The Andrew Lopez Story


By Michael Kinney

By all accounts, Andrew Lopez seems to be living the ideal life. The retired Army Staff Sgt., who spent 22 years in the military, is married with five kids and three grandchildren.

Almost nothing brings a smile to his face more than when talking about his family, except maybe his passion for lowrider cars. Especially the 1963 Impala that he has been working on for the past few years.
However, it took Lopez years of pain before he could get to the point where he could appreciate what he has. From the murder of his younger brother to having a fellow soldier die in his hands, the 47-year-old Los Angeles native has been to hell and back.

Lopez credits the discovery of medical cannabis for him being able to make his way out of the dark path he was on and into the light.

“I have been happy. Wonderful. I consider life lovely now,” said Lopez, who lives in Lawton. “I owe everything to Mr. Green. This is a miracle drug. Without, I don’t think I would be here to tell you the truth.”

Many of the issues Lopez has had to overcome began back in 2004 during his first tour of duty in Iraq. While on patrol was hit downrange with an IED (Improvised explosive device).
“It basically hurt my entire right side,” Lopez said. “I got severe nerve damage on the right side of my body. But it also messed up my back.”

Lopez was medevaced out of Iraq and taken to Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany where he underwent surgery. According to Lopez, after just three months of physical therapy and recovery, the Army sent him back to Iraq.

“I was hurt, but regardless of my injuries they still felt that I was fit to go back downrange with my back and neck injury. I was doing the same mission,” Lopez said. “I was still busted up. I wasn’t ready to go back and do much. But in the Army, they really don’t care. It’s to get the mission done first, then we’ll worry about you.”

Despite how his body felt, Lopez was sent back to Iraq to complete the final six months of his 18 month tour.

For the next few years, Lopez said he kept complaining to his superiors and doctors about his constant back pains. Their solution was to give him more pain pills and muscle relaxers.

“That was my life,” Lopez said. Pain pills and muscle relaxers and physical therapy. It was horrible because it messed my body up so much. I felt like I was always bloated. It was messing with my digestive system.”
According to Lopez, the only remedy the doctors had for him was to lower his dosages. But the pain and physical ailments continued.

In 2010 one of Lopez’s physical therapists was looking at his X-ray and noticed a mass that didn’t look right. She told him he might want to get it checked out and suggested that he might have a tumor. This was the first time anyone had mentioned it to him.

“She said this has been here for a while,” Lopez said. “She was looking at my X-rays back from 2008. I was happy that she actually spotted it. Because how many of my doctors in the military have seen this and haven’t said anything and just let it go by? All these years I keep thinking they could have found it so long ago. When you are in the military, you really can’t do anything. You can’t do anything because you are their property. That’s what gets me so mad.”

Lopez went and had an MRI done. When the test was completed, Lopez’s doctor had one question for him.

“He asked ‘how are you walking,” Lopez said. “I said excuse me. I walked in here with my cane. The doctor said no, ‘how are you walking? There is a tumor blocking all your nerves to your lower extremities. You shouldn’t be able to walk.”

Lopez said they scheduled him for an operation the very next week. But that week turned into years due to a difference of opinions between several physicians.
According to Lopez, the cancer specialist said he thought it was just a fatty mass and wanted to just keep an eye on it.

The cancer center in Lawton suggested radiation as a treatment. However, the doctors at the cancer center in Oklahoma City told them not to do radiation because it’s too dangerous and too close to his nerves.

“There was too much running through my head,” Lopez said. “I got doctors from over there, over there, these guys, those guys. I’m like you guys are killing me. What do I do?”

Lopez did his research and decided against the radiation treatment. He felt compelled to follow the advice of his primary cancer doctor who said it was just a fatty mass and just wanted to keep an eye on it.

However, in 2016, the mass had gotten so huge it was blocking his nerves. So, a decision was made to have surgery and remove it.

“They didn’t know it was cancerous until it got too big,” Lopez said. “All they could do was scrape out the tumor. It was too late to cut it out. From them scraping it out, they damaged even more of my nerves. I couldn’t feel my legs when I woke up. I was just devastated. I thought I was paralyzed.”
Even though the cancer had been removed, that didn’t mean an end to the medication Lopez was on. He had to continue taking a variety of different pills such as Oxycodone and OxyContin.
“It was enough to knock out a horse and they wanted me to take it every four hours,” Lopez said. “You basically could call me a zombie. I couldn’t live like that.”

In January of 2021, Lopez was at his breaking point. The years of constant pain and the medication had pushed the veteran to the brink until he did the unthinkable.

“It just got too much for me. I was just (at home) laying in bed and I couldn’t do nothing,” Lopez said. “The pain got too much for me. It got way too much for me. I ended up trying to kill myself. I said I’m done with this.”

Lopez didn’t go into detail on exactly how he tried to take his life, but he didn’t succeed and ended up being sent to a hospital in Texas, which he said made him even worse.

Lopez soon came back home and was still in the same situation he was before the attempted suicide. With nothing else to lose he decided to take his health and well-being into his own hands.
“It ended up just being me having to see reality on my own,” Lopez said. “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just like I have seen the world through my other eyes. I think I had suffered just about everything. I’ve been through so much. My wife said I was like a cat, but with only two lives left.”

Lopez had heard medical cannabis was an option to help ease the pain. So he asked his pain management doctor if he would help him apply for his medical cannabis card. However, because the federal government still sees marijuana as an illegal drug, that goes the same for military installations. So, his doctor could only tell him no and that he doesn’t support cannabis.

Lopez didn’t let that stop him and found a more understanding physician who was not associated with the military, and he was able to get his card early in 2021. He said he didn’t care if the Army allowed it or not, he was tired of being helpless.

Lopez has been under the surgical knife 16 different times during his 22 years in the military. But he said medical cannabis is the only thing that has eased his pain.

“When I first tried, I felt the pain relief,” Lopez said. “‘I don’t need a wheelchair, I don’t need a cane. I walk fine. I am really glad I got rid of all the pills. Those man-made pills. They weren’t helping me at all. All they were ding to me is clogging up my stomach.”

Anthony Rodriguez, who runs the dispensary Nice Dreamz Collective in Lawton, has seen what a vast transformation Lopez has taken.

While Lopez is grateful he found cannabis when he did, he still feels anger that it has taken as long as it has for it to become available. When he looks back at his mother who had to deal with seizures her entire life, tears begin to stream down his face.

“This should have been legal a long time ago. My mom could have used this years ago,” Lopez said. “She is epileptic. My mom could have used this when she was young. You look at my mom now and her hands are all burned because she had a seizure when she was cooking and her hands fell in the oil. Now her hands are just all torn up. Her face is jacked up because she had a fall during another seizure. But this was illegal. She has suffered through so much when they could have just made something with this and” they could have given it to her. It is just so upsetting.”

Lopez now looks at his life and how he was living before cannabis and he can hardly believe how much he has changed. He says if he hadn’t found it in time, he knows he would have tried to take his life again and would have succeeded.

But that does not seem to be a worry anymore.

“It mellows me out. I see how it connects me more with my family. I really have a short fuse, but ever since I have been on cannabis, it has brought me a lot closer with my family,” Lopez said. “My kids see it a lot. I have been able to communicate a lot better with my kids than I used to. I am able to communicate better with my wife. Our relationship has gotten a lot stronger. It’s made me a better man. I wasn’t like this before. Ever since last year, when I tried to take my life, it has transformed me into a better man.”