by Cassidy Reese
Note: Our “Kratom Stories” series is usually presented in interview format. Cassidy sent us this detailed, fully formed story in response to my initial questions, so I decided to post it as-is with very little editing -Brian
My name is Cassidy Reese and I currently live in Lake Charles, La. I have two siblings: an older sister and a younger brother. I was born in Texas but was raised in South Florida with my brother from a young age. We have both been athletes since we were old enough to run and kick a soccer ball. Both of my parents are athletes that spent my youth training for and running Marathons. My dad went to college on a track scholarship and then became a teacher, coach and school administrator. My dad coached me in everything from soccer to softball. My high school team won the Florida State championship for our division my sophomore year in high school. My brother went on to play college football. Throughout my college days and my adulthood I continued to play intramural and adult league sports
Since beginning my chronic pain journey I have tried my hardest to stay physically fit the best that I can and find new ways to challenge myself physically and emotionally. I have completed 8 Tough Mudder races with my boyfriend of 9 years and our amazing team of people who all met online. Tough Mudders are half marathon mud obstacle courses. A few months after having surgery on my spine, my coworkers and I all shaved our heads to raise money for St. Baldrick’s, which funds children’s cancer research.
“Women’s Pain and Suffering Isn’t Respected”
My medical odyssey began when I was in college (2001ish). I was diagnosed with ovarian cysts (between golf ball and baseball sized) and hormone-related migraines. I have battled with severe menstrual related pain issues since this time. At one point when I went to the campus doctor bent over in so much pain that I was in tears. He told me to take Advil and suck it up. This was my first experience with how women’s pain and suffering isn’t treated or respected the same as men’s pain.
After years of highly irregular and heavy cycles that could happen as often as every 2 weeks, in late 2008 I finally found a doctor that was willing to do the hard work to find the cause and help me in any way that he could. After loads of blood work and imaging, I was diagnosed with endometriosis and had laparoscopic surgery (October 2008) to help remove as much of the endometriosis and scar tissue as possible to help lessen my pain. After discussing all of the post surgical drug treatments on the market my doctor and I agreed to begin Lupron injections to eliminate any existing endometriosis.
Lupron is a drug that causes your body to go into chemically induced menopause. I was 24 at the time. The side effects of this drug are similar to the things that happen to women who naturally go through menopause, hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, loss of bone density, etc. I was on this drug for 3 months and my body was never the same afterwards.
The symptoms of my endometriosis returned full force as soon as I was off the drugs. My doctor worked really hard to help me. But he was also very honest, that if I was ever going to have kids through traditional means I needed to do it as soon as possible after stopping the Lupron to give myself the best chance of getting pregnant. He also stated that for some women, being pregnant and having child had a major impact on their endometriosis and for some women it totally eliminated it because of the changes in their body chemistry/hormones and the fact their body spent 9 months without a cycle.
I was in my early 20’s at the time and definitely not ready to begin that journey. It was hard at first for me to grasp the idea that I had to make decisions about starting a family as a part of my medical journey instead of as part of my personal relationship with the man I love. In the months after stopping Lupron, I continued to have issues with my cycle and began to develop deep unending pain in my muscles, joints, and bones. My doctor began prescribing me pain medication and referring me to other specialists to try and find the cause.
“The blunt suggestion that I just have some of the major organs that make me a woman removed simply because I wasn’t going to use them to carry a child was devastating to my mental health for a while.”
In 2009, I was referred to a fertility specialist to see if he could help resolve some of the recurring issues with my cycle. When he couldn’t fix me with antibiotics, he recommended that I have a full hysterectomy because my follicle counts were to low for me to ever be able to get pregnant and this would “immediately fix all my problems”. This was another experience in my journey where I once again realized how old-school doctors viewed women’s bodies and pain as less critical than men’s bodies and pain. The blunt suggestion that I just have some of the major organs that make me a woman removed simply because I wasn’t going to use them to carry a child was devastating to my mental health for a while.
Thankfully, my mom was a non-practicing MD working in the areas of medical trials, drug development, and medical analysis, and knew that there were more progressive doctors out there. She called a good friend at the Cleveland Clinic in Florida and got me in to see the “alternatives to Hysterectomy” OBGYN specialist they had on staff. She confirmed that I would have a very low probability of ever getting pregnant but that there was absolutely no reason for me to have a hysterectomy and that it definitely wouldn’t fix my wider array of developing issues and could actually cause more problems because I would then need synthetic hormones for the rest of my life. When she heard the wide array of symptoms I had, including all of my pain issues, she was the first doctor to suggest that what I was describing sounded like Fibromyalgia. She suggested I see the rheumatologist at the Cleveland Clinic. He refused to see me because he didn’t believe Fibromyalgia was a real disease. (the Cleveland Clinic is supposedly now at the forefront of fibromyalgia treatment. What a change a decade can make) The juxtaposition between the treatment I received from these two doctors just further imprinted upon me how different male and female doctors saw and sympathized with female patients pain.
“Full-Time Pain Management”
In April of 2009, I began full-time pain management for my worsening collection of pain symptoms. Over the next year she and I tried pretty much every kind of low level opioid, NSAID, steroid, muscle relaxer, SSRI, SNRI, sleep medication, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and mindfulness training she had in her arsenal without much change in pain level, or intensity. She also ran a continual battery of tests to try and find the source of my pain and to confirm/rule out the possibility of it being caused by rheumatic diseases such as Lupus (lab results negative). My inflammatory markers were usually all over the place. So, in June 2010, she referred me to a rheumatologist for further diagnosis.
The rheumatologist began by ordering yet more blood tests to rule out simple explanations including RA, Hepatitis B&C, heavy metal tests, vitamin D and calcium panels, Comprehensive metabolic panel, thyroid, Creatine phosphokinase test, and plasma porphyrins. After a month of trying new SNRI’s without much success he actually suggested that I transition off of Vicodin and onto a Fentanyl patch because Vicodin may be causing secondary pain and Fentanyl was “safer”. He then told me I was lucky he could even write the prescription because he had let his drug license lapse and had only gotten it renewed that day. He then wrote the prescription wrong 3 times and by the time I got a prescription the pharmacy would fill he had doubled the dose on the patch. I came very close to overdosing but thankfully I realized what was happening before I was too incoherent to remove the patch. Needless to say I never returned to that rheumatologist and told my pain management doctor about what happened and to never refer patients to him again.
When I told my mom about his assertion that fentanyl was safer, she almost lost her mind. I have been adamantly opposed to recommendations by other doctors to take higher doses of more intense opioid pain medications since this time and have worked to find alternative ways to help ease my pain in conjunction with my moderate doses of pain medications.
“He refused to see me because he didn’t believe Fibromyalgia was a real disease.”
In the summer of 2013 I ruptured my spinal disc at L5S1. I went to see my current pain management doctor because I could barely walk or stand up straight. I was in so much pain I was in tears. She stated that my only problem was that I was overweight (weight gain caused by drugs she prescribed) and that I needed to go swimming and lose weight and I would be fine. This was yet another example of a doctor not taking women’s pain seriously but it was all the more shocking because she was a female doctor that specialized in treating chronic pain. I knew my body and knew something more was wrong so I immediately called another specialist for a second opinion and received the correct diagnosis. After trying more conservative treatments to help alleviate the pain caused by my ruptured disc, I had a microdiscectomy in December 2013. I was able to stand up straight and walk normal almost immediately.
I spent the next couple of years in the care of the team that repaired my spine. They worked to manage my pain and diagnose all of the issues contributing to my pain. Along with my ruptured disc it was found that I had compressed or bulging discs in most areas of my spine and that I also had severe degenerative spinal stenosis, Fibromyalgia, sciatica, Allodynia and a generalized neuromuscular pain disorder that all contributed to my constant pain and muscle spasms. We tried all kinds of combinations of drugs, injections, and procedures to try and minimize my pain but nothing seemed to have lasting effects. My doctor and her team continued to work diligently to manage my pain symptoms so that I could continue to work and maintain a semblance of a normal life.
“My Kratom Journey”
In August of 2016, I left my job as a Financial Planning Specialist in New Orleans, and my boyfriend and I move to small town S.E. Oklahoma where he was starting a new position in the casino industry. When we arrived, I decided to focus the energy I had on the things I was most passionate about and became a full time artist and animal rescuer. This is where my Kratom journey really began.
I had previously seen conversations about Kratom on some of the pain forums that I belong to but had never done much research into it because I was always in pain management. I actually became more interested in Kratom and how it’s used because my best friend also suffers from debilitating pain, but was struggling to find doctors who would help him in any significant way because he is on Medicaid. I wanted to find a way to help him manage his pain to some degree in a safe and reliable way, so I began doing more research on Kratom. I found a local retailer who carried multiple brands of strains in capsules, including several sold in small quantities for low cost, so that customers could try different strains to find what worked for them, or have multiple strains on hand for different needs as they arise. As I began talking to the employees and they explained the different strains and which ones tended to be better for different issues. I realized that these strains may not only be useful for my friend but that I could also gain a lot of benefit from them. My first purchase was of several of these smaller packages of capsules for both myself and my best friend.
For ease of use and dosing I have continued to take capsules as my preferred method of ingestion. My pain level can be intense in the morning and my whole body hurts. Having capsules sitting on my night stand means I don’t have to get out of bed to find a cup, spoon, scale and water in order to take it. Taking Kratom in capsule form allows me to take it quickly and easily with my other medications. I ran out of capsules one day when I was out of town, the only place I could find that sold it only had it in powdered form. Because of the unsteady hands, I ended up with powder all over the counter and floor before it ever made it into the cup. Needless to say I went right back to capsules when I got home.
With the addition of Kratom to my arsenal I was able to more easily take control of my pain level and lessen the severity of my extreme pain flare days.
I want to note that while taking Kratom I was still taking my oral pain medication and wearing a 7 day Butrans patch. The first night I took Kratom, I found that the strain I took actually helped me immensely in my fight with pain related insomnia. I was able to fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. As I continued to take Kratom, I noticed a marked improvement in my pain levels and that I was able to cut down on my number of times per day that I needed to take oral pain meds from 3 times a day to twice a day (right when I woke up and before bed). I also noticed that during the long stretch in the middle of the day, when I would normally need a dose pain meds, that I wasn’t experiencing the “normal” peaks and valleys that come with oral pain meds because the Kratom was longer acting and stayed in my system longer than traditional pain meds.
During the beginning of my Kratom journey, another of the major benefits I discovered happened when I had my first really bad pain flare day. Normally these pain flares would put me completely out of commission and I would be forced to stay in bed because it would hurt to much to even stand up or walk. Honestly it would even hurt to breathe and I would spend my day curled up in the fetal position trying every method I have learned over the years from physical therapy, occupational therapy, yoga instructors, chiropractors etc to help find even a drop of relief. These bad days had become frequent and they were at their worst in the morning. My oral pain meds would bring down my pain level a little but because of the acetaminophen in the medication and my pain contract with my doctor I could not take any additional medication beyond the prescribed dose so I would just have to suffer and ride it out. With the addition of Kratom to my arsenal I was able to more easily take control of my pain level and lessen the severity of my extreme pain flare days.
Because Kratom is the all natural, pure plant leaves without any additives, I did not have the worry of adding more acetaminophen, other NSAIDs, or any other OTC pharmaceutical into my body. This meant I could increase my dose or take it more frequently during a pain flare. This was a game changer for me. I’ve been able to lessen the severity of my bad pain days and give myself a much better quality of life and allow me to once again spend significant time working in my art studio and working outdoors with my rescue animals and chicken flock.
Currently I am taking red vein Bali but I have used several different strains in the past and have had great results with all of them. My current dosing is 4-6 capsules 2 or 3 times a day depending on my pain level. At this time, I have never experienced any side effects or issues with taking Kratom, but I definitely recommend that new users start with a small dose and work their way up to find a dose that works best for them. I highly discourage new users from immediately starting at a higher dose because you have no idea how your body will react or what potential side effects you may experience.
I belong to several online groups. One is a group for those of us interested in politics and activism. Interestingly the group is filled with a large number of people suffering with all manner of chronic illnesses many of which cause these people a great deal of pain. I regularly recommend to fellow members, especially those having to use significant pain management drugs and those having a hard time finding doctors to help them manage their illness or pain, that they should try Kratom and see if it could help them reduce their pain and pain anxiety and increase their mood.
I believe that the more people we expose to the good that Kratom can do for them or their loved ones, the higher chance we have of thwarting politicians and government agencies that want to make Kratom a scheduled drug or ban its import and sale. I believe many politicians don’t truly understand Kratom, what it’s used for, or the good it can do. All they see is another herb being sold in smoke and vape shops and assume it’s just a new version of spice. This is what happened in Louisiana this year before I moved back to Louisiana from Oklahoma.. Our state politicians passed a pointless law that would ban the sale of Kratom if the DEA makes Kratom a Schedule 1 drug. The law is a moot point because if it is classified as a Schedule 1 drug it would be illegal in all states. These politicians just want to look like they are doing something about the drug epidemic without actually going after the pharmaceutical companies (that bribe them with election campaign funds) that are the root cause of the problem.
I am going to continue to be a positive voice for Kratom in our state and share with others all the good that Kratom has done for so many people. Even on my worst pain days, I can still be advocating on social media for de-stigmatizing of pain patients and the continued legalization of Kratom.
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