On October 19, 2018, my wife of 40 years, Lee Marshall, suffered a seizure while at work. This led to a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer – in her lungs, liver, bones and brain. At that time, Lee’s doctor gave her a prognosis of up to approximately two years. This prognosis now hovers over our daily lives, is always with us – but Lee has made it her mission to enjoy her life as much as she can, while she can.
Lee was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. She endured a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment, all the while continuing to work as an RN. For nearly seven years, signs of remaining cancer went undetected. We now know it was always looming.
Lee is a remarkably strong woman – intelligent, caring and articulate. For the last 40 years, she has been, and continues to be, the most important person in my life. Her optimism, enthusiasm, love and support help me to be a stronger, happier and better person. The inevitability of her death is obviously, deeply upsetting to me. The thought of her having to linger needlessly in a state of debilitation and misery deepens my sorrow and concern immensely.
We are doing everything we can to maximize the time we have together, but options for medical interventions that extend life and improve or maintain quality of life are limited. Since October 2018, Lee has tried multiple chemo medications, with decreasing success. She was just prescribed a new medication that she will be starting soon. How effective it will be, and which side effects come with it, is still unknown. Our experience has been an emotional rollercoaster with so much sadness, fear, anxiety and stress. But Lee’s diagnosis has also brought us closer together, deepening our appreciation of one another, sharpening our awareness of how central our love is to our mutual happiness, and how important it is to celebrate and express it daily.
Both Lee and I are in agreement that passing a medical aid-in-dying bill in Massachusetts is imperative for our peace of mind. Having the assurance of being able to direct one’s own medical care is incredibly meaningful. We have weighed the option of moving to another state that allows this compassionate option. The logistics involved in making such a move are overwhelmingly burdensome and complicated, and to move away from our community and friends would be too big a loss. In addition, now we also have to contend with the limitations and threats that are presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Medical aid in dying in our home state would allow the degree of suffering to be minimized. I don’t want to see my wife suffering needlessly while lingering on, with her gone but her body still present. The fear of seeing her in misery is my biggest concern. I do not want my last memories of Lee to be awful and painful.
I am doing everything within my power to ensure legislators understand the consequence of unnecessary suffering, of terminally ill individuals and the ones who love them, as a result of medical aid in dying not being legal in Massachusetts.