The legislation surrounding cannabis use is a subject which continues to start important conversations and spark debate, particularly around 4/20.
Despite cannabis being a Class B drug in the UK and carrying a prison sentence of up to five years if caught in your possession, there’s no denying products such as cannabis oil have proven and tested health benefits.
Relieving pain, reducing seizures, and alleviating the symptoms of cancer are just some of the reported benefits of cannabis oil, but are two which have proven vital in improving the quality of life of those with the disease.
Comedian Luisa Omielan has witnessed some of these benefits firsthand, while treating her late mum nearly two years ago as her health rapidly deteriorated after being diagnosed with cancer.
Admittedly, I didn’t really know much about cannabis oil until I went to watch Luisa on tour last year. I’d always wanted to see the comedian live ever since I saw a performance of hers on Australian TV a few years ago.
In it, she spoke openly about thigh gaps and encouraged young women like myself to love ourselves unapologetically – all while in her knickers. I know, iconic.
So when I bought tickets for her third tour, Politics for Bitches, I was expecting something similar; a sassy, witty, unmistakably-Luisa performance that would have me in stitches and would leave me crying with laughter. What I got though was so much more than that.
Yes, she was sassy and unmistakably herself – but this time the comedian was also angry. Angry at the system that failed her mum, Helena Lulewicz Omielan, who was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2017, and angry at the ‘cruel and undignified’ death her mum faced just seven weeks later.
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My beautiful mum. Its been a whole year. Its a complete life time in a blink of an eye. I really hope she is happy and free. I miss her love every day. Wow what abundant, rich, pure, fun love I had. I have learnt and achieved so much. I've learnt that this life is temporary. I've learnt who my beautiful friends are. I've learnt the generosity of strangers and had faith restored by meeting kind, kind people. I've learnt to not sweat the small stuff. I've learnt to not care. I've learnt how a dog is not just a dog but a soul and a being and an angel with hair. I've learnt if you are ever buying a house, Check it's not near a flood plain. I've learnt that I only really connect with people who have lost. I've learnt that cancer is merciless and the repricussions of loss, is like a stone throne into a lake, the effects of it are somehow, lasting and affecting things way beyond one person. And I've learnt that I think, death means freedom, but for everyone else left behind, I've learnt that the hardest, almost unnatural thing about death, is that somehow, you survive it.
Rather than talking about the now-seemingly trivial issues of thigh gaps and one-night stand etiquette, Luisa instead spoke openly and heartrendingly about cancer, cannabis oil, and euthanasia.
The comedian was unafraid to tell the devastating truth about the way her loving mum died; it was this raw, inexplicably honest emotion which resonated with her audience so much more than a few jokes about our wobbly bits – regardless of how hilarious they were at the time.
Speaking to UNILAD, Luisa again expressed her anger at the system which led Helena’s cancer to go undetected for months – despite multiple doctor visits – and which treated the 36-year-old as a criminal for trying to help her mum in any way she could.
Because when Luisa realised the only thing helping to relieve her mum’s pain was cannabis oil, she told doctors in the hope they would help her with it. Instead, they reported her to the police and she was made to hide in a hospital cupboard to avoid arrest.
Having taken her mum to the doctors 12 times in the 12 months before she passed away – each time being told she had heartburn or IBS – Luisa eventually took Helena to A&E because she knew something wasn’t right.
It was in the emergency room that Helena’s cancer was confirmed, but they were told they’d have to wait to see an oncologist before she could be given a treatment plan. The next appointment was in four weeks time.
By the time they saw the doctor, they were given the devastating news that only 10 per cent of people survive six to nine months after such a diagnosis – the other 90 per cent wouldn’t even live that long. Luisa recalls the doctor saying, ‘your mum will be dead within the year’.
Luisa told UNILAD:
When we got to the oncologist and he said she’ll be dead within a year, I told him, ‘well do chemo, do radiotherapy’. He said it was too late to do that and they couldn’t do that.
He said, ‘I’m afraid your mum’s going to have to go home and die,’ and I was like, ‘you’re a liar, you’re a liar, this is not fair. Do something, she can’t just die’.
In the four weeks prior to the appointment, Helena was in so much pain that Luisa took measures into her own hands and began googling as much as she could about cancer and how you can treat it.
Because her mum hadn’t yet been seen by an oncologist she didn’t have access to any treatment – apart from some Calpol that the hospital had sent her home with. You know Calpol, the paracetamol-based children’s medicine? Yeah, that.
When that didn’t alleviate the pain and Helena was in even more agony, Luisa was advised to bring her mum back into A&E.
The comedian wasn’t having it though, adamant that her mum deserved better:
I’m not having her waiting in A&E for four hours. She’s got cancer, she deserves better treatment. I don’t understand why they sent her home, but if they’ve sent her home it must mean it’s not that bad.
Rather than stand by as her mum’s pain worsened, Luisa began looking into cannabis oil as an option and soon realised that people had been using it as a treatment for the symptoms of cancer.
As she looked into it, she became aware of just how difficult it was to get hold of; Luisa even took to social media to ask her followers if they knew anyone who smoked weed who would be able to put her in touch with a dealer.
After being told by friends to take her posts down for fear she’d get in trouble, the comedian was eventually able to get her hands on some cannabis oil through others who had used it as a treatment for cancer.
I need information on Cannabis Oil, I don't know what percentage or how to get it. I need the best stuff for treating Cancer. Any ideas UK?
— Luisa Omielan (@luisaomielan) May 18, 2017
Luisa bought two syringes of the oil, each worth £800, but her struggle didn’t stop there as she still had no idea how to administer the non-psychoactive product – and no health professional would help her.
The 36-year-old explained:
I was googling like how do I inject cannabis oil, how do you deliver it? I don’t understand how I’m supposed to medicate with this stuff, it’s drugs – I don’t know how to do it.
And so I found it incredibly heartbreaking that I was having to do something illegal and trying to figure it out on my own. Because there’s no online information about it because it’s illegal.
Knowing she couldn’t wait four weeks, Luisa found a recipe on how to use the oil and described the process as ‘trial and error,’ while she attempted to figure out how to relieve her mum’s pain in the most effective way.
The comedian kept a diary to document an hour-by-hour breakdown of her mum’s health: what her temperature was; what her stools were like; how much water she could drink after each treatment; how she felt afterwards. All of this was while she waited to be seen by an oncologist.
Then when they went to the appointment, they were told there was nothing they could do. The tumour in Helena’s stomach was one that would grow extremely quickly, blocking her stomach so that eventually, there would be no room for food. In other words, the doctor said, her mum would starve to death.
After being told no treatment options were available, Luisa broached the topic of cannabis oil and showed the Oncologist the diary she had been keeping, asking for his advice because she didn’t know enough about it.
But Luisa was immediately shut down; the doctor told her he was unable to talk to her about the oil before asking her to stop the conversation. And that was that.
I was furious because I was like I don’t f*cking understand – how can you be a person of medicine? Surely your job is to cure and to heal and to make sick people healthy?
Here I am with a very unhealthy person and there is another treatment option, yeah it’s not legalised but there is a treatment option and people have used it and it has worked.
And it’s been a great pain relief for her, I’ve been using it as a pain relief and it’s proven effective, why won’t you guide me with it? Like, talk to me about it?
And he cancelled the conversation, he wouldn’t have it and I remember just being so angry with him, just f*cking so angry with him.
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I found this beautiful picture of my mummy over the weekend. How stunning is she?? This was taken maybe 25 years ago, teaching was her vocation, she absolutely loved it and was a wonderful teacher. Starting at 19 in Poland. Then when she moved to England and learnt English, after her annulment came through, she qualified to teach English as a foreign language. She always felt that her first hand experience made it easier for her to empathise with people learning English. She eventually set up her own home stay company and for as long as I can remember, we would have people from all nationalities coming to stay and live with us for a week or a summer. And all the crusty business men would fall in love with her and all to all the children she became their second mum. I’ve never met anyone so passionate about a vocation such as teaching before. She excelled in grammar and I would always ask her the correct form on papers and essays. What an absolute babe though, look at her, just perfect in every way ❤️ My Polish Mummy ❤️ Www.helenashospicefoundation.org
The oncologist then put Helena on a high dose of morphine, after which she deteriorated within 24 hours and was rushed to hospital with pneumonia. There, Luisa told doctors she had been giving her mum cannabis oil and it had never had such a detrimental effect on her health.
A little while later – while she sat by her mum’s bedside – the matron came round to tell the comedian that the police were here to see her.
The doctor had reported the 36-year-old for giving her mum cannabis oil, for alleviating her pain and for treating her in the only (and the best) way she knew how. And now the police were here to arrest her.
Luisa had to hide in a cupboard within the staff room so the police couldn’t find her, with the matron eventually managing to convince them to leave by telling them she only had weeks left with her mum.
This kind of treatment simply isn’t acceptable. Luisa was treated like a criminal for taking care of her mum. She was washing her every day, taking care of her every day – and if that involved giving her cannabis oil to ease the pain, so what?
That’s what I found criminal. I think it should be a law that even if it’s illegal, if your prescription is death – which essentially hers was – you should not be criminalised for trying anything that you can, like anything.
It just didn’t make any sense to me. It’s criminal, the blame is on the wrong hands, the finger’s pointing in the wrong direction if you ask me.
The comedian took Helena out of the hospital after that incident and into a hospice, which she describes as ‘amazing’ and which was able to provide better pain relief.
Tragically, Helena died just seven weeks after her official diagnosis, with Luisa saying the system ‘completely failed her at every turn’.
So how is it that a caring daughter was treated like a criminal just for doing everything in her power to care for her mum? I certainly don’t understand it, but one thing’s for sure: this persecution of caregivers needs to stop – and fast.
It’s true that, since then, improvements have been made and in November, medicinal cannabis was made available on the NHS. But with the NHS admitting ‘very few’ people will get a prescription, and with CBD oil getting seized at airports, it’s clear a lot more needs to be done.
Especially if we’re to stop people dying unnecessarily cruel and painful deaths.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence contact Macmillan’s Cancer Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 (Monday – Friday, 9am – 8pm).
A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).