I wish I had decades left to live. To see my children and grandchildren grow. To celebrate more anniversaries with my loving husband, Jesse.
After living cancer free since 2016, after having a double mastectomy, I found out in May 2020 that my cancer was back. Scans and further testing revealed it was worse than what I was ready for. In July, I found out it was metastatic cancer. I was dying. My oncologist gave me six to 12 months to live without treatment, maybe a little longer with treatment.
Treatment? I hate hospitals. I absolutely did not want to endure the painful side effects of chemo. I had a friend who had just died the year before due to complications of chemo, not from her cancer. I was afraid any treatment plan would lead to me feeling sicker, but Jesse begged me to try something. So I did. I tried radiation and treatments to induce menopause. It was awful. The pain that the oncologist promised would be alleviated through treatment only escalated. There was no respite.
It became clear to my husband that this was no way to live, “I rather have you feeling better and die sooner than suffering like this.”
I thought back to a story I had seen years before about a dying woman, Brittany Maynard, who had moved from California to Oregon to access medical aid in dying. I never imagined six years after seeing her video that I would be weighing the option for myself. I hadn’t even thought about her since then.
I wrestled with the idea of pursuing aid in dying. I was raised Catholic and I struggled with the thought that I may not go to heaven as a result. Was this suicide? No. Cancer is killing me. My God does not want me to suffer needlessly. He would not force me to endure such pain when a peaceful option exists. There were lots of nights of crying and deep conversations with my husband, then with my kids. I had to think of my family. Would they understand and support my decision? I did not want to hurt any of them.
Medical aid in dying meant I could die at home, my safe spot, surrounded by love. Making this decision was not easy. I really had to weigh my values and the impact on my family. With their support and understanding, I felt free to ask my doctor for an aid-in-dying prescription.
My oncologist was reluctant to sign off on medical aid in dying right away, even with my enrolling in hospice in December. He expressed wanting to wait a few months to see if I looked sicker before signing off on the prescription. I shouldn’t have to look a certain way. I have cancer in my bones. You can’t see my pain. It’s especially frustrating when your own doctor, who can look at the data and see that you’re dying, still wants you to look the part.
Then, my consulting doctor became my prescribing physician. It felt like the whole situation was changing and both doctors weren’t communicating directly with me about the reasoning behind their decisions. My doctors continually left me feeling like I was a major inconvenience to them. I didn’t worry too much about it, though, because I had received verbal confirmation that they were willing to prescribe to me.
A month later, in late January 2021, both of my doctors suddenly opted to not prescribe to me after I requested my prescription be sent to the pharmacy to be filled. The hesitancy I felt became outright lack of support.
I was overwhelmed by fear and frustration, until I connected with a representative from Compassion & Choices’ End-of-Life Consultation Program. They asked me questions about my situation, my health, and then provided a list of health care facilities in my state that may have doctors who would prescribe to me under Colorado’s aid-in-dying law.
After calling three health care facilities, I spoke with a doctor at Denver Health about my situation and medical history. She was absolutely appalled by how I was treated by my previous doctors. She couldn’t understand why my previous doctors were adding barriers and requirements to a law that already has safeguards in place. She told me I fit the criteria and offered a telehealth appointment immediately following our nearly 30-minute telephone conversation.
It was a completely different experience. This doctor wasn’t going to hold my prescription hostage until I proved myself again and again, and only until she knew I was just days from dying. The law requires someone to have a prognosis of six months or less, not just a week away. This doctor didn’t make me feel like I was an inconvenience to her or that what I was asking for was unrealistic. She told me as soon as we finished the second and final appointment that I was free to pick up my medication from the pharmacy or wait to fill it when I was ready. I was in charge.
I’m so thankful for Compassion & Choices’ End-of-Life Consultants. The person who helped me treated me with the utmost respect and compassion. I felt like she honestly cared about what I was going through, how I was feeling, and wanted to make it as simple as possible for me to accomplish my goal. I stayed in contact with them multiple times as I worked to resolve my issue, re-established care with Denver Health, and as questions came up about what to expect. I felt like a priority throughout. It’s been humbling to work with people who care so much, especially during such a rough part of life – the end.
I’m grateful that medical aid in dying is an option in Colorado. When I’m ready, I can toast my life with a strawberry margarita and when the sun goes down, fall asleep in my husband’s arms. I won’t have to die in a hospital. I won’t have to lose control in my last days and endure doctors making decisions that I would not make for myself.
With that said, I don’t have a date picked out. I’m not ready for that. It’s not time, but it’s wonderful to know when it is time, I’m prepared.
I still have things to do. I’m making memory books for my children and their children. I’m knitting blankets, though very slowly because of the pain, for my children who have yet to have kids of their own to provide as a gift from me for their first born child. I’m trying my hardest to cope with the fact that I will miss so much.