Dying with Dignity

Over the past several weeks Brittany Maynard has brought dying with dignity to the fore of national debate. Facing the near unthinkable, she is approaching her fate the best way she knows how. Her end is nearing and with that she has come to peace. Ms. Maynard can’t control the outcome of her future, but she can control her ending. She wants to die with everybody she loves surrounding her and not suffering from the inevitable effects of her disease.

I don’t really have an opinion on whether her choice is right or wrong, because my opinion doesn’t matter. I’m not in her shoes. I hope never to walk even a mile on her path. I cannot fathom the weight of such a difficult prognosis.

Brittany Maynard comes to mind, because my friend is dying. Her oncologist told her last week that there was nothing more he could do for her, because her cancer has transitioned to an ulcerating tumor. He wants her to see a palliative doctor to make her more comfortable for what are likely weeks not months of life.

She has spent the last 22 months having chemo weekly. That’s almost 100 trips to the Cancer Center where drugs have been administered through two ports.  Standard protocol treatments and clinical trials have been exhausted. I’ve been amazed at her indomitable spirit. She has worked under the assumption that she will be the one in a million that will beat her cancer. She is a fighter and if I could put money on someone beating anything it would be her. She is still convinced there is a cure… a miracle that will save her.

I want to say good bye, but she won’t have any of that. It makes her angry when anybody treats her like she is dying. “Why are people giving up on me? Why are you giving up on me?” is her response. I desperately want to tell her how much she has meant to me… how her broad smile and sparkling eyes that greeted me during a decade of friendship can never be replaced and will forever be missed.  How her drive and passion for life make me want to live my own more fully.  I want her to know just how loved she is.

Pretending that she will be going back to work after she beats this cancer is really hard. Seeing her, it is difficult to put aside her emaciated body that has been reduced by a third as a sign that she is not winning this war. It’s nearly impossible, but I can’t crush her hope. Her belief in a cure is likely what has kept her alive for the past year. Her dogmatic tenacity gets her out of bed to fight the good fight each day.

Her ending is not without pain.  It has been months since I have seen her comfortably sit up.  She is no longer in control of her bodily excretions.  Anxiety suffocates her.  She is on high doses of pain medication, but it doesn’t always help. Yet better solutions to pain management have a finality that are akin to an admission of her end.

Two women. Two ends of a spectrum. One wanting to know the timing of her last breath. One not wanting to accept that her last breath is a reality. Each needing to die with dignity. In the case of my friend, I will honor her wishes, support her in her choice, and wait to grieve until she is passed. What else is there to do?  She has fought hard enough already.

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