17 days in New York, we reminded Mema she needs to seek cannabis for COPD. “Annie saved my life,” she claimed. Mema recalled a spiritual dream where she heard Annie say, “Ma!” Mema woke up and coughed—blood pouring onto the floor.
Annie smoked cigarettes since age 13, inspired by generations and accessibility. Ghettos like the Bronx have bred addiction through lenience on selling cigarettes and alcohol to minors, but the DEA wasn’t raiding these operations. Ironically, cannabis was, and in many places still is, a felony and nicotine is one of the hardest addictions to overcome. Annie’s health was threatened by contaminated water, low-quality food and other environmental stresses—dad and I were lucky enough to escape.
Patience and presence were crucial. If she was given hope, she may have seen January 7, 2016, when NYS’s Compassionate Care Act was enacted 18 months after being voted in. How many people were in Annie’s shoes? Now, August has rolled around again. Inspired, Mema passed her NYS medical cannabis card screening. Maybe now she can live up to Annie’s sentiment, “Relax,” with safe access, sans dealer.