When a cancer journey becomes an education in holistic, cannabis-based healthcare
By Amy Senk | Contributor
JAN-FEB 2022 ISSUE
Photos courtesy of Earth Alchemy Holistic Care
Justine Amodeo was 26 years old, alone in New York City, and had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“I was working as a magazine editor,” she says. “I had just left the New York Times and had started a job at Omni magazine when I was diagnosed, literally the first week of work.”
She went through a traditional cancer treatment protocol — chemotherapy and surgery. It didn’t work. Two years later, the cancer was back.
“I was told I had a 50 percent chance of surviving this time,” she says. “If I was going to die, I wanted to leave my mark on the world and write a novel. I applied to graduate schools on the ocean and in the forest. I had this romantic idea I would go there and breathe my last breaths into a book.”
Her odyssey brought her to California, where she found doctors who specialized in Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as a husband, family, magazine editing job and, ultimately, a new career journey as a cannabis expert and caregiver at Laguna Beach’s Earth Alchemy Holistic Care.
Like most odysseys, Justine’s path had twists and turns after following her dream to UC Irvine’s MFA program in the late 1980s. She continued her journalism career, editing, writing and wandering the globe to craft epic travel pieces. She married and had two children — something she’d been told would likely never happen for her.
But in 2010, cancer returned, this time an aggressive form of breast cancer detected by chance when she was seeking relief for whiplash after a wild press trip through India.
“I decided to embrace everything,” she says. “I’m literally writing a book called ‘I Believe in Everything’ because of all the things I did. Besides going through radiation and chemotherapy, I was doing infrared saunas; I was doing coffee enemas; I was doing hyperbaric oxygen; I was on an alkaline diet; I was juicing. I took a leave of absence from my job. I was exercising every day. I went to a Russian cosmonaut up in L.A. who had some crazy machine that was supposed to cure cancer. I went to a faith healer. Anything that was out there.”
She considered cannabis oil, but in 2010, it was very expensive and difficult to find in Southern California — not really an option then, she says.
One of her friends, fellow Laguna Beach mom Suzanne DeCarion, had been doing extensive plant medicine and cannabis medicine research; in 2013, Suzanne launched a medical marijuana collective before cannabis was legal recreationally. Justine had already incorporated visualization and diet changes during and after her second cancer treatment, but this time, with Suzanne’s wisdom, she went even further in supplementing her healing with a cannabis oil protocol meant to help keep the cancer in remission.
At the time, Justine was helping her with some writing and marketing. But over the years, she became more and more involved with cannabis medicine. One day, Suzanne asked her to talk with another woman going through treatment for breast cancer about some of the steps she herself had taken. It led to more conversations with others, while still working full time as an editor.
Eventually, by August 2020 — 10 years cancer-free — Justine became a part-time journalist and a full-time Healer-certified cannabis advisor and cannabis caregiver, working with Suzanne at Earth Alchemy Holistic Care. Many of their clients are stage four cancer patients, but cannabis oil also can help those who have issues with insomnia, anxiety, arthritis, chronic pain, autism spectrum disorders and more. She and Suzanne have worked with children, as well as beloved pets, and consult with doctors who often refer their own patients.
The cannabis caregiving business is complicated, regulated by state and local laws that dictate how many plants they can grow, how they can distribute and be compensated for the oils they make and give to clients, and even how many clients they can have at any one time. Justine says they work with each person, studying their diagnosis to create strain-specific, dose-specific protocols. They dive deep with their research, and while they aren’t physicians, they are highly educated in the effects of cannabis, terpene profiles, and in creating the proper cannabis oil dosages. They also offer exercise and nutrition advice, meditation workshops and basic caregiving services.
Walking into a recreational marijuana dispensary and asking for products to help medical issues can be a crapshoot, Justine says. “They might have a basic idea of what a medical dose is, but as far as the strain they’re giving you, or what kind of cancer you have, they don’t really know — unless they are a dispensary specifically for critically ill patients. For example, there are different strains for a child with epilepsy or someone with a brain tumor than someone with estrogen-positive breast cancer or lung cancer. And then there are decisions about dosing, which we are constantly changing and following up on. We also have doctors we consult with, including medical cannabis doctors, when we have a complicated situation.”
Many doctors are supportive, Justine says, and refer some of their patients as clients. “Some of them have seen miraculous things happen and they want to talk to us about what we did,” she says. “We work with cancer patients who are doctors, who are clergymen, who are teachers, who are very conservative, religious moms and dads who want to live and who are willing to do anything to make that happen.”
Justine gets that — she lived it, over and over again. Today, Justine’s health is good; the day before we spoke, she had a clean PET scan, which means she’s still cancer-free. We met at a North Laguna coffee shop beneath her new office, across from her yoga studio, over herbal tea.
“Working as a magazine editor full-time for 30 years, I started to feel like, ‘What actual contribution am I making to the world? How am I helping people?’” she says. “I wasn’t personally feeling like this was my dharma, that this was what I was supposed to be doing.”
If Earth Alchemy Holistic Care existed a decade ago, Justine says she could have had a “one-stop shop of information” as well as cannabis oils that she couldn’t access at the time. Ensuring that clients going through treatment today have these options for relief adds the purpose that was missing before from her life.
“Every time we work with somebody who calls us and says, ‘I’m sleeping, I feel so much better, my tumor markers are going down, the experience with chemo was a breeze, my depression is gone, my pain is gone, my dog is having a miraculous recovery’ — that keeps us going.”