On October 19, 2018 I had a seizure while at work. A biopsy determined that I had stage 4 metastatic breast cancer – with tumors in my brain, bones, lungs and liver. I underwent radiation to my brain to shrink the tumor that caused the seizure. At that time, my doctor gave me a prognosis of approximately six months to two years. As the two year mark steadily approaches, I grow more concerned about my limited end-of-life options.
I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. I had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, all while continuing to work as an RN and a psychotherapist. As far as I knew, as we all knew, I was in remission. The reality is that the cancer went undetected, continuing to spread and grow. I am back to fighting for my life.
Since 2018, I have tried multiple chemo medications to slow my cancer, all with their uniquely burdensome and painful side effects; nausea, vomiting, rashes, dry, cracked and peeling hands and feet, fatigue, mouth sores and lack of appetite. I will soon be starting a new chemo medication which is an infusion, as my last medication was determined to be ineffective – none of the tumors decreased in size and a tumor in my liver grew. Up to now I’ve been able to take oral chemotherapy but I will now have to drive into the hospital once a month for a 90-minute infusion.
Continuing to lead a meaningful life is of the utmost importance to me. I want more time to be silly with my husband, Paul, and with our friends. I want more time to dance, crack jokes, make pottery, and enjoy walks in nature. I was fully expecting to live to my 80s. But, I probably won’t see 70. It’s shocking to me and very disheartening. I desperately want to live, but I’m dying. There is no miracle that will rid me of my cancer and the multiple tumors throughout my body.
Massachusetts’ medical aid-in-dying bill is my hope for a peaceful death. This bill is imperative for me and other terminally ill Massachusetts residents to be able to die with some control and peace of mind still intact. Over the 40 years that I worked as an RN, I saw many people suffering hopelessly, literally begging for medical assistance to end their suffering. Sometimes, pain management drugs could not offer enough relief. I am terrified of lingering in pain, with no remaining pleasure in life, without the option of saying when enough is enough.
I have even considered moving to another state that would allow me this important option, but it would be heartbreaking to move away from our home. It would be a huge upheaval of my and Paul’s life and support system. The fact that I live in Massachusetts, rather than one of our neighboring states like Vermont or Maine, should not limit my options at the end of life. It is unreasonable that I don’t have the right to make medical decisions about my own life, to eliminate my suffering when death is imminent.
I am imploring Massachusetts lawmakers to listen to their terminally ill constituents, to their constituents who have seen a loved one die needlessly painful deaths full of suffering, and to have the compassion to pass the End of Life Options Act.