Although the majority of mainstream America may not recognize the name Mark Chavarria, there is a relatively good chance they have seen his Hollywood badassery in action at some point over the past 20 years. He is what the movie industry refers to as a stuntman—a nice title that directors use to describe the men and women they intend to set on fire and throw off tall buildings in order to create the illusion of characters being indestructible forces of nature.
To experienced fall guys like Chavarria, who has done work in hundreds of big budget films, including Inception and Iron Man, as well as popular television series like Sons of Anarchy, there are very few career struggles that can’t be offset with a little hard work, determination and the occasional crash mat. That is unless you happened to be faced with, quite possibly, the last stunt of your life—trying to survive cancer.
For years, Mark experienced health issues that should have been a red flag for him to see a physician. He felt overly tired in the evenings and even began noticing some blood in his stool, but he was convinced that being young and keeping up with a regular exercise regimen was enough to ensure that nothing was seriously wrong. It was not until one of his “stunt buddies,” who had been experiencing similar symptoms, was diagnosed with colon cancer that Mark and his wife, Alyssa, began to suspect trouble.
But siding with stubbornness, Mark simply chalked his fatigue and other symptoms up to poor eating habits. Instead of going to the doctor, he made some relatively simple changes to his diet. He stopped drinking coffee, he laid off the red meat and even started eating bran cereal in the mornings. That ought to do it, he thought. “Ok, I’m cool. I don’t have cancer.”
It was not until his wife, who knew something was wrong, threatened him with divorce that he finally began taking the situation with his health more seriously. He saw his family doctor in September 2013, which led to a colonoscopy procedure in October. Unfortunately, the results of the test confirmed the couple’s biggest fear: Mark was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer.
“That was the start of it all,” Chavarria said. “Literally, when I woke up from the procedure, my wife was in there crying. She’s like, 'you’ve got cancer,' and I was like 'no, I don’t.'"
Mark’s denial over the severity of the situation continued while in the hospital, eventually coming to recognize the horrible reality.
“I will beat this," he told his wife. “You watch me.”
The tumors that had taken over Mark’s body were enormous, he explained, consuming nearly 70 percent of his colon, as well as infiltrating his liver. The situation was dire.
Almost instinctively, Mark went into survival mode. He began consulting with several doctors, all of whom offered a number of different opinions on his best chances for beating the beast known as cancer.
One doctor told him the only solution was to surgically reroute his plumbing, which involved removing a portion of his colon and then fitting him for a colostomy bag that he would have to wear for the rest of his life. Mark was mortified by the thought of such a drastic way out, especially since this doctor’s professional opinion was going to make it impossible for him to continue a career as a stuntman.
So, he got a second opinion.
The next doctor suggested that while it might be possible for him to skip the colon-clipping surgery—at least for the time being—it was necessary to begin chemotherapy and radiation as soon as possible.
“I asked those guys if there was anyway I could avoid surgery, and [if] the chemo and radiation would get rid of the tumors 100 percent,” Chavarria explained. “They said, 'nope, won’t happen.'"
Without understanding what to really expect from this traditional cancer treatment, Mark launched full throttle into chemotherapy and radiation—an extremely painful course of action, as he would soon learn.
The side effects were brutal, he explained. Going to the bathroom became a dreaded event because the radiation burned when he urinated, and, well, the other was even worse.
“I was in so much pain,” he said. “I literally had to take Oxycontin and Hydrocodine just to go to the restroom. The chemo and radiation was so intense.
“I’ve been doing stunts for over 20 years, so I know what pain is,” he continued. “I’ve been lit on fire, I’ve flipped cars, I’ve gone out windows, I’ve fought a lot of people, but this was the extreme of extreme pain.”
Meanwhile, an old friend from high school suggested to Alyssa that Mark try medical marijuana. Although she was eager to give it a whirl, Mark—who claimed he had only smoked weed a couple of times in his life—said he was apprehensive because he believed that the concept of medical marijuana was just an excuse for stoners to get high.
“I was raised that way,” he said. “Drugs are bad.”
So, Alyssa took it upon herself to begin researching the possibilities of medical marijuana, and by December, the couple had connected with a caregiver in Colorado, who put Mark on a high-THC strain of cannabis oil, as well as provided him some raw herb to smoke.
“Once I got on this oil, I was able to get rid of everything,” Mark explained, “all the Hydrocodine, the Oxycontin, everything.”
Although the changes to his condition were almost instantaneous, there was an interesting learning curve before he was able to properly manage the dosage of his cannabis oil.
The first night, Marks said the oil took him on a full-blown trip into an unfamiliar dimension, and he panicked.
“I took too much,” he said. “I had a really bad, adverse reaction to it. I thought I was sinking in the bed, the TV was moving back and forth like a cartoon. I saw god, I saw the devil, I saw the white light. I thought I was dying.”
Frightened, Mark begged Alyssa to call 911, but she had some experience with being high and knew he wasn’t in any danger. Furthermore, she was concerned that calling in the cavalry might not be the smartest move—especially since the medical marijuana the couple had in their possession was, and still is, considered illegal in their state of Texas. Nevertheless, Mark eventually reached a point of "Fear and Loathing" that could not be talked down off the ledge, and paramedics were called out to make a rescue.
When EMT’s arrived, they determined that Mark was just really stoned, and in no way at risk of anything quite as serious as death. However, Mark was still convinced the Grim Reaper was waiting outside, so he continued to beg them to cart him off to the emergency room.
“I had never smoked before,” he said, “a handful of times, and I had never done anything that heavy. I freaked out. They gave me a downer at the hospital and calmed me down. I was better.”
The incident, while humorous, frightened Alyssa, who was worried the trip would deter Mark from using cannabis oil ever again. So, in hopes of avoiding another episode, she contacted the caregiver, who encouraged them to downgrade Mark’s dosage until they were able to establish an effective amount without blowing his mind.
“I started to get my dosage down to where I would sleep like a baby,” he said. “It was so great because that’s what I needed. I couldn’t sleep at night. I’d wake up in so much pain. The [pharmaceutical] drugs made me a real angry, mean person, and my wife didn’t like it. But once I got on the oil, I was so calm, cool, collected. I was able to give up all the meds.”
When Mark informed his doctors of his medical marijuana use, he said they weren’t for it… But they weren’t against it either. They still pushed the prescriptions for both the Oxycontin and the Hydrocodine. But this, Mark later learned, was because his primary oncologist owned the pharmacy.
Nothing, however, worked to relieve the pain associated with his cancer treatment like the medical marijuana. Mark explained that he would come home after chemotherapy, hardly able to walk or talk. Within five minutes after smoking a joint, he'd be ready to go out to dinner with his wife.
“It was just that much of a difference,’ he said. “It was insane.”
The chemo and radiation caused Mark to lose a significant amount of weight—around 40 pounds within less than a year—so getting the munchies was a welcomed side effect, which allowed him to maintain a healthy appetite and keep a decent weight.
Then something strange happened. In June of 2014, Mark woke up feeling as though the cancer was gone.
“I just woke up and felt the cancer was gone from my body,” he said.
Amazingly, at his next checkup, which included another colonoscopy and a CAT scan, the doctor did not see any presence of tumors, only scar tissue from the radiation.
Mark, who was about to learn he was cancer-free, screamed at the doctor, “Is it gone? Is it gone?”
Indeed, it was.
Throughout his battle with the deadly disease, Mark claimed he could tell the cannabis oil was attacking the cancer.
“It’s kind of gross, but I literally felt like I was pooping the thing out every time I went to the restroom,” he explained. “What I believe happens with the oil is it makes like a shellac on the tumors, and it doesn’t let it grow; doesn’t let it breathe; doesn’t let it eat… nothing. I think it was slowly, but surely, peeling away at the tumors like an onion."
Even when it came time to have a large portion of his liver removed, the doctors found that 95 percent of the cancer was dead.
All of the physicians chalked his recovery up to chemo and radiation, but Mark claims he has several very personal reasons why he isn’t buying into their bullshit.
Three of his friends, all roughly the same age, were diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer around the same time. No matter how much Mark and Alyssa pleaded with them to give cannabis oil a try, they opted to listen to the doctors, who were always eager to experiment with the latest chemo and pharmaceutical drug. Sadly, all three perished under the advice and care of the American healthcare system.
Mark, who is now living cancer-free and is back to work doing what he loves, believes that cannabis oil could have undoubtedly saved the lives of his friends. He urges anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, even those living in states where marijuana is not legal, to find a way to get their hands on medical marijuana.
“People wait too late,” he said. “As soon as we found out that I had cancer, we were on the oil within a month. We jumped on it right way, and I think that is key, and that is what a lot of people don’t get.”
In an effort to prevent a cancer comeback, Mark now takes weekly “maintenance” oil. He said he’s had two checkups since being given a clean bill of health, and there is no sign of the cancer making a return.
“I feel good,” he said. “I’m always nervous, always scared it will come back. But it’s gone. If it does come back, I know it won’t be as aggressive as last time because we’ll catch it early,” he added.
Nearly dying from cancer and then completely turning it around through the use of cannabis oil has really changed Mark’s perspective on medical marijuana and the healthcare industry. He said he was one of the fortunate ones who had the emotional and financial support of movie producers, filmmakers, actors and even other stuntmen, who worked together to ensure he and his wife didn’t end up homeless.
It is for this reason that he is raising money to produce a documentary entitled "Way to Go FECO," which will focus on the healing powers of cannabis oil, while exposing the healthcare industry for practices that are allowing millions of people to die from this deadly disease every year.
“I’m going up against Big Pharma,” he said. “I’m going to name names.”
His goal is to use his film to break the stigma associated with medical marijuana and show the world that cannabis is not evil. He also wants to raise money for other cancer sufferers, who are not fortunate enough to have insurance, and give back in the same way the Hollywood film community did for him.
Find Mark Chavarria on Facebook to learn more about his story and his mission.