It was just one year ago that Gaston Miron was living a healthy life — an avid cyclist and kayaker raising three small girls along with his wife in their home in central Alberta.
And then, one Sunday morning, he started coughing.
"I just couldn't do anything. I couldn't walk around. I couldn't breath," he said.
"I was coughing and coughing. I was coughing for a week."
Eventually, Miron went to the emergency room, but doctors could not determine what was wrong. It took months before he got a sure diagnosis.
"The doctor's said, 'This is not pneumonia. We need to get you in for a CT scan.'"
The scan showed that Miron's lung was damaged, and a tumour was growing in it. He was given 6-18 months to live.
"It's basically live with the pain the best you can and improve your lifestyle."
Miron refused radiotherapy, as he wasn't yet in pain. Eventually, doctors suggested Iressa, a medication that attacks the cancerous cells' ability to grow and spread.
He said it worked wonders — his tumour shrunk by 30 per cent within two months, and the cancer had not metastasized.
But Iressa came with its own burden. Headaches, body aches, stomach pain, itchy rashes: all side effects of the medication Miron takes daily. Soon, he was taking 400 mg of Ibuprofen every morning just to deal with the pain.
Eventually, he turned to medical marijuana. But finding a doctor that would write him a prescription was difficult. He said both his general practitioner and his oncologist were supportive of him using marijuana, but both were reluctant to actually prescribe it. Miron said it was because of the stigma surrounding the drug and the direction of the Alberta Medical Association.
"I didn't want to be high all day long. I just wanted to cope. I have three little girls at home under the age of 12, just to be with them is fantastic," he said.
'What I have is a legal product'
Eventually he found a doctor who wrote the prescription. He now uses two products: one to ease his pain in the afternoon and another to help him sleep at night.
He gets both from it from a surprising source: his eldest son, Adam.
When Adam opened a medical marijuana dispensary in Gatineau, Que., two years ago, he didn't think his father would be one of his patients.
What had started a business soon became personal.
"Your dad is the person that takes care of you your whole life," Adam said.
"To be able to help them out is a gift … so that he can spend the day with my little sisters. It's pretty incredible."
He said he opened his dispensary in the hopes of removing that stigma that his father ran up against, which is making medical marijuana seem like an acceptable solution to both patients and doctors. For him, that means the separating it from the traditional images of pot leaves and smoke.
His company goes as far as to mask the return address on their shipments, so that neighbours and family members can't tell where the package came from. Eventually, Adam hopes the measures will be unnecessary and marijuana will be seen as any other medical product.
"It's going to come from people like my dad telling his story. It's going to come from people like his general practitioner."
Gaston Miron hopes his son succeeds. He's been taking the marijuana products for three weeks, and even though he is using far less than his doctor prescribed, he's sleeping better and is in less pain during the days. He hopes that his experience might change the stigma he faced.
"What I have is a legal product. … it's not a product that's laced by whoever is making it or growing it. It's available now."