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Saving Sophie, Saving Many

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Sophie tumor 1

Sophie Ryan’s Tumor is Removed and Replicated for the Greater Good

At this moment, two mice in a laboratory in California are replicating cancer cells taken from five-and-a-half-year-old cannabis patient, Sophie Ryan, for research on pediatric cancer and chemotherapy. The cells will also be sent to a lab in Israel for research with cannabinoids and cancer.

Sophie has been fighting the tumor, an optic pathway glioma (OPG), in her brain since she was eight months old (see Emerald Magazine, December 2017). Her mom, Tracy Ryan, created CannaKids, a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles, which helps many with cancer and more. However, their own daughter’s tumor has been traditionally stubborn, as is the case with many OPGs.

“Sophie’s [tumor] hasn’t responded to just cannabis oil off-treatment of chemo,” Tracy explained. “We are trying to figure out what formulation she needs to target the mutations in her specific tumor – and to do that, we needed to procure some of the excess brain tumor tissue from her recent craniotomy.

Per Tracy, low grade gliomas aren’t typically deadly, with a 90 percent survival rate, but they have an 85 percent recurrence rate because they divide too slowly for chemotherapy treatments to completely eradicate them. The goal is to keep the child healthy until they find a treatment that will stabilize them. Hormones from growth spurts play a role. Once the individual is out of puberty, the tumor will stop growing forever, but, according to statistics, it may never completely go away.

After years of chemotherapy treatments, with the tumor growing, shrinking, and maintaining a Stage I, low grade status, the Ryan’s agreed to debulk the part of the tumor that had been so problematic. The surgery was scheduled after a team of oncologists, neurologists, ophthalmologists and her own neurosurgeon, recommended it.

This decision allowed them to obtain the tissue they needed to hopefully lead them to a solution for Sophie, and others who suffer from the same condition.

On April 23, 2018 Sophie went into surgery. The pathology report confirmed the tumor’s Stage I status. Her surgical staff is amazed at her recovery rate, due to her continued cannabis use before and after the procedure.

According to an article published in the National Library of Medicine in 2010, cannabinoids were demonstrated to be “anti-inflammatory drugs” in laboratory trials, stating, “Cannabinoids are potent anti-inflammatory agents and they exert their effects through induction of apoptosis, inhibition of cell proliferation, suppression of cytokine production and induction of T-regulatory cells (Tregs).” In other words, cannabinoids have the ability to support healthy cells while reducing inflammation via apoptosis — the inhibition of cell growth — and suppressing cytokine production, a response to injury that causes inflammation.

Anyone who has experienced major or minor surgery knows that inflammation and pain are the first symptoms you suffer through. After that comes constipation, due to the anesthesia and subsequent prescription painkillers.

Healthline.com informs that swelling and inflammation can last up to six months after surgery. Highly addictive painkillers are often prescribed for months to come.

Sophie’s experience was much different, as her mother reported. She continued to be administered a cannabis oil formulation that not only addressed the pain, but miraculously, quelled any swelling and inflammation by day two after surgery. Due to the analgesic properties of cannabis, Sophie’s pain was controlled with an additional dose of Tylenol and Motrin.

“Less than 48 hours after major brain surgery and [she was] released to go home!” Tracy shared on social media. “Zero signs of swelling and not a bruise to be seen. She’s wowed doctors with her incredible healing and tenacious spirit. She makes brain surgery look easy!”

Other positive post-op signs showed Sophie’s eyes responding perfectly to light, and she was able to move all her limbs. The moment after her cannabis oil dose kicked in, its effects were apparent – her pain was gone, her fussiness subsided, and she was laughing. The attending nurse was “unable to believe her eyes,” Tracy shared.

“This is what a child on cannabis looks like,” Tracy declared to the recovery room staff. “The neurosurgeon was even more shocked to see that she didn’t have any swelling or bruising over her eye – she should be black and blue, and super swollen. They even said she could go back to school tomorrow – and they originally said one to two weeks!”

One member of the surgical team made a comment the day after surgery, “She doesn’t even look like she’s had surgery!” To which Tracy replied, “She’s on a lot of cannabis,” to which the doctor responded, “That’s amazing!” Soon after surgery, a nurse asked Tracy to go into a patient’s room, upon a mom’s approval, so she could educate her on the powers of cannabis for her son, diagnosed with cancer that had metastasized.

Sophie’s removed tumor was the size of a golf ball. It was packed up and shipped out to a team of researchers at UCLA, and to a cryo-stasis bank in Georgia, Storemytumor.com, for safekeeping until it’s sent to Israel for trials with cannabinoids.

A photo of two jars show a red-jelly-type material in both.  “The red jelly is actually Sophie’s tumor tissue,” said Tracy. “I stared this beast right in the eye, and will show no mercy! Now that I have you, be prepared for what comes next.”

By the end of the day, Sophie’s tumor was implanted into two very special mice, one which pumps human blood, with cells growing rapidly by the millions in plates in the lab – as Tracy explained, this will give the team more cells to work with.

Dr. Anahid Jewett, PhD, MPH, is head of the team working with Sophie’s tissue at UCLA. She’s the Professor and Director of tumor immunology in the Division of Oral Biology and Medicine, and has published more than 120 papers in her field.

“I’ve connected Dr. Jewett with Dr. Dedi Meiri of Technion Institute in Israel for future research with cannabinoids, where we are sponsoring four years of pediatric and adult cancer research,” Tracy shared.

Due to Dr. Jewett’s newfound relationship with Tracy, the two are planning future clinical trials together, with Dr. Jewett now working on approval to study more children alongside Tracy and her work with CannaKids.

As for any backlash from the testing of mice, Tracy waxes poetic. “I believe we are all here for a reason,” she said. “I was put here on this earth to help my daughter and others in dealing with this insidious disease; and I believe those mice are here for the same reasons. I honor them and the help they may bring to other children suffering as our Sophie has.”

Additional photos from social media were shared from Sophie’s first day back to school – just days after the procedure. Tracy said that Sophie walked into her classroom and took to the front of the class, ready to share her experiences with her classmates.

“Our family’s main focus with Sophie has been to promote happiness, joy, laughter, and to have an outgoing spirit,” Tracy concluded. “My husband Josh, and I, have taken her to every cannabis conference in the country where I’ve spoken, when she’s able to go. She’s grown up on stage telling her story in front of hundreds, up to a thousand people,” she added. “She has her own business cards she hands out during events, and lets everyone know what time she’ll be on stage – asking them to bring their cameras so they can take photos of her.”

At five and a half years old, it’s safe to say, Sophie is one of the youngest cannabis advocates in the country, if not the world. But advocacy comes at a price.

After helping thousands of patients via CannaKids in L.A., the non-profit is struggling to keep its doors open in light of heavy fees for testing, licensing, and other requirements in the age of legalization in California.

To learn more, or to donate, visit GoFundMe.com/ck-support-in-california 

For more information CannaKids, visit Cannakids.org

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Writer and Producer Sharon Letts began her life's work at age of 24 as a flower gardener in Southern California. Gardening turned to media, when she was asked to produce and host a visiting gardening show, In and Out of the Garden, for local television. She then went on to executive produce, Off the Beaten Path, a travelogue in California for PBS. After working as a field and segment producer for documentary and magazine shows for television in Los Angeles, Sharon was brought up to Humboldt County to produce a news show. While working in media in the cannabis capitol of the world, Sharon presented with Lobular Carcinoma (breast cancer). Due to her location, she was given cannabis oil, successfully putting the cancer into remission, while simultaneously doing away with 10 prescription medications. To date, Sharon has covered six states and three countries on cannabis as medicine; writing internationally for many publications. Her many patient profiles include cover features on celebrities, Tommy Chong, Willie Nelson, and Melissa Etheridge. She has published two works of fiction, and is working on a screenplay inspired by her time in Humboldt County. She’s also come full circle, developing intelligent magazine and documentary shows for TV on the subject.

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