Jessica Harshbarger

Jessica Harshbarger Age: 42 Essential Thromobocythemia (ET)

"I remember begging to go to the beach; it was what I looked forward to all school year while stuck in cold Chicago. This is a fun and warm memory for me, so it’s hard to think of it as the time of my potential exposure.”

***This story is a patient's first-person experience and is not an endorsement of any drug or activity by MPN Research Foundation. Please consult with your physician (preferably an MPN specialist) before trying any new therapy or lifestyle change. 

Jessica Harshbarger was born in September 1976 at Camp Lejeune where her father was stationed as a marine. Her grandfather, Master Gunnery Sergeant Jack Stout and his wife Peggy spent much of their retirement on base (living just off base). And every summer Jessica was with her grandparents at Camp Lejeune enjoying the Carolina sunshine collecting sand dollars, shark’s teeth and hunting for shells. Jessica fondly remembers these times. “We placed crab traps in the bay before spending the day in the sun and sand, then rinsed off in the hose water at the retiree pavilion. We would fill our bottle of water from the hose (on base) and stop for a hot dog, and then dance to the live music provided on the weekends there. I remember begging to go to the beach; it was what I looked forward to all school year while stuck in cold Chicago. This is a fun and warm memory for me, so it’s hard to think of it as the time of my potential exposure.” Jessica was diagnosed with Essential Thrombocythemia in 2011, (although she had symptoms several years prior to her diagnosis) and she has a strong suspicion her cancer is linked to the water at Camp Lejeune. 

“From the 1950s through the 1980s, people living or working at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, were potentially exposed to drinking water contaminated with industrial solvents, benzene, and other chemicals. VA has established a presumptive service connection for Veterans, Reservists, and National Guard members exposed to contaminants in the water supply at Camp Lejeune from August 1, 1953, through December 31, 1987, who later developed one of the following eight diseases:

  • Adult leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myelomas
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Parkinson's disease

Presently, these conditions are the only ones for which there is sufficient scientific and medical evidence to support the creation of presumptions; however, VA will continue to review relevant information as it becomes available.“  Source: https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/camp-lejeune/

In 2016 Jessica’s platelets eventually became too high for aspirin alone to control, and her migraines were becoming increasingly worse so her hematologist recommended a chemotherapy drug. But Jessica wanted an alternative to treating her cancer and wasn’t comfortable with the long-term use of Hydroxyurea at her age so did some of her own research. That’s when she discovered the work of Dr. Raphael Mechoulam in Israel and Dr. Christina Sanchez in Spain who have both extensively researched cannabis effects on treating cancer; Jessica was intrigued.

Meanwhile, Jessica was persisting in trying to find access to medical cannabis in her home state of Illinois. After reading up on the laws and rules for getting a medical cannabis card she found that migraines and ET weren’t listed as qualifying conditions, but the fight wasn’t over. It was just getting started. Jessica, a single mother since 1995, has a knack for figuring things out. In the Spring of 2015, she spoke at a medical cannabis alliance of Illinois rally in Chicago on broadening access for medical cannabis and was also featured on CBS news in the early stages of the Illinois Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act launching in Illinois.

Her voice was heard and she was offered a managerial position that year at a busy medical cannabis dispensary in Chicago. In 2018 while working at the dispensary Jessica met a medical cannabis patient who was having phenomenal results shrinking her brain tumor using a high concentration of CBD oil. Jessica thought that this might, in fact, help with her high platelets. At the time she had been taking high doses of THC for two years but didn’t feel well, and her platelet counts weren’t dropping as much as she had originally hoped, so she changed her combination to 8 parts CBC and 1 part THC. “I believe the more CBD I take the better my CBC tests are coming out,” she says. Since she began taking high doses of CBD in early 2018 her platelets have dropped from the 800-900 range to the 500-600 range. Dr. Mauricio Consaulter, Jessica’s internal medicine doctor, who originally helped Jessica gain access to medical cannabis discussed the possibility of publishing her favorable results. 

Jessica is, of course, pleased with her lower platelet counts, excited that her results may soon be published and is looking forward to further studies on the benefits of CBD since the 2018 Farm Bill was signed. “Taking CBD and hemp off of federal schedule one is one of the greatest things to happen in my lifetime. This gives me tremendous hope that someday we'll know more about how and why it’s working for me so that others can also find natural relief in this way...I would like other patients to know there is hope beyond chemotherapies.”

While Jessica can’t change the fact that she may have been exposed to benzene as a young child, she’s determined to treat her cancer in the most natural way. And the alternative approach is working quite well for Jessica. She’s also passionate about educating others on the healing benefits of natural therapies and has since started teaching classes on natural healing.

Contributed by Jennifer Acker

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These represent first person accounts of real people living with Essential Thrombocythemia, Polycythemia Vera and Myelofibrosis. It does not represent the views or opinions of anyone associated with the MPN Research Foundation. Please consult your doctor before taking any action to manage your health.

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