Storyteller Spotlight: Carrie Framsted
Minnesotan Carrie Framsted, driven by witnessing the intractable agony leading up to her wife’s death from cancer, speaks out about the experience to help expand end-of-life options in her state.
July 27, 2021
Marathon runner, ski racer and beloved middle-school teacher Monica Schliep was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in June 2019. She was only 55 years old. Immediately she and her wife, Carrie Framsted, pursued any treatment that might afford them more time together. Monica tried chemo and had good results at first. “But cancer tends to find a way to keep itself alive,” Carrie says.
By October, Monica’s condition had worsened. Chemo was severely affecting her quality of life — already impacted by the advancement of her cancer — and at the end of January, she enrolled in hospice. “The focus became minimizing her suffering, which she had outlined in her living will was of the utmost importance along with quality of life,” says Carrie. “Monica feared struggling with and dying in pain. She had already suffered for months with a great deal of pain, but we managed to stay relatively ahead of it with morphine. Her last two weeks were excruciating though. She was in absolute misery. The pain kept advancing quickly, and hospice was concerned that her metastasized liver could not process the quantity of medicine she required.”
Monica died on February 15, 2020, eight months after her initial diagnosis. “Her agony was horrible to witness,” Carrie recalls. “There’s nothing more convincing in supporting medical aid in dying than experiencing the unnecessary suffering of a loved one in their last days.”
“I wish Monica could have been afforded the opportunity to decide when enough was enough,” says Carrie. “If we had lived in Maine, Oregon, Vermont or one of many other states that trust their residents to decide for themselves if medical aid in dying is right for them, we could have had the ability to say goodbye. Having loved ones gather to say goodbye would have given honor to who Monica was. She was a kind person with a big heart. Many of her colleagues and previous students came to her services to remember the positive impact she had made on them as a teacher, a track coach and an LGBTQ advocate for students. Medical aid in dying would have provided Monica comfort in knowing she could have control over the inevitable.”
Even prior to this experience, Carrie believed in the right to alleviate the ravages of a terminal illness by exerting some control. As did Monica, who lost her mother in 2015 after watching her linger for days. Now Carrie has begun speaking out to help advance medical aid-in-dying legislation in Minnesota. “It allows a person to be able to live their remaining days. It allows loved ones the chance to say goodbye, share intimate moments and feelings. We hold so much in when someone is facing the unknown date of death — not knowing how to act, what to say, unable to be intentional with our love and loss when it counts most. Being able to know how you will die, where you will die and who will be around you is important. So is relieving suffering and offering language for others to express themselves as it directly impacts everyone’s level of grief. We can change the process of death and dying for others dying and those living through it.”