Cancer survivor evangelizes for medical marijuana


Kari Denison

Kathy Albertson celebrates her “cancer-free” diagnosis outside Billings Clinic in May of 2016.

If you’ve met Kathy Albertson, chances are you consider her a friend.

The retired Billings cosmetologist knows how to make an impression. Like a talk show host, she’s unafraid to start up a conversation with anyone, and she knows how to keep that conversation going.

She may surprise you by asking a question you wouldn’t expect, catching you off guard. Even if she interjects, she won’t strike you as impolite or intrusive. Her genuine curiosity and gregarious nature excuse her nosiness.

At the age of 74, Albertson doesn’t get around as much as she used to, but she’s just as curious as ever, conversing with anybody and everybody.

She’ll talk about her family, she’ll talk about her travels, but, more than anything, she’ll talk about what saved her life: medical marijuana.

Raised on a ranch in Absarokee, Albertson never thought she’d owe anything to “pot.”  While living in Sidney, Savage and Billings Heights (where she raised her three children), she had no desire to get anywhere near it.

“I always thought marijuana was bad, bad, bad,” she said. “That’s what I was told by law enforcement, the media and people I knew. I was convinced it was no good.”

But that perception changed. When Albertson was diagnosed with stage-four colorectal cancer in May of 2015, it was cannabis that came through.

“I was told it would help and research backed up what I was hearing,” she said, “so I got a medical marijuana card. The card was actually for my glaucoma, which has significantly improved since I started treating it with cannabis.”

Once cancer treatments began, Albertson used medical marijuana to assist with pain management, often in brownie form.

She couldn’t believe the results.

“It worked so well I stopped taking my pain medications entirely,” she said, “which is just crazy to me. We were raised to think we have to have prescriptions. We were told that would fix us, but I disagree now. I’ve learned otherwise.”

Going through chemotherapy was the hardest part of her battle with cancer, Albertson said, and medical marijuana was there for her, giving her the strength she needed to push through and not give up.

“If I didn’t have it, I’d be dead,” she said. “I’m sure of it. That last round of chemo was so hard. I didn’t think I’d make it.”

But through edibles, vaporizers and pills, Albertson pulled through and didn’t give up hope. By May of 2016, she was cancer-free.

Albertson gives much of the credit for her survival to marijuana, especially the strands high in CBD (cannabidiol), which relaxed her body and mind. The CBD also helped her appetite return. For Albertson, marijuana was the ultimate pain reliever and muscle relaxer. She didn’t use it to get high; she used it to get by.

“I’m not turning into an old hippie druggie,” she said. “It’s not that kind of thing. I just know how much better I feel now versus when I was doing prescription drugs.”

Thankful to be alive, Albertson said she has a new purpose: to spread the word about medical marijuana.

“It’s my job now to let people know medical marijuana offers many possibilities for our health and for our livelihood,” she said. “This experience has changed my perception and I know others can also benefit. I was wrong; marijuana can be good.”

Albertson hasn’t wasted any time getting her message out there. In October of last year, she let her voice be known, encouraging the people of Montana to vote “yes” for Initiative 182, which passed, repealing the three-patient limit for medical marijuana providers, so Albertson and others like her can continue to get their medication.

Albertson just wishes she knew about the benefits of medical marijuana earlier. Maybe then she could have helped her cousin Wayne, who was also diagnosed with cancer in 2015.

“I wish he would have considered [medical marijuana] before he got so bad … for his pain,” she said.

Wayne died in 2016. She doesn’t know if it could have saved him, but she is certain of one thing: she doesn’t want to let another opportunity to help pass her by.

So if you meet Kathy Albertson, chances are she’ll tell you her story. She won’t preach, but, before you know it, she’ll be sharing, and you’ll be listening.

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