Loretta Mackenzie darts out of a room carrying three adult diapers taped together over a large absorbent pad.
She finds her 49-year-old husband Benton Mackenzie shifting under sheets in a hospital bed a local hospice agency delivered in the fall. After some cutting, taping and fastening together, she covers the painful, cancerous growths that have exploded across her husband's right thigh.
“I’m a once-a-day bandage shop,” Loretta Mackenzie said. “I should take the time to do several at a time, but I don’t have the energy.”
She’s devoted all her energy to her husband.
Benton Mackenzie clenches his jaw as he sits up in bed, shirtless, revealing his bony arms and shoulders. His wife says there’s not much left to wrap her arms around. She sees him every day and is still shocked by his emaciated appearance.
Two years ago he weighed a stocky 200 pounds. Terminal cancer diagnosed as cutaneous angiosarcoma has rendered his 6-foot-tall frame a frail 140 pounds.
Unable to undergo chemotherapy due to heart disease, Benton Mackenzie discovered his own therapy in homemade cannabis oil.
In 2013, Scott County Sheriff's deputies confiscated the marijuana seedlings and plants he bought from black market sources in order to make the oil. They charged both Benton and Loretta Mackenzie on felony charges for conspiring to grow marijuana.
Through a court motion, he challenged the trash pull that led to the charges. That was denied. He also petitioned to be allowed to testify at his trial last summer about his condition. That, too, was denied.
What the jury saw was a man in a wheelchair, looking pale and dressed in baggie sweats. What jurors didn't see were the malignant tumors.
The jury found them guilty. Rather than sending them to prison, Scott County District Judge Henry Latham sentenced Benton and Loretta Mackenzie to two years of probation.
They appealed, giving them legal clearance to leave the state. But that's become increasingly difficult as the months progress and his health deteriorates.
His parents spent everything they had fighting against Benton and Loretta Mackenzie's prosecution that now they can’t afford to move them to one of 23 states that allow medical marijuana.
In the meantime, they’re living in his parents’ basement apartment in Long Grove.
Before the hospital bed arrived, Benton Mackenzie couldn't find a comfortable position to fall asleep. His wife said she would find him kneeling on the floor with his head resting on his old bed. Or she'd find him slumped over the bathroom sink.
At some point, walking was reduced to taking only a few steps at a time. The last time he walked outside was three-and-a-half months ago.
Now he can't even get out of bed. The last time he tried was Dec. 10, when he “took a tumble,” he said.
“It breaks my heart to see him try to walk,” Loretta Mackenzie said.
Bottles of pain medication fill a table beside his bed.
“They take me almost there,” he said.
On another table rests a book titled “Dying Happy.”
His wife still holds out hope they’ll move to pot-friendly Oregon, that her husband can put his cancer into remission and that he can be a caretaker to others.
He doesn’t think the journey is physically possible anymore.
“It’s all in God’s plan,” he said. “I keep trying to be obedient to it. Go alleviate suffering, but I’m powerless to do anything about it. If he’s going to take me out, he’s going to take me out.”
Benton Mackenzie says he needs a quarter pound of marijuana a day to make the oil. Illinois, for instance, allows a patient 2.5 ounces for a period of 14 days, an amount he says is not enough to treat cancer.
His homemade oil was high in cannabidiol, or CBD, with just enough THC to make the ratio work. He says he used it solely to treat his cancer.
The oil he made was similar to what Iowa lawmakers approved for intractable epilepsy patients in 2014. He doesn’t understand why other ailments weren't included in the law, which for the first time recognizes marijuana, a Schedule I controlled substance, as having medicinal value.
He won’t allow friends to ship him the oil for fear of arrest. The last time he had any oil was on a brief trip to Oregon in September.
When he was making the oil, he mixed it with other ingredients and ingested it as well as applied it directly to the tumors, a combination of treatments he claims caused the tumors to shrink and fall off.
Without the oil, tumors play war games on his skin, competing for territory and popping up sometimes in bunches where one has died off, he says.
Sometimes he tolerates the smell of rotting flesh. Other times, he tries to block it out in favor of a whiff of doughnut holes from the kitchen or his wife's cooking.
His mother, Dottie Mackenzie, tried hanging air fresheners around the basement, but his acute sense couldn’t tolerate artificial pine.
Benton Mackenzie doesn’t know what caused his cancer. He’s aware the average life expectancy of an angiosarcoma patient is five years, though he started noticing lumps on his skin two years before his diagnosis in 2011.
“I’m surviving longer than anyone I know with angiosarcoma,” he said.