Cannabis Conversations: Meet Fionna

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Note: ‘Cannabis Conversations: Meet Fionna” is part of a new podcast series from Cannabis In Real Life– Real People. Real Stories. Real Life. In this edition, Dan Larkin talks with Fionna. She’s been a medical cannabis patient in Michigan, Minnesota, and now Florida.

Cannabis Conversations: Meet Fionna is available on Apple Podcasts, GooglePlay, iHeart Podcasts, SoundCloud, and wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts.

Cannabis Conversations: Meet Fionna- Transcript

D: I’m Dan Larkin and this is Cannabis Conversations from Cannabis in Real life- Real People. Real Stories. Real Life.

D: So, if you want, tell me about your first experience with cannabis. Was it in high school? Was it as an adult?

F: My first experience with cannabis was not good. I was a teenager. Probably about 15 or 16 and my girlfriend had gotten a joint from a friend of hers and we smoked it and I felt very funny. I looked at myself in the mirror and I saw multiples of myself and it scared me so I was so against using cannabis. And, my kids as teenagers, were experimenting with it and I was yelling at them. So, I was so against it because of the experience that I had.
I was so sick that I didn’t realize or, you know, understand what cannabis really was until after my journey started.

Cannabis Conversations: Fionna’s Journey

D: Let’s talk about your journey. Where did it start? Tell me a little bit about what you’re dealing with.

Fionna Sebastiano has had a long journey to healing. Medical cannabis has been the key.

F: I am 47 years old and I had been at Horst. I was a hairstylist for 20 years. I was getting ready for work in mid-2007 when my back started hurting when I was working. I thought it was just because I’m tall and I’m bending over. You know, cutting hair. And then it started getting worse, to the point where I was having trouble walking, even to my clients. After I’d do a haircut the pain was so bad that I was having trouble even finishing my day.

So, I started to have to take Tylenol, ibuprofen, and then things just kept getting worse. I was getting ready for work one day, this is a few months later, we’re into like November of 2007, and I was getting ready for work and I was just pulling my pants up and my back popped and the pain was so bad that I had to grab on to the sink. I couldn’t even move and that point on I ended up going to the hospital and my journey started with all of my surgeries.

Cannabis Conversations: Fionna’s surgery.

My first surgery was March of 2008. I had a deformity in my lower spine that had to be corrected and they found that I have severe degenerative disc disease and joint disease. So, I had to have a deformity corrected and fusion done. Unfortunately, during that surgery, my ureter was cut and I almost died during that surgery.

I was put in a nursing home for two weeks in Minnesota. I was sent to the hospital two weeks later and they did surgery to stent the ureter. It turns out, I was allergic to the anesthesia and I almost died.

D: You had, really, a number of things bad all at once.

F: Yeah, so that was my first back surgery and from there I still wasn’t recovering because I was still having problems. They found that I have joint disease. My SI joints that needed to be fused. The SI joint is the joint that is between the hip and the spine it’s where your sciatic nerve runs along. and So, it’s kind of a very important part of your hip.

My SI joint on my left side, it has a cage which holds the joint together so it cannot freely move. My right side has not been fused yet and so it freely moves. So, the joint is just like, open there. You’d call it a vacuum space. It just kind of freely moves and it’s extremely painful. When I go up and down the stairs, it’s even more painful.

D: So you have a number of conditions that are either genetic or are worsening with age?

F: Yes.

D: And all of them causing you pain?

F: Yes. I’ve developed arthritis from all the fusions that I have had. I’m not able to have any more fusions done because most of them have not been even successful enough to help with the pain. I was just in the hospital less than two months ago in Florida.

My thoracic spine had collapsed back in 2013. They were going to talk about doing surgery and this is when my journey started. We were talking about what I was going to do next and they wanted to do burning of the nerve endings in my spine and I had to think about that. Because I didn’t want to be a guinea pig anymore.

Michigan relatives and medical cannabis.

And so, I waited a couple of years and I continued to do therapy and in 2015 my sister-in-law and brother-in-law came from Michigan. I had no idea they were coming here. They’re cannabis growers in Michigan for patients and they came here and came to our home. I was on my way to go to the doctors to talk to them again about burning the nerve endings in my spine to help with the pain.

D: This is in Minnesota where you were living at the time so your relatives from Michigan. Then what happened?

F: I actually was getting ready for the appointment and they had shown up at my house. They were outside talking to my husband and I opened the door cuz I was ready to go out to my husband, to get in the car. I opened the door. My sister-in-law was standing there and she looked at me and she had no idea how bad I was because my husband really didn’t tell my family about how bad I was.

She looked at me and started crying because at this time I was on a platform walker. Not a regular walker, on a platform Walker, because of my hands and having to have more surgery. I was up like this and I was walking towards her and she looked at me and started crying and she said, “I’m gonna take you to the doctor.”

So, she brought me to the doctor and to the pain clinic at HealthPartners. We talked to them about what was next and they explained the procedure to her and it was three different procedures. Two of them I would have no sedation whatsoever. They would just put the needles into my back and there was no guarantee it was going to work. The third procedure, if the first two procedures were semi-successful, they would do the third procedure to burn the nerve endings. That one I would have some sedation, but they had to keep me awake enough so that I would feel what they were doing and that scared me.

So anything to do with your spine controls your whole body and you know if something happens with your back you can’t function so the thought of them going in and burning something in my spine just really was scary for me. Okay, and so my sister-in-law said, Are you sure you want to do this? I said no. So we left and we got in the car and I was so sick and in so much pain that I felt like I was gonna pass out.

Fionna makes a life-changing decision.

My face was white I was sweating. I was hanging out her window and she pulled over and she pulled out a joint. She said, “I need you to trust me right now. You need to trust me.” And she let the joint and I hit it twice and I had to think about how I felt because I had not smoked since that one time. I started just sit up and I started to feel better and I hadn’t had any pain medication that day because I was supposed to get my pain medication from the doctor. But I couldn’t even sit and wait for my medication because I was in so much pain.

So she said, “You look better. You look like you’re feeling better. You’re not sweating. Your face is, colors are coming back to your face. Try a couple more hits.” So, I did and of course, I had to think a little more because I’ve never, you know, felt like that for so long. I felt at least 50% better trying the cannabis in just four hits of that joint. then I felt in all those years of being on those narcotics and all those medications I’ve been taking.

D: What did that mean to you?

F: In two days I was on going to Michigan to our home. I was there for six months and I started going to therapy. At the U of M, I became a patient. In Michigan, my medical cannabis doctor told me that within a year I would be off of at least half of my medications that I was on. I am proud to say within two years I got off of 15 to 20 medications.

D: So you found relief through cannabis thanks to relatives and a medical card in Michigan, Then where did your journey take you?

F: I came back to Minnesota to be back with my family. Being away from my family was very difficult. Being away from my kids. My kids were young. Because I was in my 30s and being away from my husband, not being able to be a mother, wife, was very difficult.

Not too long after coming back, my husband passed away. So, then I had to start another journey of trying to get my life together. Being sick and trying to find my life without my husband. Then six months, later I lost my mother, who has the same disability that I do. But she was on narcotics and several other medications that I wish that I could have helped her not be on. My father also passed away about 14 years ago. He died from lung cancer and he also had Alzheimer’s and diabetes. What I know now about cannabis, I know that I could have helped him at least prolong his life and have a better quality of life.

Cannabis Conversations: Fionna Speaks Out

That’s why I’m speaking out. Doing what I’m doing. Because I’m having a better quality of life. I wish that I could have done that for my parents, or even for my husband. Because he was also a diabetic patient. What happened to my husband was, his heart valve collapsed. I don’t know if I could have done anything with that but I know I could have helped him with his diabetes. I’m sure my journey has been nothing but incredible.

D: Let’s talk about the stigma attached to cannabis use. Whether it be medical or recreational. You were stigmatized growing up and you had a negative experience the first time you tried it. Then fast forward to now. You’re a regular medical cannabis patient and user. Do you still feel that stigma? Do you still face it?

F: I do. Every day. Every day, whether it’s someone in public, or if it’s a doctor, or pretty much anyone could be. Either they could be anti-cannabis or they can be your best friend and talked to you for hours and understand what you’re going through. I find that if someone wants to listen to me, I was spending all the time in the world with you and talked to you. Because my journey has been incredible.

D: What about those people who maybe are watching this and saying, Oh, I don’t buy any of these people. They all just want to get high.

F: I can tell you that that is certainly not the case. It’s a medication and I am functioning on a regular basis. I have to medicate on a regular basis and I am functioning better than I functioned on those medications. I was in bed for five years. I don’t even remember half of my life. My kids tell me things that I don’t even remember and that is very very hard. My best friend doesn’t…I don’t even remember half the things that my best friend tells me that happened. That’s very heartbreaking to me. I asked some questions about things that I remember, flashbacks, and they think, yeah that happened.

Fionna is glad to be more present when she’s with her kids.

I can’t take that back. I can just move on from here and be, you know, the person that I am now. At least I’m alive and I don’t have to worry about overdosing or, you know, any bad side effects. I was just in the hospital and I was back on morphine and my heart rate dropped into the ’40s. They had me on cardiac monitors. They told me they were coming into my room and asking me, Are you okay? And I said, Am I okay? I’m on the monitor. You tell me. Am I okay? They said, Your heart rate just dropped into the ’40s. I said well good thing I’m on the monitor and I’m on oxygen because otherwise I could be unconscious and you wouldn’t even know anything.

Fionna fills in the blanks.

D: So the big difference is cannabis.

F: Yes, and that’s all like, I mean, it’s incredible. There’s no other word for it.

D: You’ve now been a medical cannabis patient for years in Michigan, Minnesota, and now in Florida, where you now live. Why Florida?

F: I’m originally from California and my mother always took us to the ocean in Malibu. We would drive the mountains and that was a memory as a child that I will remember forever. I never thought I’d get back to the ocean. My parents moved to Daytona Beach for five years. Unfortunately, their health just kept getting worse. So, I had to travel there a lot, to help take care of them when my kids were little.

Before I got worse, I traveled back to Florida. Just to see if I could be there because of my bad experience of being there when my parents were ill. But, moving back being there and being at the ocean just reminded me of my mom and my dad, and my husband. I actually traveled there as well, and I felt like it was my home. Now, living there, I feel peace.

D: That’s great. Now, I’m gonna ask you to fill in the blank, okay? So, you just repeat what I say and then fill in the blank, all right?

I wish people knew_____.

F: I wish people knew that cannabis was not such a threat to society and they weren’t so scared of it. And, they weren’t so scared of us as cannabis patients. Because, especially doctors and hospitals, they find us as a threat for some reason.

D: I can’t believe____.

F: I can’t believe that I’m sitting here in front of you telling you about my journey. And, that I’m not laying in that bed, and not able to function. Because I was on all those medications from the pharmaceutical department that put me on narcotics, and muscle relaxers, and medications, and Valium. I can go on and on with all the medications that I was on. But, I’m very thankful to be off of those.

D: Maybe someday____.

F: Maybe someday I’m gonna be able to grow my own strand and name it after my husband. It’s gonna be a strand that’s going to be designed for my own body. Because everybody absorbs cannabis differently and everybody needs their medication differently. That’s why they can’t prescribe it and put a label on it that says take this amount. You know, prescribe one pill per day. The doctors were looking at my bottle of tincture and saying, “Well, there’s no dosage instructions on here.” That’s because every patient is different. It’s designed for each individual. Your body metabolizes it per person. So, you can’t dose it any differently. I take my medication for myself as you would for your own self if you were to use cannabis.

My name is Fiona Sebastiano I’m a mother a wife and a cannabis patient.

Fionna’s advice about cannabis.

My words of advice for anyone that is open to cannabis is please have an open mind. Do your research. Ask questions. Talk to other cannabis patients. All of my education that I’ve gotten, is all on my own. I’ve done so much research and it’s just phenomenal, what I’ve learned. Educating yourself is key to learn for your own health.

D: Cannabis Conversations from Cannabis In Real Life. Learn more at CannabisIRL. com. Cannabis In Real Life- Real People. Real Stories. Real Life.

More CannabisIRL “Cannabis Conversations” available here.

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