This opinion piece was written by Dan Diaz and was originally published by HLNTV on October 20, 2015.
My wife, Brittany Maynard, passed away peacefully last year on November 1.
On New Year’s Day of 2014, we discovered that Brittany had a brain tumor, that it was very large, and that there was no cure.
Brittany endured an eight-hour brain surgery and we researched every treatment option that was available. Just two months after the surgery, the tumor showed signs that it was growing aggressively and she was given six months to live.
Brittany decided to live her life to the fullest. I took a leave of absence from work, Brittany found a house for us to rent in Portland and she established residency. We found a new medical team, packed up half of our house in California into a U-Haul and drove 600 miles north to Portland, Oregon. Nobody should have to go through that at their end of life, having to leave home like that.
But we did it, all because Oregon has something that California did not at the time: A law allowing doctors to provide lethal prescriptions to competent adults who are terminally ill and have six months to live.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill permitting this end-of-life option Oct. 5 -- a year too late for Brittany.
“I’m not afraid to die.” Brittany said to me one day. “I’m not afraid of death. Death does not have that power over me anymore.” Those words were not just lip service; I knew Brittany truly meant it. She did not fear dying.
“But I am afraid of suffering,” she said. “Especially since I am dying anyway, I would prefer to die gently, not struggling and in pain.”
Brittany applied for, qualified for and was finally granted the prescription for medical aid in dying under Oregon’s death-with-dignity law.
Upon receiving it, Brittany put that medication in the cupboard and she focused on living life. Brittany’s passion was being outdoors, in nature. So we went to Yellowstone National Park, a spot she had wanted to visit for years. A few weeks later she was hiking glaciers in Alaska with her friend and her mother. We visited Olympic National Park in Washington, Hood River in Oregon, and we took a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon.
Up until she received the medication, Brittany could not escape the torture that the brain tumor would exact upon her. But all of a sudden, because of simply having the medication, that terror vanished! Brittany had taken control back from the tumor. The tumor could no longer torture her to death. She held a trump-card that the tumor could not defeat.
These two quotes describe Brittany’s fortitude and intelligence of taking control of her final months:
"To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom." – Bertrand Russell
“Wisdom is antithetical to fear. In fact, it’s what enables a person to overcome fear.” -Unknown
Brittany showed wisdom beyond measure for deciding to fight the cancer from Oregon. Her determination to “fear less” is an accomplishment that I fully understood the value of, upon seeing the change in Brittany’s outlook from that point on. She was empowered and in control, and when you are facing death, that is huge.
Brittany died gently on November 1, 2014. Within 5 minutes of taking the medication, she fell asleep very peacefully. Within 30 minutes, her breathing slowed to the point where she passed away. Amidst all of the seizures and suffering that she was already enduring, it truly was the gentlest passing one could hope for. The brain tumor would not have allowed for that peaceful passing if allowed to run its course.
Brittany’s story is a story of love. It’s a story of determination. It’s a story of living life. And it’s a story of triumph. In the end, Brittany did not die as a “victim” to cancer. She died in the same manner that she lived her life: with grace, compassion and love, for herself and for her family.
I keep in my heart all of the good times that Brittany and I shared together. I made a promise to her, to do what I can to help pass legislation so no one else has to move from their home as we did. The passage of this law in our home state of California was step one. I will continue to work on this effort in honor of Brittany.
Dan Diaz is the husband of Brittany Maynard, who died in November 2014 from a brain tumor. The couple moved from California to Oregon, one of eight jurisdictions that has authorized medical aid in dying so Brittany could have the option of a gentle dying process instead of an agonizing one. Over the past four years, he has traveled extensively across the country to meet with lawmakers, responded to hundreds of media inquiries, and spoken to diverse audiences of doctors, social workers and the general public. Dan’s efforts working with Compassion & Choices were instrumental in securing the passage of the End of Life Option Act in California, and his efforts to advance similar bills continue in the other states across the country.