Lucy Haslam remembers her son’s first “drags” of a marijuana joint.
Dan puffed on the drug, sourced illegally from a friend, as his conflicted parents, Lucy and Lou, looked on.
With a chemotherapy port protruding from his shirt, the young man hadn’t wanted to eat for days – a result of bowel cancer treatment.
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His parents hadn’t approved of marijuana but had become desperate, trying anything they could to help ease their son’s suffering from his disease.
“He just looked at us and said, ‘You’re not going to believe it but I’m hungry’,” Lucy tells 7Life after her son’s puffs on the reefer.
“He asked for steak, eggs and beans – so that’s what we had.”
Lucy smiles as she recalls the moment her boy went from a sickly cancer patient to gaining back some control of his life – after just three puffs of cannabis.
Conservative to criminal
Lucy and Lou were well-known and “conservative” members of their community in the regional NSW city of Tamworth.
Lucy, a nurse, confesses now that she would shake her head at patients who said they had used cannabis to dull the pain of their condition.
And Lou, a police officer who headed the drug squad for north-western NSW, was a strong advocate against the use of any illegal substance.
“He spent his life locking up people who used cannabis,” Lucy says.
Because of the nature of their jobs, the parents believed marijuana was a “dangerous gateway drug”.
But when Dan was diagnosed with bowel cancer at 20, their lives – and beliefs – were turned upside down.
“He was just a bit more than a kid,” the mum says.
One day, Dan discovered he was bleeding from the rectum.
A scan, colonoscopy and medical exams followed, resulting in the devastating diagnosis.
“We were so desperate to try and help him,” Lucy says.
When Dan’s cancer spread to his liver, doctors in Tamworth said there was little they could do for him.
The family sought an opinion from a Sydney surgeon, who recommended chemotherapy and two surgeries, to remove the cancer from his bowel and liver.
So Dan began his fight.
The aggressive treatment took a toll on the young man’s body and he found himself hospitalised for three days after each round of chemotherapy.
“The constant chemo made him so sick,” Lucy reveals.
“He had chemo-induced vomiting and the hospital would eventually just have a room ready for him for after his treatment.
“He would be on a drip and just lie in the dark for a few days.
“He wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t drink, no talking, no TV … nothing.”
The purple-painted walls of the chemo ward had a lasting effect on Dan.
“The thought of treatment would make him vomit. Even the colour purple would make him sick,” Lucy says.
“It was soul destroying watching him.”
Then the mum received a phone call from a member of the community who was in remission from bowel cancer.
He told Lucy he used cannabis during his treatment, to help with the nausea.
The man had some left over and offered it to Dan.
But Dan declined, knowing the drug would make his parents uncomfortable.
“We would do anything to try and help him (Dan), so I told him to bring it (cannabis) around and we would talk to Dan,” Lucy says.
‘Little cannabis joint’
The parents poured their hearts out to their son and supported him to try the drug.
Having never smoked a cigarette before, Dan asked if his dad would roll him a joint.
“We were watching him like a bunch of kids,” Lucy laughs.
“He was as white as a ghost but with his first drag his colour instantly came back.
“I will never forget that day in my life. Who would have thought that a little cannabis joint would have made him feel so great.”
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That night, the family sat down to steak, eggs and beans – a special request from Dan.
And when he went to chemo, he didn’t vomit, had no nausea and didn’t need to be rehydrated for three days in hospital.
He was a changed man, thanks to the illegal drug.
And he needed more.
‘Doing it for Dan’
The desperate mum turned to the street, seeking cannabis from the only place she could get it – the “black market”.
Disclosing that it was to help her son, she soon came into contact with other individuals who praised its benefits for people with pain-inducing illnesses.
But Lucy and Lou couldn’t shake the feeling they were doing something illegal.
“We were suddenly criminals,” the mum says.
“We were just trying to relieve his suffering.”
The family lived in constant fear that if anyone discovered their secret life of crime they would be prosecuted.
So they decided to come forward and expose their double life to the local newspaper.
“We just told our town that we were normal conservative people but our son was really sick and now we are breaking the law just to help him,” Lucy says.
Lucy reveals they were waiting for potential backlash, particularly from people Lou had targetted during his time in the drug squad.
Instead, Tamworth residents embraced the Haslams.
“I would come home and there would be marijuana plants in little pot plants sitting on our door step, anonymously donated,” Lucy says.
One such plant soon towered over their granny flat in the backyard.
Supporters of the family posted signs up in shop fronts and along streets reading “Doing it for Dan”, offering their backing for the legalisation of medical marijuana.
Lucy and Lou breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Meanwhile, Dan read everything he could online about the potential benefits of cannabis oil.
And Lucy purchased $6,000 of marijuana from the street – so her son could try to turn it into the precious oil.
Armed with instructions from the internet, Dan searched the house for instruments he could use, and he and a mate headed into the back shed.
Hours later – from the plants his mum brought home – they returned just 5ml of pure oil.
“It looked like black tar,” Lucy says.
“Then we had to Google how much he should take.
“We had no idea what we were doing. It just shouldn’t have been this way.”
Dan’s success with the cannabis oil was quickly overshadowed – as doctors revealed the cancer was spreading.
But the young man didn’t give up.
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He continued his chemotherapy and – with the help of cannabis – his mouth ulcers cleared up, his nausea disappeared and he no longer relied on pain drugs to get him through the day.
Cannabis oil gave him two pain-free years, in which he went on to marry his university sweetheart Alyce.
On February 24, 2015, Dan lost his fight with cancer. He was just 25.
“Cannabis didn’t cure him like we hoped, but it gave him quality of life until the end,” Lucy says.
Not long after Dan died, the marijuana his parents had planted in the backyard began to bloom again.
“It grew as a symbol of Dan,” Lucy says, adding she was sad Dan died before he could use this home-grown crop.
From nurse to advocate
A year after Dan’s death, the NSW government passed the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Bill, opening a path to the licensing of medical-marijuana growers.
But Lucy hasn’t stopped advocating for better education and access to this potentially life-changing drug.
“Patients are still turning to the black market to source cannabis oil,” Lucy says.
Before Dan’s diagnosis, Lucy recalls judging her patients who revealed they self-medicated with marijuana.
Now she is working with the privately owned medicinal cannabis company Australian Natural Therapeutic Group to advocate for better access to the drug.
Lucy says a patient-nurse relationship is unique, and better training and education is needed to help nurses understand the benefits of medicinal cannabis.
ANTG Chief Scientific Officer Justin Sinclair agrees.
“They have a close relationship with patients and will naturally have those conversations which can educate them on the potential benefits and/or side effects of treatment,” Sinclair says.
“In other countries like Canada nurses are already playing a significant role in this area.
“Improving education around medicinal cannabis, to all healthcare practitioners more generally, is only going to improve safety, access and allow for more open and constructive dialogue.”