Anne Havens is a 42-year-old yoga instructor, mother of two and a self-described health and wellness advocate. By all appearances, she's a picture of health — but some things are unpreventable. One year ago, Havens was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer.
In addition to conventional medications, Havens is participating in an experimental patient initiative with Colorado-based cannabis research startup TreatmentX. The initiative, which involves connecting patients with caregivers for cannabis-based treatment, isn't covered by her insurance and costs around $4,000 for just three months of treatment. To alleviate the financial burden, Shannon Clark, a friend of Havens's who also works at TreatmentX, used her passion for local music to organize a benefit concert.
Billed as “Anne Cann! Healing Cancer Through Cannabis and Community,” the event will take place this Sunday, June 17, at Cervantes' Other Side, with Colorado music acts Hardscrabble and Andrew McConathy (of the Drunken Hearts) & Friends set to perform.
Breast cancer runs in Havens's family, she says, with relatives and Havens herself carrying the BRCA2 gene, a mutation susceptible to the disease. Her grandmother, aunt and cousin have all passed away from breast cancer, but Havens hopes to join her sister and mother as long-term survivors. "I'm extremely healthy, I take care of myself very well. [But] they say 1 to 2 percent of breast cancer is genetic, and that's me," she explains. "According to my oncologist, as you pass it down genetically, the gene gets stronger. So, that sucks for my girls...but my husband doesn't have the gene, so they might not get it."
Shortly after her diagnosis, Havens began a painful holistic treatment, taking hormone-blockers recommended by her oncologist, changing her diet and even taking cannabidiol (CBD) supplements. "Last summer, I wasn’t working, wasn’t doing anything. I was feeling pretty crappy,” she remembers.
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It appeared to be working at first. After four months, the cancer was gone — but it eventually returned. Changing course, Havens switched from a hormone-blocker to a drug that blocks the BRCA2 gene. Though previously averse to the plant, she began considering a supplemental cannabis treatment with encouragement from Clark.
"I wasn't a pot smoker. I mean, I have [tried it], but it's not something that I enjoyed normally. If anything, it made me really paranoid, very out of sorts," she says. But that was before she attended a TreatmentX discussion, where a medical marijuana caregiver sold her on full-plant extracts. "It sounded amazing, so I thought, why not? Why not give it a try?” Havens says.
So she did, setting herself up with an MMJ caregiver, who created a cannabis regimen based around Rick Simpson Oil, a potent, whole-plant concentrate extracted with grain alcohol or ethanol. Havens uses strains with high CBD-to-THC ratios for her treatment, aiming to take ninety grams of RSO per day for ninety days — though patients may stop short of the ninety-day goal if they see results early, she says.
Havens is currently on the seventh of an approximately ten-week regimen, taking 400 milliliters of RSO daily and adding fifty more milliliters each week. “I like it, I look forward to taking my dose. I take it in the evening; it’s very calming and relaxing.” she explains, adding that it can also be overwhelming. "Even this weekend, in the middle of the night, I woke up and was shaking uncontrollably. Just being high, sometimes, it’s not the best feeling."
Because of the plant's Schedule I drug designation by the federal government and the resulting lack of studies around cannabis, those interested in MMJ are largely reliant upon the anecdotal evidence of Internet message boards. To help Havens and other patients find MMJ information and pay for their medication, TreatmentX persuades patients to share their experiences by creating a “loyalty marketing program that helps to subsidize the future treatment of patients,” according to co-founder Kevin Staunton, providing patients with cannabis rewards and coupons for filling out surveys about their treatments. Staunton describes it as “standardizing patient-reported outcomes in a way that it becomes useful for patients.”
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Despite her efforts and leaving her comfort zone, the jury is still out on the results of Havens's new approach. She undergoes a PET body scan once every three months, and says she hasn't received one since starting the cannabis treatment. Her next scan is scheduled in about a month, when she can compare it to her previous test results. "I can feel my tumor in my breast, and I know that it’s gone down significantly," Havens concludes. "I think a lot of that is the cancer treatment that I’m on, too, so it’s hard for me to say it’s cannabis, or it’s this. I’m hoping that it’s just a combination of both.”
However, continuing the course demands a pretty penny, even with TreatmentX discounts, so Clark initiated a dialogue about Havens's predicament with Staunton and co-founder Susan Trapp. From these conversations emerged the idea of the benefit concert with elements of cannabis education.
Clark, who volunteered to serve as event coordinator, has never organized a concert or charity event. "I’m an avid music fan and concert-goer. I’ve been [to Cervantes'] probably a hundred times for shows," she explains. "I know [owners] Scott Morrill and Duncan Goodman just through the music scene, and when I reached out to them, they were more than gracious and willing to help us out."
In addition to securing a venue, Clark has arranged a full slate of entertainment for the three-hour event in hopes of raising $10,000 for her friend. Along with performances by Hardscrabble and Andrew McConathy & Friends, there will be a silent auction until the end of the night to benefit Havens, and speakers from TreatmentX will discuss cannabis research in between sets. Find out more about Anne Cann! on the event's website.