In March, I was told that I have lung cancer and, without treatment, only have a year to live. I have made the decision to not have chemo, radiation, or immunotherapy. I am unwilling to exchange my quality of life for an extra year or two, filled with agonizing side effects from invasive treatments.
I accept death as part of the cycle of our existence. I almost died in 1995 because of complications from HIV/AIDS and it was life-changing. I have been emotionally prepared for this reality for a long time. Death does not scare me, but pain and suffering do.
I’m 75 years old and I am fortunate to have my ailments currently well managed, but the future of how my cancer manifests is unknown. I don’t want to linger in pain, suffering for months. I don’t want to experience ongoing air hunger. My cancer can spread anywhere and everywhere, including my brain, and depending on where it metastasizes, the symptoms can be excruciating.
I live in Illinois, a state that does not yet authorize medical aid in dying. Because of this, I am planning to voluntarily stop eating and drinking (VSED) to control my dying process when I’m ready to leave this realm of existence.
Prior to having friends share with me about VSED, I spent hours thinking about how I might manage to relocate to a state that allows for aid in dying, and equally thinking of methods to commit suicide. Thinking about my limited options was traumatic. The idea of moving to another state was anxiety-producing. I don’t have a lot of money and I’ve lived in Illinois almost my entire life. How would I afford to make such a move? How could I emotionally deal with my end-of-life journey without friends to comfort me during that time? I felt I had nowhere to turn.
Learning about VSED has given me some sense of relief, but I would prefer the option of medical aid in dying. I don’t know how many weeks it will take to die by ceasing hydration and nutrition. I wish medical aid in dying was an option in my home state so that I could be assured to have control over when I die, with the ability to be surrounded by my loved ones.
Laws should allow terminally ill residents the peace of mind of the option of medical aid in dying. The fact that I don’t live in Oregon, or California, or one of the other numerous states where aid in dying is available should not restrict my options at life’s end. It would be such a comfort to have the option afforded to me.