Simon Plumb is a journalist for the Herald on Sunday

Pike River widow lauds marijuana in easing ongoing cancer fight

Woman who lost husband in Pike River disaster uses cannabis oil for relief from aggressive blood cancer.
Pike River widow Anna Osborne will continue to self-medicate with cannabis products after chemotherapy failed to cure her blood cancer. Photo / Supplied
Pike River widow Anna Osborne will continue to self-medicate with cannabis products after chemotherapy failed to cure her blood cancer. Photo / Supplied

Pike River widow Anna Osborne will continue to self-medicate with marijuana after being told chemotherapy has failed to rid her of cancer.

With next Saturday marking six years since the Pike River Mine explosion - the disaster which claimed Osborne's husband Milton among 29 miners and contractors - Osborne says active tumours remain and she believes her "only option" is to undergo blood stem cell transplant treatment.

In April the Weekend Herald revealed Osborne had been fighting cancer the whole time since her husband's death. She was first diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2002, but the blood cancer returned just a month before the West Coast tragedy.

Also suffering muscular dystrophy - which will see her hospitalised yet again this month for surgery to strengthen a leg which is "wasting away" - Osborne refuses to hide her pain relief, saying she is prepared to self-medicate with cannabis oil even if it means being sent to jail.

And she's vowing to continue, now facing even tougher cancer treatment.

"The chemo didn't work and I've still got active tumours. My only option left now is a blood stem cell transplant which is quite invasive and something I'd put on the back burner while I was getting over chemo," Osborne said.

"They plan to take blood from bone marrow and freeze it, give you some very invasive chemotherapy which not only kills the cancer cells, but all your good cells as well. You then have the blood they froze put back in, and hopefully, that'll pick me up again. But it'll be six months of treatment and being in hospital.

"The chemo has been really harsh and nearly killed me anyhow, so I don't know how I'd go with the blood stem-cell transplant."

Osborne, who opposes recreational drug use, saying she has "never even touched a joint", says her experiment with medicinal cannabis has been a complete success and self-medicates daily to ease her pain and help her sleep.

"I still don't agree with the recreational use of cannabis, it can be very dangerous, but I do support it for medicinal purposes. The pain relief ... It's incredible," she said.

I not only take cannabis oil in a capsule at night to help me sleep, I also use a balm made from cannabis oil for my joint pain. The relief is almost instant.
Anna Osborne, Pike River widow

In fact, Osborne shared her methods with close friend and trade unionist Helen Kelly during the final days of her fight with lung cancer. Kelly died on October 14.

"Three weeks before Helen died I spent a week with her and was massaging the balm into her legs and arms. The relief, she said, was just amazing. I was really pleased to be able to do that for her," Osborne said.

"It's like losing a best friend. There have been times in the last few weeks when I've just wanted to pick up the phone and talk to Helen. I've lost not only someone who believed in me but a great friend and comrade - just an amazing human being. I'm so sad over it."

Refusing to seek permission from the Ministry of Health to use cannabis products, Osborne says she can't even see the point in asking.

"I refuse to go thorough the Ministry to get permission, and I don't see why I should. If Helen couldn't get it legally with her terminal cancer, there's no way in hell they'd allow me to use it," she said.

"I don't see why I need to go through those channels - I know I have cancer and I know what cannabis oil does for me. That's good enough for me."

Awaiting final advice from medical experts about the next step in her treatment, Osborne says she's hoping an alternative to blood stem-cell transplant treatment could be found.

"It's not something I'm really thinking about at the moment. I know it's an option, I know it's there, but just the thought of it makes me cringe at the moment," she said.

"At this stage I know that's possibly coming up, but I'm going to explore other avenues and see what else is out there for me. They have to discuss with a team of oncologists where to from here for me."

Bid to stop mine being sealed

Today loved ones of the Pike River 29 launch one final, desperate attempt to stop the mine from being sealed.

At 10am the mine's gates will see a protest at the pending sealing of the mine.

Widow Anna Osborne says the Pike families accept the main workings of the mine are still too dangerous too re-enter but a previously unexplored area before it - known as "the drift" - needs to be looked at.

"It's a last-ditch effort to try and stop the seal going in, mainly because there's still unexplored ground in the drift, there's the possibility of someone's loved-one being in there," Osborne said.

Pike families' spokesman Bernie Monk, whose son Michael was one of 29, says he believes the drift is safe to enter.

"We've already done a stage of re-entry to the mine, we've gone 170m," Monk said. "I was there with Minister [Maggie] Barry (Monk's cousin) a few weeks ago. I was flabbergasted people were working in and out of that 170m chain without safety gear."

The offices of the Prime Minister John Key and Minister Barry directed questioning to Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse, who denied re-entry is safe.

"I am advised that WorkSafe has no evidence that conditions at the drift of Pike River Mine are safe enough to explore a previously investigated stretch of the drift," Woodhouse said.

WorkSafe chief executive Gordon MacDonald also rejected Monk's claim.

"There is no evidence that conditions beyond the temporary seal at 170m have changed. Methane levels past that seal remain at 98 per cent and therefore it remains unsafe," he said.

Two years ago the mine's owners Solid Energy ruled out re-entry for safety. Chief executive Tony King said nothing has changed.

"This is not correct. The environment has not materially changed since the decision to not re-enter the drift in 2014," Kind said. "Without seals in place the risk of fires and explosions is high."

- NZ Herald

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