SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Watching Steve Kubby maneuver around on the mountain makes it hard to believe he’s been living with terminal cancer for 35 years.
Kubby is determined to ski a million vertical feet before the end of the season. It’s a challenge he set for himself to raise awareness of his disease and the treatment to which he feels he owes his life. He attributes his survival to regular use of medicinal marijuana.
“I’m so inspired because I’m alive,” he said. “I should have died or had a heart attack, but instead I’m skiing and what a wonderful gift, and without this herb, that gift wouldn’t be a reality.”
Kubby was diagnosed with pheochromocytoma at 24 years old and it turned malignant when he was 28. Pheochromocytoma is a rare form of adrenal cancer that causes high shots of adrenaline and other hormones that increase a person’s blood pressure, leaving them with feelings of panic, fear, nausea, and abdominal pain.
Symptoms and life threatening situations Kubby said he cures consistently by ingesting and smoking cannabis.
“You get what’s called hypertension peroxisms,” Kubby said. “That’s when your tumors suddenly and without warning secrete a lethal or near lethal amount of adrenaline. You feel sick and nauseous and scared, and all these other things. My body would make ten times more adrenaline than other people’s. You can drop dead at anytime from a heart attack, a stroke or an aneurysm.”
Kubby found relief in marijuana a few years after his diagnosis.
“I was in such agonizing pain and each day I just wanted to die,” Kubby said. “I had a strong desire to just end my life because it was so horrible, each day was so horrible, every moment of my life was so horrible, but every time I would think about suicide I would remind myself that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
It turned out to be very temporary. Kubby said he found the benefits of medicinal marijuana by accident. Shortly after his diagnosis, an old college friend approached him.
“I said ‘I can’t smoke that,” Kubby said. “He said, ‘Why not?’ I said ‘I have cancer I don’t want to lower my immune system or screw it up with marijuana.’”
His friend convinced him that he only had six months to live anyway, so why not have a little fun? Kubby smoked it and said he found something startling in his blood pressure levels.
“I was able to experiment a little, and my blood pressures were controlled like nothing else on the planet,” he said. “I thought what doctor is ever gonna believe this? This was nuts, but I had the blood pressures and the improving health to back it up.”
His doctors’ opinions
Kubby has struggled to bring attention to the treatment he feels is saving his life.
“For years, nobody wanted to hear that it was treating my cancer.” Kubby said.
Kubby’s doctors admit that his case is highly unusual.
“When pheochromocytoma metastasizes or grows back in a site where it was previously surgically removed, and cannot be removed again, the median survival rate is about 10-12 years,” wrote Dr. Joseph M. Connors, who first treated Kubby back in 2002. Connors is also a clinical professor and Chair of the Lymphoma Tumor Group and Clinical Director of the British Columbia Cancer Agency Centre for Lymphoid Cancer,
“The longest survival for a patient such as Steve that I could find described anywhere in the medical literature was 26 years and that case was considered extremely unusual. Steve has beaten that record,” Dr. Connors wrote in an e-mail.
Kubby suffered a knee injury this January after a rough spill on the slopes, so he went to go see local chiropractor Dr. David Borges.
“It was amazing how bad his injury was and how well he healed,” said Dr. Borges. “He’s going to attribute that to his anti-inflammatory issues with his marijuana. I don’t have any evidence or research on that … but I can tell you what I witnessed, and as a witness, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that kind of healing in that age group.”
The Vertical Challenge
Kubby is not shy to talk about how marijuana alleviates his pain. He’s been a strong proponent in the legalization of Proposition 215 and has written books on the subject of medicinal marijuana.
However, he’s also discovered another form of personal therapy.
“Skiing allowed me to be outside and gave me the illusion of not being ill,” Kubby said. “If I could get up and get dressed, it was all downhill from there.”
This season, he’s chosen to attempt to ski a million vertical feet in order to celebrate 35 years of living with terminal cancer.
“I think a million vertical feet is pretty recognized in skiing as a rather monumental accomplishment,” Kubby said. “It’s only something that good skiers who are in good shape and (who) really focus on it for the whole season who can rack up a million vertical feet.”
He’s also making turns to raise awareness.
“At 35 years, I should be standing on rooftops yelling to people and telling them this plant saved my life it could save your life too,” he said. “It kept me from succumbing to terminal illness — I owe this plant.”
As of March 10, Kubby has skied about 654,619 feet. He invites the community to come participate with him at Heavenly Mountain Resort.
“If people want to join me for some runs as I pursue my one million vertical feet, they can usually find me in line at the GunBarrel Express, just before it opens in the morning,” he said.
By Abby Hoover