Voices of Courage: Terminally Ill Advocates Shape Their Lives and Ours

May Note From the President and CEO
May 28, 2024

What do the hopeful signing of the amended Colorado End of Life Option Act, a new documentary called Take Me Out Feet First, and the just-released book I co-authored, Plan a Life You Love, have in common?

Amazing terminally ill advocates inspired all three. Let me share the story of Mimi Ankerholz, who is featured in episode 4 of Take Me Out Feet First, an Amazon Prime documentary series worth watching that was directed by Serene Meshel-Dillman and developed in partnership with Compassion & Choices. 

After a double mastectomy and living cancer-free for four years, Mimi found out her cancer was back worse than ever before. She lived in Colorado, a state where medical aid in dying was legal. After much contemplation, she decided that she wanted to die at home, in her safe spot, with her husband near, so she began pursuing the option of medical aid in dying.

Initially her oncologist and a second provider indicated they would support her desire to access medical aid in dying. But when the time came to write the prescription, even though she was eligible and on hospice care, they both opted not to prescribe. 

“There have been days, in the beginning, where I didn’t think I could make it at all because the pain is so bad,” Mimi says in this episode 4 video clip. “But it’s one of those things where sometimes you just suck up the pain so that you can enjoy the moment. You know, because the moment is more than the pain.”

Eventually she found her way to Compassion & Choices’ End-of-Life Consultation Program, and we helped her to access the law. Mimi’s firsthand articulation of what the law means to her inspires the staff at Compassion & Choices to continue our efforts to ensure that medical aid in dying is an option in more states — and ultimately one day, every state.  

Like so many others, Mimi experienced unnecessary roadblocks that slowed her ability to access medical aid in dying. Her experiences show how our work is not just about passing laws; it’s about transforming the practice of medicine. This highlights the importance of our clinical engagement work and removing unnecessary regulatory obstacles. 

That’s why I eagerly anticipate Gov. Polis’ signing of the amended Colorado End-of-Life Options Act (hopefully any day now!). The amendment reduces the waiting period from 15 days to seven, allows a provider to waive it for a patient who is unlikely to survive the wait, and lets advanced practice registered nurses serve as attending and consulting providers. These key changes are worth fighting for because they mean more eligible people will benefit from medical aid in dying and fewer will needlessly suffer. While this bill only directly impacts residents of Colorado, it marks the seventh state that authorized medical aid in dying to improve upon the original Oregon model, which provides us with an even stronger case for passing better — and more accessible — laws in other states. 

The documentary also provides a glimpse into the inspiration for my book chapter, “Wisdom From the Brink: Lessons for Living a More Meaningful Life.” Andrew Flack (episode 2) and Danna Nelson (episode 3) were among the courageous terminally ill advocates who compelled me to write the chapter. Through my work at Compassion & Choices, I have the privilege of seeing real-life heroes like Andrew and Danna harness their tragic circumstances to enhance their lives and push for meaningful societal changes. Andrew said in the documentary, “I’m probably one of the happiest people I know. Maybe it’s because I have such a short time.” And truthfully it is not uncommon for me to hear that sentiment from other terminally ill advocates as well. 

Seeing people facing death yet so happy, alive and unstoppable forced me to evaluate my own life. How could I possibly complain about the dishes my husband left in the sink when the person I am meeting with is living life to their fullest and immeasurably helping their community while actively dying? The answer: I couldn’t. 

The impact of recognizing the opportunity before me — and striving to live a “terminal approach to life” — is profound. I hope you will join me in making each day count toward a legacy of happiness and meaningful change by reading “Wisdom from the Brink” (chapter 2 in Plan a Life You Love). Coincidentally, the book’s editor and author of chapter 1, Hanna Olivas, is one of the unstoppable terminally ill advocates who inspired my writing. The book is packed with powerful stories and practical approaches to living a meaningful and impactful life — order your copy now and start transforming your life today!

Compassion & Choices
Media Contacts

Sean Crowley
Media Relations Director
[email protected]

Patricia A. González-Portillo
National Latino Media Director
[email protected]
(323) 819 0310

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VICTORY: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed the improved End-of-Life Options Act.