To call what the Hyde family has been through a "parent's worst nightmare" sounds like a horrible cliche. But, it's hard to imagine what else you could call it. Their two-year-old son Cash was diagnosed last year with a stage 4 brain tumor; he nearly died more times than they can count.
He was miserable from the chemotherapy coursing through his body until his dad made a controversial decision to give cannabis to his young son.
June 21, 2008 is a day Mike and Kalli Hyde will never forget. It was the day they brought their second son into the world. Mike describes the little boy they call Cashy as a healthy baby boy, born in Missoula. Never could they have imagined the journey little Cashy's life would take.
"He was just your average happy little kid," said Mike. "Then, he started to get to get sick." That was shortly before Cashy's second birthday.
"He started being very tired, sleeping a lot, cranky, he started throwing up," Mike explained. "We took him to the doctor and the doctor would tell us he had mono."
For six weeks, it was the same diagnosis over and over. But, Mike refused to accept what doctors were telling him. He knew, like any parent would, that something was terribly wrong.
"I was like, 'he's dying in my arms, we need to take him somewhere else'. So, we took him to the ER. That's when they did a CAT scan and found the 4.5 cm tumor on his brain."
Within hours of arriving at the ER, the Hydes were on their way to Salt Lake City. At Primary Children's Hospital, they got the devastating news: brain surgery revealed a PNET tumor, wrapped around Cashy's optic nerve.
"When we arrived in Salt Lake in May, Cashy was so sick, his eye was starting to get pushed out," Mike explained. "He was sleeping 16-18 hours a day, he was vomiting. He was pretty much as sick as you can get without being on your deathbed."
Doctors cut into Cashy's brain, but were only able to remove 10 percent of the tumor. The Hydes could only hope aggressive treatment could get the rest. Doctors recommended three rounds of chemotherapy followed by stem cell rescue, then three rounds of high-dose chemo after that. It's a difficult treatment plan for anyone; imagine what it did to a two-year-old kid.
"The first night of chemo, we did 10 hours worth of seizures down in the ICU," said Mike. "The doctors told us then, he could have brain damage from these seizures, we don't know where it's going to be in the morning."
Cashy survived that night, then spent his second birthday in a hospital bed, swollen and sick from the medication intended to save his life. Doctors were uncertain if he would make it to his third birthday.
"It's overwhelming, I guess, to say the least," Mike said. "We had a lot of scary things happen. In June, he got a blood infection, went into septic shock, went into the ICU, ended up coding and they had to resuscitate him. I was standing like two feet away, I had to watch the whole thing... "There were a lot of days we were told we weren't going to beat it, you're not going to take him home, he is going to die. Those are the days you have to really believe."
They believed and they prayed. High-dose chemo was killing Cashy's cancer, but it was making him sicker than ever. He was taking 120 milligrams a day of five different drugs to make him comfortable. That, Mike said, wasn't helping to ease Cashy's pain.
"By the end of September, he had gone 40 days without eating, he was vomiting 9-10 times a day, he couldn't lift his head off his pillow, he was laying their shivering," Mike remembered, saying he would have given anything to trade place with his son. "The doctors came in and I said, is there anything I can do for Cash?"
The doctors had no answers, so Mike found his own. It was relief for Cashy in the form of cannabis oil. It's illegal to possess without authorization from a medical professional. It's something doctors wouldn't even discuss. Mike got authorization to give Cashy the oil and, without telling them why, told the doctors to wean Cashy off the anti-nausea cocktail. Inserted through Cashy's feeding tube, a tiny amount of oil replaced all those drugs. The result, Mike said, was almost immediate.
"You're watching a kid who hasn't had the will to eat in 4 months, 5 months, actually take a bite of something," Mike remembered. "He hadn't eaten a thing in 40 days - and, it was really incredible to watch him take a bit of a piece of cheese. It shows that he wants to live."
Cashy did his last round of high-dose chemo with no anti-nausea drugs. Mike said the doctors were amazed; he never told them why.
"I wanted to tell them - hey, he's on cannabis oil - but I didn't want them to take it away from him."
KXLY4 wanted to know about side effects, about the dangers of giving kids as young as Cashy medical marijuana. But, despite the fact it's not illegal in Washington or in Cashy's home state of Montana, we couldn't get a single doctor to talk to us about it on camera. We finally ended up at a THC clinic in East Spokane. There, we met Shari Allen is a nurse practitioner from Oregon who comes to Spokane every few weeks to evaluate potential patients and sign off on medical marijuana permits.
"What I try to do here at this office is create an atmosphere that is truly medical. Because I do believe that cannabis is a medicine - and, we're trying to use it as a medicine."
As someone who's spent many years working with pain management, Allen believes in the power of this drug and its benefits for cancer patients. She signs off on up to 50 patients a day. But, she wouldn't say whether she's ever signed off on a patient as young as Cashy.
"It is not common - and, I'm not going to say whether I've authorized for a child."
That's a typical answer, as doctors are concerned about federal law and company policies. Mike Hyde, though, doesn't care about the controversy or the political battle over this drug. He cares that his son survived and is convinced not only did the cannabis help Cashy feel better, it prevented long-term damage to his organs. For Mike, the proof is in his vibrant two-year old boy.
"It's very controversial, it's very scary. But, there's nothing more scary than losing your child."