HIS mind resolute but body ravaged by cancer, Barraba father-of-two Allistair Leahy is being sustained by hope.
For the 39-year-old, that hope lies in a radical chemotherapy treatment and the medicinal properties of a naturally growing plant – marijuana.
Two years ago, Mr Leahy was given the grimmest diagnosis possible – terminal colon cancer.
After a barrage of failed chemotherapy and a series of false dawns, doctors discovered a new 15cm-by-13cm tumour in his abdomen in February and told his family there was nothing more they could do.
“We sat down with the boys (James, 5, and Hamish, 3) and told them daddy wasn’t going to make it out of hospital,” Mr Leahy said.
In a desperate last-ditch bid, Mr Leahy’s wife, Rechelle, began researching non-traditional cancer treatments and discovered cannabis oil.
She was forced underground, sourcing the illegal substance on the black market.
Since taking the oil in conjunction with a new chemo regime, Mr Leahy’s tumour has shrunk by more than half and he has put on 16kg.
The Leahys yesterday spoke for the first time about their experiences, ahead of next month’s expected vote in the NSW Parliament on decriminalising marijuana for the terminally ill.
“You get to the point where traditional medicine fails and that’s the point where you’ll try things you wouldn’t normally be willing to try,” Mr Leahy said.
“Chemo is bloody hard and anything that can help people get through it should be legal. I’ve got a big fight ahead but I’m feeling a hell of a lot better.
“I can’t say cannabis oil reduces tumours – it could be the new chemo.
“But the combination has given me a positive outcome and it’s bought me time with my family that everyone said I wouldn’t have.”
He said the cannabis oil had reignited his appetite and helped ease the constant nausea.
Doctors say it is highly unlikely Mr Leahy will fall into remission but remain stunned by his progress.
The Leahys, who gave up senior government positions in Canberra four years ago to follow a dream and buy Barraba’s Commercial Hotel, fear the lobbying power of big pharmaceutical companies may be a political stumbling block for medical marijuana.
“You really wonder whether that is the reason for all this resistance from the government,” Mr Leahy said.
“It’s worth a lot of money to pharmaceutical companies to keep this out of the market.
“One of the tablets I’m on, which thankfully is reduced on the PBS, costs $695 a packet to buy.
“Companies won’t be able to make that sort of money out of cannabis medicine.”
He said with the right safeguards in place, medical marijuana could have a profound effect on the quality of life of thousands of Australians.
“As a controlled substance and on prescription from a doctor, this would be an option for people in my situation,” Mr Leahy said.
“It’s just so frustrating. If everyone else can divorce the illegal drug side of marijuana from the medicine side, why can’t the government?”
Mr Leahy has been unable to use the oil in recent weeks because of a shortage on the black market.