An Auckland grandmother who spent the end of her life campaigning for medicinal cannabis has died from lung cancer.
Joan Cowie, 65, was an outspoken advocate for those who wished to use the plant for pain relief and other medical reasons.
Friend and fellow campaigner Pearl Schomburg said Cowie’s death at 1:30am on Monday was slow and painful because she did not have access to cannabis.
“Her passing was traumatic and needlessly drawn out and we all wish she had the option of euthanasia earlier,” Schomburg said.
Cowie’s health deteriorated rapidly over the past month.
Cowie had stage four lung cancer and said she suffered from “horrid” pain when not taking cannabis.
Schomburg saw her friend often and said in recent weeks she was “so tiny, a mere bag of little bones”.
“She was on methadone as well as fentanyl and everything else, and even with all that she was in great pain and suffering miserably,” Schomburg said.
“It broke my heart.”
Cowie was among patients left scrambling a few months ago when a prominent cannabis grower was arrested for sending drugs through the post.
“We’re trying to find medicine so that we can survive,” Cowie said in November.
“We’re frantic, really.”
Cowie had stage four lung cancer and suffered from “horrid” pain when not taking cannabis.
“It can be piercing, and if I lay on my side and bring my arm over, it feels like something is being squashed in my chest,” she said.
Her cancer diagnosis in 2015 came as a crushing blow.
Heading into her 60s, Cowie’s plan was to retire and “start doing all that crazy stuff I didn’t do in my 20s”.
She cried when told she had terminal lung cancer.
“I thought I was going to die. Well, I knew I was going to die,” she said.
Cowie turned to Facebook to ask for help to access cannabis after reading online about its potential benefits for those with cancer.
“I was absolutely terrified,” she said. “I knew it was illegal, and I was frightened that the police might be watching that particular page, but I had no other choice.”
Cowie said using cannabis brought her appetite back, relieved her pain, and helped her get a good night’s sleep.
“It’s a blessing,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a God-send.”
Cowie had never been a cannabis user and as a mother she warned her six children to stay away from the drug.
“My daughter thinks it’s the funniest thing that God put breath into, that the old girl’s now having cannabis,” she said in July.
“Especially after I banged on at them over the years!”
Health benefits aside, life as an illegal drug user took its toll on Cowie.
She carried copies of her cancer diagnosis in her handbag in case she was ever confronted by police over why she was carrying cannabis.
“That way at least if I get pulled over I can show that I’m not lying, I have got cancer,” she said.
Cowie wanted the the right to grow her own cannabis, but would also have been happy to buy commercially grown products.
“The population is calling for it, and we’ve got farmers who are struggling who would gladly grow it,” she said in July.
“They’d probably make more money than they do now.”
Details for Cowie’s funeral service are yet to be announced.