Northern Ireland showbiz reporter Paul Martin on how he beat cancer with cannabis oil
I won't lie. I was terrified of what might happen. But as I ingested a small rice-grain size of the smelly, sticky black substance that loomed in front of me, it was an empowering declaration of war against my horrific cancer diagnosis.
I felt a little guilty, a little frightened and, well, a little like I could be breaking the law.
But having four children and a family who needed me to be alive this time next year, I figured, 'Screw the law, screw medical conformity and screw the taboo status of cannabis. I'm going all in!'
Exactly 30 minutes before my first dance with this controversial substance, a parcel had arrived with £270 worth of 90% cannabis paste. My sister Suzanne had promised me it would cure me. I took her zealous predictions with a pinch of salt - I was stage four, after all, and more often than not there's no coming back from that.
Over the next three months I upped my dosage and hoped for the best. I was ready for the worst. "Are you afraid of dying?" my good friend Stephen Nolan asked on his radio show. "No," I replied without hesitation. "But I am terrified of my children growing up without me."
Fast forward to last Wednesday.
I fell to the floor and shouted at the top of my voice 'Thank you Jesus!' Then I called Miss Ireland. I guess that's why they call me Mr Showbiz. Precisely 52 seconds earlier, the anonymous voice from Belfast's City Hospital called and banished in a swift expeditious moment what had amounted to seven months of mental and physical torture.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
Her words were simple but megalithic in their momentousness: "You don't have cancer any more, Paul. It's over." The strange thing is, I didn't cry or feel emotional. Just grateful and extremely humbled.
I'm not one to pull out the God card every time something goes spectacularly well or life hits rock bottom - I leave that to the politicians in this country. But thanking a higher power seemed the right thing to do. Goodness knows I'd asked him or her enough times to get me through this.
The effortlessly benevolent former Miss Ireland Emir Holohan witnessed my miraculous transformation from haggard, washed-up, cancer-riddled showbiz writer to a healthy, exuberant and energised life force who dared to say, 'Screw you, cancer.'
When I broke the good news that my cancer had bit the dust, the emotion from the brunette beauty and vibrant mum-of-six was tangible. I could sense the tears and utter relief as she burst into a passionate and untamed celebration of utter joy.
That moment alone made the months of turmoil, endless medicine and daily dates with facing my own mortality all worthwhile.
My mum embraced me, and we didn't even have to say any words such was the magnitude of this joyous conclusion to our joint journey through hell.
Prior to the worldly deity that is Emir entering my life at the start of this dismal decline in health, the world around me had collapsed amid the end of my marriage. After that my physical and mental health went into a tumultuous decline.
By January, I was so ill I had to be rushed to the Royal by my horror-stricken mum Susan, and it was there that I took up a six-week residence.
I couldn't even take comfort from the adage 'at least you've got your health'. When doctors in the Royal announced I had roughly 48 hours to live, the message was clear: you've left it late and there are no guarantees you'll see your 42nd birthday.
"Better late than never," I quipped, before my eyes rolled back into an oblivion of illness. Gallows humour even in the darkest moments, in true showbiz fashion.
Under the watchful eye of Northern Ireland's finest doctors, every antibiotic known to mankind was pumped into my rapidly evaporating body, which had plunged to just eight-and-a-half stone. Pneumonia, they call it.
That, coupled with enough sedatives and painkillers to sedate Guatemala, and slowly but surely, I mounted an unlikely comeback, punctuated by boosting calls and visits from Emir, though, heartbreakingly, none from my precious children.
But the worst was still to come. No sooner had I bounced back and was released from hospital, an odd shadow, roughly four centimetres in diameter, made a cameo appearance on my right lung, as if the past months hadn't been dramatic enough.
"It's probably nothing," mulled the doctors as I lamented this unwelcome gatecrasher to my comeback party. "But we'll biopsy it just in case."
Six week later, I was battling stage four cancer of the lung and blood. At 42 I was kissing the lips of mortality. I was lucky to have the top doctors, nurses and equipment in my corner thanks to the forces at work at the City Hospital. But a machine can't put an arm around you and say 'we're gonna beat this'. Thankfully, Emir did just that.
Then my sister Suzanne - a dynamic and enlightened presence just two years older than I - made a game-changing call that spun the world of cancer on its head and seemingly gave me a fighting chance.
"Cannabis oil, brother," she announced with her buoyant London twang. "The f***ing pharmaceuticals hate it because they don't have a piece of the pie. I'm telling you - it cures cancer."
Her words immediately resonated. During my last hospital incarceration, at least three top medical aids nudged me and said, 'Get on it,' when the writing seemed to be on the wall for an impending cancer diagnosis.
But such is the ignorantly taboo concept of cannabis or CBD oil, as it's called on the high street, I felt divided over whether to give it a go or just stick to conventional medicine.
It didn't take me long to find several compelling tales online of miraculous cancer comebacks by CBD users. The decision was swift: my children needed a dad more than I needed to obey any draconian laws governing our treatment of this horrendous illness.
One call later and Suzanne had a batch of the highest concentration of 90% CBD on its way to me, courtesy of a contact who harvested and mixed his own blend after curing himself years earlier. Was all this legal? The truth is, I didn't care. Living my life and revelling in my beautiful children growing up was more important.
So I defiantly ignited my CBD paste regime, taking a rice-grain-sized dollop of this Marmite-like, black, gooey substance every morning and night on a cracker.
Then, roughly four weeks later, a PET scan revealed some quite remarkable news. "We're scratching our heads a little, Paul," announced my specialist in Belfast's City Hospital. "The stage four growth on your lung has shrunk by three centimetres and it's not taking up any of the glucose we injected into you." Roughly translated, it meant the tumour had gone from stage four to dead. Benign, Caput.
A final biopsy presented a four-week wait for results which would either mean I would have to endure full-on tough chemo for months, or celebrate what felt like the greatest bullet dodge in medical history. Thankfully it was the latter, and earlier in the week I was given the all clear.
From stage four cancer to not even a dose of chemo although I had radiotherapy. I had my life back, my children's futures to look forward to and an incredible woman in my corner. The world spins again.
I'm pleased to say that thanks to the combined forces of conventional medicine and the much maligned cannabis plant, recent rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.
As my favourite songwriter Bob Dylan has said: "The only things I know how to do is keep on keeping on." His words certainly ring true.
No matter what we're faced with in the glorious uncertainty of life, none of us can do much more than that. But at least I'm keeping on with a life warrior in a Miss Ireland, my adoring kids and my wonderful family in my corner.