Ray Jennings | “Putting the focus back on the patient”

Before SQ 788 came up there were stories about a lot of patients fleeing north for treatment that had yet to be accepted in Oklahoma.

Shortly after passing there was a rush of activists, new businesses and politicians tossing their spin on what is the will of the people. The will of the people? “The people” are exactly who? I’ve been struggling with this for a while and decided this was the perfect opportunity while everything is unknown to do what Ray Jennings told me during our first phone call, “We need to put the focus back on the patients.”

“We need to put the focus back on the patients.”

How I met Ray Jennings came after I had the idea to find a real patient from Oklahoma with a story to tell. I first spoke to Ray Jennings on the phone and knew instantly he was someone to know. You can tell a lot about the nature of any man by the happiness you see in their partner. I was able to speak to both Ray and his wife Becki as I could hear her in the background reiterating his story and I could tell then this couple was an unstoppable force.

“She’s my biggest cheerleader,” Mr. Jennings boasts. Upon meeting the two, like most successful couples they are complete opposites. They’ve been married now for 37 years. In a lot of ways Mr. Jennings was a lot like my own dad.

When telling his story it was never, “I” it was always “we” and that’s the thing about cancer it affects everyone you hold close to your heart.

Reading a story or even watching an interview on television doesn’t quite resonate in the same way until you get to know the person behind it. This was my intention when I set up a meeting with Mr. Jennings.

We sat in the living room casually and I was able to not only converse with the two of them they were also joined by their son Josh, his son Jarred was not able to join us. We caught up on what was going on within the cannabis community as we both have been actively involved with before jumping into his story.

I quickly learned that Mr. Jennings is on the board of directors for Oklahomans for Health, the Oklahoma Veterans Cannabis Collective and is a state patient advocate on the OMMA Food Safety Standards board.
He’s spoken at the capitol and has been on advertisements promoting SQ 788.

I watched his video on YouTube and recently saw him featured in an article for Soonerpolitics.org. The picture in the article it also has a picture of Ray and wife Becki with the message, “I am a patient not a criminal.” I was honored and excited when Mr. Jennings agreed to let me tell their story.

It wasn’t easy to get him to talk about himself mostly because he believes this entire cause is bigger than himself and it was that humbleness that made me realize he is the reason we all fought so hard to see SQ 788 pass.

“I am a patient not a criminal.”

It was 2014 when Connie Johnson introduced the first petition for any cannabis legislation in Oklahoma. The year I decided what I had only used recreationally was actually something that helped medicinally. It was also the year Ray Jennings was diagnosed with stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma that was approximately the size of a golf ball. This is the second most common type of skin cancer and arises from squamous cells in the epidermis. Over 15,000 Americans alone die every year from SCC.

Treating his SCC consisted of undergoing Cisplatin chemotherapy which he started March 19, 2014 and finished May 1 ,2014. If you’re not familiar with chemo it can be a necessary evil that people are too afraid to not try. This particular type of chemo is an irritating one that causes inflammation of the vein through which it is administered. If the chemo escapes from the vein it can cause tissue damage.

My mind pictures boiling acid. He received a total of 35 radiation treatments that he finished June 4th. after seeing pictures there’s no way I could’ve painted such a vivid image. I imagine it’s what my skin would look like if I were to iron it casually on the linen setting. March 25th on a Tuesday Becki recalls him being in bed since Friday. My heart sank as I sat there imagining what I would be feeling had this been my father. He is after all only two years younger than my dad.

What was the beginning of his journey in the eyes of his doctors was the prolonging to an inevitable end, “We’re going to make you comfortable, the treatment is going to kill you before the cancer does, if you decide to do the treatment” was what he was told.

Yet they were determined to fight. “I didn’t know what they meant until the second treatment it was so harsh I was the throwing up all the time I lost 95 lbs. in just 90 days. I was sick I couldn’t eat I couldn’t drink.” There was an anxiety in the air as his wife and son chime in, there’s a sadness as they relive those days he believed to be his last.

“I couldn’t eat or drink I had a feeding tube sticking out of my chest. Beckie would hook me up to a pump and they’d pump fluids into me and the vomiting would start immediately and violently.

 

When you do that you shut down psychologically you just shut down. I knew every time what the end result was going to be within minutes but my wife continued to make me do it.”

The burns on the back of his neck were so bad he had to sleep sitting up. “My routine was to get out of bed and rush to the bathroom to throw up. I did exercises to try to fix my equilibrium. They’d pump anti-nausea intravenously, I tried topical and none of it worked.”

Between his sons and his wife he finally caved and tried it. They came in one morning and said, “don’t get out of bed you’re going to smoke a little before you move.” At this point he’d gotten through chemo, had been tortured with radiation treatments why not try it?

He recalls the first time he tried it aside from a couple of times he tried it at age 16. “When he handed me that pipe; it was within four to five minutes after smoking and the nausea was gone.” This isn’t unheard of a lot of patients have been smoking to reduce nausea.

“Don’t get out of bed, you’re going to smoke a little before you move.”

There were already cases where people had cured their cancer using Rick Simpson oil (RSO) which is basically whole plant extract that contains extracted cannabinoids and plant material. It is extracted using a solvent that is cooked off due to it burning at a lower temperature, what you’re left with is cannabinoids and plant matter.

It is a very strong tar like substance that allows you to obtain higher doses of THC. Rick Simpson had actually cured his own skin cancer using the oil. It was the beginning to an end; but an end to cancer, not his life. He decided to try it for himself. Within three weeks of trying the oil Ray Jennings had shrunk his tumor by 50%.

“Nobody wants to talk about it,” Ray is saddened by this. He had grown up thinking it was wrong he feared his father and adored his mother and even despite curing his cancer there exists a lingering guilt that his been embedded in his mind.

“My goal is to make people understand and find a way to open their minds. They need to ask themselves if it is possible that the government has been lying to them all these years?

 

The government lied to me and I follow it with 6630507, that’s the government patent on THC.”

The patent was granted to the US Department of Health and Human Services in 2003. At a certain point I like to imagine that a man must put aside his beliefs and realize that at this point in his life what does he really have to lose? Like a lot of boys the love of his mother and the fear of his father led him to live his life morally right and free from what he believed to be a dangerous drug.

Josh, his son, recalls a time in his life where his dad referred to it as, “dope.” To me, he was like most conservative Christian men he had faith in God, faith in medicine and faith that our government creates laws for our protection. Why wouldn’t they right; he’s an ex veteran and a law abiding citizen? That’s the thing about cancer; it doesn’t discriminate.

“We stood in this living room as I was going to the hospital for what I believed to be the last time and these guys held me up,” he turns to look at his wife and son. I sat there listening fighting back my own tears. Cancer is something that affects all of us in some way and sadly will continue to throughout our lives.

He’s stood in front of legislators and has said to them:

“I denied this plant that saved my life because of you so don’t ever again tell me about the dreads of this plant because it’s not true and I won’t believe you from now on.

 

I want to tell people, ‘Don’t sit there and judge me as though you’ve got the moral high ground. I’ve been exactly where you’re at, and I know what you’re thinking. I too had those same thoughts.

 

If you had stage 4 cancer like I had, and took the treatment I had, you’d be calling me.’ ”

It happens all too frequently; the phone calls, the messages, every week, people reaching out to me. “Ray can you please help me?” It always starts with, “Mr. Jennings you don’t know me my mom is dying of cancer, my dad is dying of cancer, I’ve got cancer what can we do? Can you help us?”
This has become his place, his story but more importantly his calling.

“Emotionally it’s difficult from a standpoint that I want to help people and I can’t.” I assured him that he has, and he is. As Mother Teresa so famously said, “I alone can’t change the world, but if I cast a stone into water it makes many ripples.”

“All we can do is create ripples and hope that it creates hope for the hopeless.”

All we can do is create ripples and hope that it creates hope for the hopeless. This coming year is a very important year as it will be five years of being cancer free for Ray Jennings.

We’ve just began a journey for our future, and if the time comes to make that choice, you no longer have to relocate away from your family, friends and life like Mr. Jennings and so many other patients have.

Oklahoma now has the opportunity to not only create, but share stories that inspire and most importantly, the opportunity to save lives.

— Teresa G

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