Suzy Flack

Suzy Flack’s son, Andrew Flack, loved hockey, his teaching career and his family. Andrew used California’s medical aid-in-dying law to end his suffering from advanced cancer and die peacefully on November 16, 2022. Andrew could not die at home in Illinois, where he grew up, because it does not yet allow the option of medical aid in dying.
suzie flack with son andrew

“Andrew died peacefully because of the option of medical aid in dying in California, where he lived. I’m comforted by that. I also wish he could have had that option here in Illinois.”

Suzy shared her story in August of 2023.

On my son’s first birthday since his passing, I didn’t want to just sit around and mourn. Before Andrew died, one of our favorite things to do together was watch Harry Potter movies. So on May 15, the day Andrew would have turned 35, I took myself to Universal Studios and went to Harry Potter land. I went on every single ride. I went to the Three Broomsticks for lunch, tears rolling down my face. It was wonderful and bittersweet, and I’m pretty sure Drew was riding on my shoulders because some of those roller coasters were really frightening. 

“Bittersweet” is a good word for my thoughts about my son’s last days. Andrew died peacefully because of the option of medical aid in dying in California, where he lived. I’m comforted by that. I also wish he could have had that option here in Illinois. 

In August 2017, my father and I flew to California from Illinois to visit Andrew. I knew Drew wasn’t feeling well because every time we’d eat together, he’d have to go to the bathroom. I talked him into having some tests done the week after we left. His doctors couldn’t even get through the colonoscopy because the tumor was so large. 

When he called to tell me the news, I just dropped to the floor, devastated. Drew had been a cancer survivor at the age of five, but this time things were different. I couldn’t control everything like I had when he was little, when I managed all his doctor’s appointments and so on. Now he was a 29-year-old adult doing all of that alone. The distance was so hard for us, and I was not able to retire at that time. So we did our best going back and forth between Illinois and California, but Andrew did end up spending a lot of time in the hospital on his own, which bothered me. The hospital is a scary place to be by yourself. 

Optimistic man that he was, Andrew initially assumed that this time would be similar to when he was a child: He’d have radiation, chemo, some surgeries, then go about his life. He continued working as a special education teacher and told us that everything was going to be fine after the treatment. 

The next few years saw repeated treatment regimens — radiation, chemo, surgery, again and again — fail to eliminate the cancer. In fact, it spread even further. But Andrew continued to amaze us all with his positive attitude. I never heard him say, “Why me?” He just took the view that this was what he had been dealt in life, and he could either choose to become bitter or keep moving. Thankfully, he chose the latter. 

In December 2020, Andrew was informed that he likely had six months or less to live. This was also when he learned about California’s End of Life Option Act. 

I asked him, “Why don’t you come home to Illinois? You can live here in the basement; you’ll have your own space.” But Andrew was adamant that he wanted to stay in California because he needed the option of medical aid in dying. I did not argue with him; none of our family did. It was clear that having that option gave Andrew great comfort. 

Andrew was determined to be in charge of his disease, and take charge he did. Becoming involved with Compassion & Choices, creating a podcast — Death with Dignity — and coming to terms with a terminal diagnosis, Andrew saw the gifts his cancer had brought him in the form of all the people he got to meet because of it. Even through a traumatic illness, he was guiding the people who loved him through that journey in a positive way so that we could grow to accept his fate. 

In the spring of 2022, Andrew completed the process of requesting a prescription for aid-in-dying medication. Although he wasn’t yet ready to use it, he wanted the peace of mind that having the medicine in hand would give him. Drew was especially concerned that a preliminary injunction in the CMDA v. Bonta lawsuit in California would make it more difficult for him to access medical aid in dying when he needed it. 

That fall, my ex-husband, Drew’s three sisters and I all went to California to be with him through the last weeks of his life. For about a two-month period, the house was a revolving door, with Andrew’s “ride-or-die” friends from his school, his hockey community and elsewhere constantly visiting. The family would work during the day, and then around 5 p.m. everyone would come over for Mario Kart, football or board games. Even knowing what was ahead, we managed to have so much fun together. 

Andrew’s quality of life was increasingly limited. He did not want to die, and he fought very hard to live as long as he could. But in the end, his day-to-day pain was increasing, his increased pain medication caused miserable side effects, and when he went to the bathroom, it was like a crime scene. One day he just said, “I think I’m ready.” 

As sunset approached on November 16, 2022, Andrew took some time alone with each of us — his sisters, his roommates, his dad and me. He was in his bedroom with its stunning view of the setting sun, with Jaxson, his roommate’s dog, with him on his bed. We all gathered around him. The general mood was lighthearted, with everyone commenting on the beauty of the skyline, sharing funny stories from Andrew’s childhood and Andrew getting us laughing in turn. It was a really positive moment. 

It was important to Andrew that neither his dad nor myself had to mix his medication. I had told him, “Drew, I have no problem with doing that for you. Remember, I’m a former pharmacy major.” “Yeah, but you never finished,” he said — the kid always had a smart line for you. So two nurses from hospice mixed up the cocktail with some juice. Then they gave him a spoonful of raspberry sorbet to take it with, which he licked like he’d never had anything so good. He was asleep within minutes. Soon he started snoring, which was music to my ears since he had not slept well for so long. 

The rest of us sat there listening to the soundtrack he had put together: the Beatles, Tom Petty, the theme song from Harry Potter, tunes he grew up listening to. Two hours later, he passed away. 

In the five years before Drew died, I lost both my mother and my father. Their deaths were very different from Andrew’s: My father hallucinated quite a bit, tried to get out of bed and required physical restraints. Similarly, my mother was often screaming in pain and suffering frightening hallucinations. Andrew’s death was so different from that. It was much more peaceful. With medical aid in dying, his passing was a beautiful thing. It truly made me a full-throated supporter of this option for people here in Illinois. 

While I’m very thankful that our family got to be there for Andrew at the end, I also know that many families can’t do what we did for various reasons — jobs, health, finances, whatever. It would have been easier for all of us if Andrew could have been here in Illinois, since that’s where most of our family lives, and we all could have supported him throughout his entire illness. My mother-in-law, Andrew’s grandmother, couldn’t travel to California because of her age. She never got to see Drew for a final goodbye. I’m asking Illinois lawmakers to give other families a chance to say those goodbyes. 

Now when I think of Andrew and the journey we were on, and I think about what lies ahead for me as I age, I feel inspired to live in the moment because that’s how my son lived every second of his life. And I’ve decided that every year for Andrew’s birthday, I’m going to do something a little bit crazy.

Read More:

Big News Network – Mother whose son died of cancer advocates assisted-dying (May 13, 2024)

Southland Journal – Illinois Mother Pleads to Legislators to Pass Medical Aid-in-Dying Legislation (May 9, 2024)

Jacksonville Journal Courier – State considering bill that would allow assisted death for terminally ill patients (March 8, 2024)

ABC7 Chicago – Illinois bill would allow terminally-ill adults to choose medically-assisted deaths (March 5, 2024)

Chicago Tribune – Nilsa Centeno and Suzy Flack: Our sons’ agony taught us the importance of medical aid in dying (February 20, 2024)

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