Kay Hilderbrand was the beautiful, loving and kind woman I called my bonus mom. She and my father spent 16 years of their lives together, and I was grateful to have such a wonderful woman as my stepmother.
About 20 years ago, Kay began her fight with breast cancer when partially tumorous masses were found after a routine screening. She underwent a partial lumpectomy, was cleared of cancer, and her routine scans remained clear until this year.
In September 2018, Kay’s mammogram, once again, came back clean. But she had some issues with her heart. Kay had atrial fibrillation (AFib), was prescribed blood thinners and ended up developing a hematoma in her left breast in February. When her doctor went in to surgically remove the hematoma he found a small lump in her breast, which ended up being cancerous. Kay underwent a mastectomy of her left breast in April 2019.
Kay came back home to recover, but within a week she was back at the hospital with severe pain. She was admitted and doctors confirmed her diagnosis of stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. It had spread to her bones, liver and lungs. Kay’s cancer was incurable, but it was treatable. Unfortunately, however, chemotherapy was the only viable option to relieve Kay of some pain, but she wasn’t strong enough to endure it.
Kay remained in the hospital for the month of May, with medical staff attempting to determine what they could do to treat her cancer and relieve her suffering. It became evident to my father that all they could do was try to keep her comfortable, “It’s just a matter of how much time is left and hospice can ease that journey. I’m going to lose my best friend, lover, wife, buddy, pal. And I have to watch and can’t do anything about it.”
The following month, Kay was transferred to a rehabilitation center to work on strength and mobility for chemotherapy. Ten days later, she was released and returned home. She had regained some mobility with a walker, but started to decline quickly. Within a week, Kay was taken back to the hospital via ambulance and was told that if she had remained at home another day she may have died. Her doctor recommended she enroll in hospice. A few days later she was transferred to a nearby hospice center.
My stepmother was in excruciating pain at the end of her life. The last two weeks, which she spent in hospice, she would ask the medical staff to help her end it. Kay made it clear that she was ready, “I want to die. I’m ready. I’ve made my peace. Can’t they just let me go?” We just had to watch her waste away in agonizing pain.
Kay passed on July 7, 2019. At the end of her struggle, she was taking massive doses of morphine every day. Watching my stepmother die asking for death was horrific. To know that my dad has those memories now of watching her want to end her suffering and not be able to is heart-wrenching. That’s not the way someone should remember the one they love.
We wish medical aid in dying had been available to Kay so she could have avoided the very worst few days of her suffering. As a Catholic, I know that Jesus wouldn’t want us to suffer like this. It’s not right and no one’s beliefs should supersede others’ options.
I hope that my sharing our family’s experience will help put a face to the issue and touch people’s hearts, especially undecided lawmakers. This option is for a small group of people that for them this is really the lesser of the worst ways to die. They don’t want to die, and they shouldn’t have to live out their final days in agony.