Kathleen Dennis: Osteoarthritis

Kathleen Dennis, 67, was raised as a self-described “Army brat,” and moved with her family all over the U.S. before settling down in Utah in 1982.  In addition to having a long, successful career working for the Federal Aviation Administration, Kathleen is a proud mother and grandmother.

After retiring in 2006, she and her husband spent some time in The Netherlands planning to bicycle and explore the country. Shortly before this trip, Kathleen had been having difficulty standing up due to joint stiffness, so she had gone to see a chiropractor about her pain. While the chiropractor’s treatments did help, the relief was only temporary and minimal at best.

While in The Netherlands, Kathleen’s pain worsened and became excruciating. She decided to go to the emergency room in Amsterdam hoping to find relief. Unfortunately, the hospital staff told her it would be at least a six hour wait to see someone.  Out of frustration, Kathleen and her husband left and considered cancelling the rest of their trip.

“I couldn’t walk through an art gallery without sitting for long periods at every opportunity.” 

She and her husband decided to try cannabis which is legal in The Netherlands. "It worked!" she says, adding, "we enjoyed seven days of bicycling through The Netherlands pain free before returning to the United States."

After returning home, she started looking for an explanation for her pain. After seeing a sports medicine doctor,  the results of numerous x-rays and MRIs showed Kathleen had Spondylolisthesis (or slippage of the vertebra over another vertebra) and in her case, into her spinal cord.  She was then referred to a neurosurgeon who gave her several prescriptions for pain killers and sent her to a pain clinic for corticosteroid injections.  The injections did nothing to relieve her pain, and the drugs caused her to have severe nausea.

She decided to consult another neurosurgeon. In addition to the Spondylolisthesis, the second physician found several other problems, including minor scoliosis, evidence of osteoarthritis throughout her spine, a large synovial cyst and a second smaller cyst.  Upon advice from her doctor she underwent surgery for the large cyst, but since then she has suffered from chronic pain, and endured three more surgeries brought on by chronic pain related to osteoarthritis.

She has tried numerous treatments and methods to deal with her pain, including physical therapy, swimming, bicycling, walking, massage therapy, a TENS unit, and even a different chiropractor.  She has been prescribed numerous strong pain medications, including Hydrocodone, Percocet, Oxycodone, Ibuprophen, Tylenol, steroids, Valium, and muscle relaxers. However, none are as effective as she has hoped and she suffers from the side-effects of these prescriptions.

Kathleen has had to modify her life by reducing the number of activities she enjoys doing, such as gardening, motorcycling, mountain biking, and backpacking. Kathleen’s frustration boiled over when she began to realize that activities such as lifting her grandchildren were becoming too painful. She knows that medical cannabis would help her and would like it to be available to her in the State of Utah.

“I don’t want to feel like a criminal because I am using it to improve my quality of life.  I want the legislature to do the best thing it can for me and the hundreds of thousands who suffer from the pain of osteoarthritis.”

Kathleen is sharing her story because she volunteers as the Secretary of the Drug Policy Project of Utah to help convince lawmakers to establish a safe, regulated medical cannabis program in the State of Utah so that she won’t have to resort to the black market to mitigate her symptoms.