Shellee Renee was one of the original, world-famous “Crazy Girls” who performed nightly to adoring audiences at the recently shuttered Riviera Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
“Back then I did a lot. I would be a spokes-model at conventions from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. then go to the showroom, take a little nap and then do three shows. I always did extra stuff — acting, modeling, commercials, and movies.”
After showcasing her more statuesque assets from 1990 to 1996, Renee decided it was time to plan for a future without the “Crazy Girls” and earned a degree in Communication at the UNLV graduating in 2005.
“I was asked, ‘What would you do if you weren’t in the show?’ I would go to college and get a degree in public relations. I earned my B.A. of Communication. It’s one of the best things I’ve done with my life. I have no regrets about anything, but the degree has served me very well. It’s one of the things that I’m very proud of. I’m the first one of my family to graduate college.”
Putting her degree to use, for the next seven years Renee concentrated on a career in public relations working for some of the city’s biggest communications companies including R&R Partners, MGM Resorts International and Charlie Palmer Group.
Then life threw a curveball as it often does. A family illness caused her to rethink the trajectory of her life in Las Vegas.
Her mother was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2008 and took two rounds of chemotherapy treatment, only to die of brain cancer in 2010. Renee went back home to the Pacific Northwest to be closer to her father and sister.
“I was devastated by my mother’s passing from brain cancer so I moved from Las Vegas to Portland to reconnect with my remaining family in June of 2012,” Renee explains of re-shifting her priorities and ensuing decision to move back home.
In a strange twist, right before she relocated her life to Portland, Renee discovered she, too, had cancer – for the second time.
“I had everything packed up to move to Portland and I got the news two days before the move,” recalls Renee of her 2012 diagnosis. She had a lumpectomy in the same spot in 2009 but opted not to do any radiation or follow-up.
“I was really in work mode,” she says of her first bout with breast cancer. “I had the lumpectomy and didn’t think it was necessary to devote the time to daily radiation treatments.”
When her breast cancer came back in 2012 it was much larger. “It was two centimeters originally (2009) and when it came back a second time, it was about six centimeters. My reaction when I found out was: ‘what have I done?’ because I should have had the radiation the first time.”
Renee continued to Portland and spent another month finding a doctor to perform the surgery. The cancer grew to ten centimeters and spread into her lymph nodes requiring a mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy, followed by six weeks of radiation.
In September 2012 when Renee began chemotherapy she also began taking a regimen of pain and anti-nausea pills. The pills, however, did not work. To combat the joint pain and nausea she felt on a regular basis resulting from the chemotherapy treatments, she turned to medicinal cannabis for relief.
“Although I’ve never been a fan of smoking, I had heard that marijuana helps with nausea. With the first inhale, I immediately felt my nausea dissipating,” she explains of her decision to ease the side effects of chemotherapy with cannabis.
“[The doctor] had given me anti-nausea medication and it wasn’t working. I was so nauseous that one of my neighbors said, ‘try smoking this – it will make you feel better.’ I noticed then that I went from feeling really sick to feeling really great. It surprised me, too, because I had smoked it recreationally in my teen years but I had no idea how effective it was for pain and nausea.”
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest she was raised to lean more towards natural remedies for ailments and not immediately turn to prescriptions and over-the-counter medications so using medicinal cannabis was not that much of a stretch for Renee.
“My grandparents raised all of our chickens and cows. We had a garden; we just did everything naturally. We went to the co-op and my family was into organic, basically homegrown everything — I mean, I’ve plucked chickens.”
Renee made a point to be up front with her doctors about the fact that she was using marijuana to help with her pain and nausea. While medical marijuana was legal in Portland, they warned her against smoking of any kind because it would inhibit her healing.
She then turned to cannabutter (cannabis-infused butter) to alleviate her suffering. She would spread cannabutter on her toast every morning to help lessen her nausea and discomfort.
“When I was in Portland and since I didn’t really like to smoke, the medical cannabis grower gave me cannabutter to try. I would just get up in the morning put a little butter on my toast and it would be not so much like a high but your body would just feel good. I would walk around work for eight hours and be fine.”
At the end of her radiation treatments Renee used cannabis as well because, “the radiation burns became more painful with each treatment.”
Although Renee finished her cancer treatment in April 2013, she is in the process of breast reconstruction and so is, again, using cannabutter as well as drops to help with the pain.
“Drops I discovered when my mom was suffering with cancer, she had already gone through surgery and a full round of chemo, but the cancer came back, and she had to take another six-week treatment. I talked to a friend about my mother, telling them that she would not smoke anything. They said they could get drops from the dispensary. You just put 10-12 drops under your tongue, you don’t have to eat or smoke and it makes you feel better. It’s kind of the same thing as the butter; it doesn’t get you high, it just makes the body feel good. The drops have kind of an alcohol taste.”
Renee is passionate about recommending medicinal cannabis to others. “The side effects of chemo are absolute nausea where you feel like you could throw up at any minute. To be able to quell that in two puffs or two drops or with a pat of butter is amazing. It helps you mentally, with the anxiety that accompanies illness, as well. I do recommend it to people. Most definitely, I recommend it all the time.”
However, not everyone is open-minded to the benefits of medicinal cannabis. Throughout her treatments Renee encountered a lot of naysayers. So many so that she is “fed up with the ‘stoner’ mentality” and the stereotype that accompanies marijuana users.
“I believed that stereotype too, then I found from personal experience that cannabis has amazing medicinal properties that really help alleviate suffering.”