Michelle Elyse McCutchan Kendall – The Santa Barbara Independent
Michelle Elyse McCutchan Kendall died at her home in Santa Barbara, surrounded by family and friends, on September 26, 2021. She was 48.
Michelle was born in Santa Barbara and has resided there for much of her life. She lived large, bringing enthusiasm and intention, compassion and generosity, to everything she did. Happiest outdoors, whether under the waves or on top of a mountain, she had an irrepressible spirit of adventure. Michelle studied biology and geography and brought an evidence-based scientiﬁc perspective to bear on all aspects of her life, from building environmental sustainability, to pursuing happiness, to battling cancer. the ovary – the disease that finally defeated her. Yet at the same time she was warm, funny, gracious and loving, and cultivated a wide network of friendships as diligently as she cultivated the salvias and tomatoes in her garden. Wherever she went, Michelle touched people, often more deeply than she thought—- she was stunned by the heartfelt stories of appreciation that came in her final days; many of her friends said she inspired them to live up to their hopes and aspirations.
Michelle’s love for adventure, the ocean and the outdoors began at a young age. At four years old, she sailed with her parents from Santa Barbara to Tahiti on a 44′ sailboat. She backpacked and hiked through the high country of the western United States during her teenage years, and the travel bug persisted throughout her life. She and her husband of 13 years, Bruce, have taken on a wide variety of adventures; they particularly appreciated the immersive experiences in remote destinations. Michelle’s favorite trips included traveling through the Okavango Delta by canoe, trekking through Australia’s Simpson Desert on camels, and walking the Shikoku Buddhist pilgrimage route in rural Japan.
Awarded a “certificate of unsinkability” by her high school at age 12 and crowned “most likely to drown for a Greenpeace cause” by her AP English teacher, Michelle’s passionate commitment to the environment started early. In her senior year, she brought, for the first time, an Earth Day celebration to Santa Barbara High School. “Everything we do, everything we throw away, dramatically affects our planet,” she said at the time. “Eventually, we will come to understand that recycling is not just a hippie affair” (Santa Barbara Independent, April 19, 1990). Her first job was at the Santa Barbara Sea Center, where she taught visitors about the wonders of the marine world and dived under the pier to collect live animals for the touch tank. She continued to work for the environment at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and The Nature Conservancy.
Michelle’s latest passion was to raise awareness of the benefits of cannabis to aid in the treatment of certain cancers. Michelle was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian cancer in 2016, at the age of 43. She loved life and fought to keep it. She continued to travel between treatments, crossing places off her to-do list, carrying a flag that read “Cancer Warrior.” But her cancer journey was also painful and difficult, as it is for most people who struggle with this disease. A friend encouraged her to try cannabis to help her sleep. She was undergoing frequent medical tests at the time and was surprised to find that certain strains of cannabis slowed the increase, or even lowered, her blood marker for cancer. Excited, she dove into both peer-reviewed literature and online testimonials from patients who claimed cannabis slowed or cured their cancer. It was complicated: while there were fantastic success stories, some patients were not cured, or saw their beneﬁts come to an abrupt end; and recent scientific research showed enormous variability in the results.
It turns out that “cancer” encompasses a wide range of biochemical pathologies and that cannabis contains hundreds of bioactive compounds, with different concentrations depending on strains, cultivation techniques and treatment approaches. Therefore, real progress in the treatment of this disease requires sustained research efforts.
The first scientific study showing that cannabis could shrink cancerous tumors was published in 1975. But this discovery contradicts the highly politicized decision, five years earlier, to list marijuana in schedule 1 (“no medical use accepted”) of the Controlled Substances Act. Rather than allow science to potentially overrule this designation, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency has severely restricted cannabis research; even today, American scientists who wish to study cannabis without hemp must go through a years-long licensing process. Frustrated by 50 years of federal inaction (which limits research even in states that have legalized cannabis), Michelle has teamed up with a local filmmaker to tell her story, attempting to change the national cannabis conversation. Her short, Schedule 1: Unlocking the Anti-Tumor Properties of Cannabis, came out just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit California, so it didn’t get the public exposure she was hoping for. But through the film, she connected with scientists, clinicians and journalists, putting a human face on a largely ignored facet of US drug policy. In 2019, Michelle wrote, “If I die of this disease don’t say I died of cancer. I died from the suppression of science.
In 2020, Michelle partnered with a cannabis scientist in Israel (where medical cannabis research is encouraged); With funding and inspiration from Michelle, the scientist and her team set out to identify cannabinoid compounds that could kill ovarian cancer cells. The results of the first set of experiments, which will be published later in 2022, are very promising, and before her death, Michelle and her husband Bruce pledged to continue funding this research, with the aim of identifying new classes of life-saving drugs. Unfortunately, these results came too late to save Michelle, but she hoped her work would create a lasting legacy of lifesaving treatments for other women with this terrible disease.
Once it became clear that the cancer’s eventual recurrence could not be controlled and that her body was rapidly declining, Michelle opted to use California’s end-of-life option, which allows terminally ill patients end their suffering under medical supervision, at a time of their choosing. Michelle passed away when she had lived the best times of her life: intentionally, on the outside, and embedded in a web of love and community that she had fostered. She threw a farewell party, gathering dozens of close friends and family members in her garden. Just like at a funeral or wake, we shared joyful memories and described how she touched our lives – but we have to tell Michelle all of that! At the end, Michelle gave a brief speech, including an exhortation to continue the work of standardizing and developing cannabis medicine; her last words called on all of us to “come together and gather around her”. And then she slipped away peacefully, holding her husband’s hand and bathed in an ocean of love. Everyone who attended was transformed by the experience and will carry Michelle in their hearts forever.
Michelle is survived by her husband, Bruce Kendall; his mother and stepfather, Evelyn and Jim Cavins; his brother, JJ Cavins; and an extensive network of friends and fellow advocates.
A celebration of Michelle’s life will be planned for the spring or early summer of 2022, Covid permitting. Michelle has asked you to honor her legacy by fighting to normalize cannabis medicine, whether that’s advocating for an end to restrictions on cannabis research in the United States or supporting ongoing research into cannabis as a treatment. ovarian cancers and other cancers. Visit schedule1movie.com and CannaOncResearch.com for more information.