Brittany Maynard: My right to death with dignity at 29

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Courtesy CNN

Courtesy CNN

By Brittany Maynard

[Editor’s note: Brittany Maynard is a volunteer advocate for the nation’s leading end-of-life choice organization, Compassion and Choices. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, Dan Diaz, and mother, Debbie Ziegler. Watch Brittany and her family tell her story at thebrittanyfund.org. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.]

(CNN) — On New Year’s Day, after months of suffering from debilitating headaches, I learned that I had brain cancer.

I was 29 years old. I’d been married for just over a year. My husband and I were trying for a family.

Our lives devolved into hospital stays, doctor consultations and medical research. Nine days after my initial diagnoses, I had a partial craniotomy and a partial resection of my temporal lobe. Both surgeries were an effort to stop the growth of my tumor.

Courtesy Brittany Maynard

Courtesy Brittany Maynard

In April, I learned that not only had my tumor come back, but it was more aggressive. Doctors gave me a prognosis of six months to live.

Because my tumor is so large, doctors prescribed full brain radiation. I read about the side effects: The hair on my scalp would have been singed off. My scalp would be left covered with first-degree burns. My quality of life, as I knew it, would be gone.

After months of research, my family and I reached a heartbreaking conclusion: There is no treatment that would save my life, and the recommended treatments would have destroyed the time I had left.

I considered passing away in hospice care at my San Francisco Bay-area home. But even with palliative medication, I could develop potentially morphine-resistant pain and suffer personality changes and verbal, cognitive and motor loss of virtually any kind.

Courtesy Brittany Maynard

Courtesy Brittany Maynard

Because the rest of my body is young and healthy, I am likely to physically hang on for a long time even though cancer is eating my mind. I probably would have suffered in hospice care for weeks or even months. And my family would have had to watch that.

I did not want this nightmare scenario for my family, so I started researching death with dignity. It is an end-of-life option for mentally competent, terminally ill patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live. It would enable me to use the medical practice of aid in dying: I could request and receive a prescription from a physician for medication that I could self-ingest to end my dying process if it becomes unbearable.

I quickly decided that death with dignity was the best option for me and my family.

We had to uproot from California to Oregon, because Oregon is one of only five states where death with dignity is authorized.

I met the criteria for death with dignity in Oregon, but establishing residency in the state to make use of the law required a monumental number of changes. I had to find new physicians, establish residency in Portland, search for a new home, obtain a new driver’s license, change my voter registration and enlist people to take care of our animals, and my husband, Dan, had to take a leave of absence from his job. The vast majority of families do not have the flexibility, resources and time to make all these changes.

I’ve had the medication for weeks. I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms.

I would not tell anyone else that he or she should choose death with dignity. My question is: Who has the right to tell me that I don’t deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain? Why should anyone have the right to make that choice for me?

Now that I’ve had the prescription filled and it’s in my possession, I have experienced a tremendous sense of relief. And if I decide to change my mind about taking the medication, I will not take it.

Having this choice at the end of my life has become incredibly important. It has given me a sense of peace during a tumultuous time that otherwise would be dominated by fear, uncertainty and pain.

Courtesy Brittany Maynard

Courtesy Brittany Maynard

Now, I’m able to move forward in my remaining days or weeks I have on this beautiful Earth, to seek joy and love and to spend time traveling to outdoor wonders of nature with those I love. And I know that I have a safety net.

I hope for the sake of my fellow American citizens that I’ll never meet that this option is available to you. If you ever find yourself walking a mile in my shoes, I hope that you would at least be given the same choice and that no one tries to take it from you.

When my suffering becomes too great, I can say to all those I love, “I love you; come be by my side, and come say goodbye as I pass into whatever is next.” I will die upstairs in my bedroom with my husband, mother, stepfather and best friend by my side and pass peacefully. I can’t imagine trying to rob anyone else of that choice.

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49 comments

  • wendy kubas

    So much love to you and your family & friends. I admire your strength…and thank you,for your fight to help make this an option for all,who walk and will walk,this same path. I lost my partner,5yrs ago..also to brain cancer. May peace an love be with you & those you love,
    Wendy

  • jeanne martinez

    Brittany I am from new orleans la and that I and a friend did some research on Cancer and that my mother has stage 3 ovarian cancer as well. We found a natural remedy thats been used for over a 1000 yrs. The doctors wont tell you about it because they will lose money on the chemo drugs (Poison)! That they produce. We can talk more on this matter. Please I do believe we can save your life! Give me a chance Brittany. Thanks.

  • Temeka T Stanley

    Brittany I am so touched by your story. And while I know you have chosen to end with Dignity, have you ever heard of the Gerson Therapy? Just see if you can at least try it and do your research. It’s been known to aggressively attack and heal terminally ill diagnosis such as stage IV cancers.

    There are documentaries about the Dr. Gerson and his research on Netflix.

    Don’t give up, I stand with you in hope and faith no matter what 🙏

    Sincerely,

    Temeka T Stanley

  • Kristy

    U are a strong and beautiful person and this is a decision only you can make. I can’t say I would be as strong. I’m attaching a blog, it was written by a young girl in my hometown who went through brain rumors and blogged right up to the end. I follows her story, many days of tears and smiles, joy and pain from her family and strangers everywhere. Maybe there are words that can also help u, I would say find peace but clearly u have that :) who knows though some of her words may make u smile on a rough day. http://www.christinaahmann.com. Christina cancer and a walk if faith. I attach this as u are both clearly such strong women, maybe you will meet on the other side. May peace be with your family.

  • Elizabeth

    My heart goes out to you. I think you should do what you feel is best, however, please at least listen to what I have to say and at least consider it. About 5 years ago I spent 2 months in Iquitos Peru drinking a very strong medicinal tea called ayahuasca. When I went there at the age of 35, it was because I had been plagued by numerous severe health problems my entire life. I had been to 100 s of medical doctors was also told I was untreatable. Three weeks into drinking Ayahuasca, all health cleared completely up. 5 years later I am still completely healthy. I saw people there from all over the world with cancer, AIDS etc. They were also healed completely. This is not just any tea. To drink it is a rough journey. But we’ll worth it. I learned more about myself and life in 2 months then I had in all the previous 34 years. It has no side effects. You will not hear about this on the news because the medical association doesn’t want to loose money. But truthfully there is no good reason for you or anyone else to die from cancer unless you feel it is your destiny to do so. They have been curing all forms of cancer in South America for a very long time. Please contact me if you want more info

    • Sabrina Braillard

      I would like more as I am currently undergoing treatments for stage 3 lung cancer with metastis to my lymph system. I have twin boys that I am so not ready to leave. So please send me your info
      sabrinabraillard@yahoo.com or Facebook sabrina 3b cancer journey.
      Thank you!!

      • laswan57

        Do your own research on Cannabis oil. !00 years ago it was legal medicine. But the government couldn’t patent a plant that grows naturally. God put everything on this planet for us. cannabis CURES cancer. Look at some personal testimonies on you tube. Nobody has to die.

  • Sabrina Braillard

    I totally respect your decision, but would like toshare my story. My husband was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme in 1988, was given 4-6 months to live. We opted for no radiationor chemotherapy and instead went to a dr. In California. His name is Yancey Beamed. My. Husband went through experiments immunotherapy, no drugs, just used his body’s own cells multiplied and the tumor was removed and his cells put in its place. Minimal side effects, but no loss of quality of life. He had 7 surgeries , the tumor stayed away for a long time and he lived another 4 years with quality of life intact. Theyv have made great strides since then and I think you should at least look into it before making your decision. As a wife, I was so very thankful for the extra years with him.. again, the dr.s name is Yancey Beamer and he is in Newport california. Whatever you do, im thankful i got to read your story. Thank you for that. God bless , take care, and know there is love and support for you from all over the globe.

  • Boldtruth11

    So sorry. Such a tragedy and I am sorry to see that she and her family have had to make such a horrible decision. Although these organizations supposedly fight for the right to die (hospice included), on the other side, they often attempt to force those who are not ready to die, to die early. I am only sad that when we lose hope and determine to end our life, we do lose all chance for a miracle. But I still understand her choice. God bless Brittany, I hope you know the Savior because if you do, November 1 will be a day when you are welcomed home to your new amazing eternity.

  • anju

    God can and has healed cancers….so please give Jesus a chance. Above all, I pray that you will know His love for you and receive Hs salvation and gift of eternal life.

  • AnneS

    Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He is the same God yesterday, today and forever — He heals and saves to the Uttmost! He loves you Brittany and cares for you, your husband, family and friends. Put your life into HIS hands. You may be surprised the good news you will find in the Bible — start with the book of John. I will be praying for you.

  • Vickie Beverly

    Please give your life to God, He can heal you, and give you and your family peace. Trust Him and know that He is God, He has a plan for your life, only he can save and keep you, and your family. PLEASE don’t end your life, give it to Jesus, and trust Him!!! I will be praying for you and your family, God bless you all!!

    • Belsma

      She has a freaking brain tumor which is not curable. Do you want her to suffer? Have you ever watched someone die? She has decided to tell the cancer to “f off” and it will not control her. I don’t like that she has had to make this decision, but she has. It”s so very sad and it sucks.

  • Andrew

    I’m at bit confused at why people are OK with what she is doing by setting a date for her departure (if you will)… Read my whole post if you think I’m being crass or insensitive….
    Everyone just got over the suicide of Robin Williams, with the plethora of articles written about how his life and the genius of his talent was gone from us too soon… AND NOW everyone seems to be admiring and celebrating the young woman in Oregon who is ending her life via physician assisted suicide… It was Robins mental illness, addiction, and subsequent pain and suffering and the thought of a life of continued suffering that made him believe that life was not worth living, hence his choice to end it. Very similarly it is this young woman’s physical illness, current suffering and outlook of continued and worsened suffering that makes her believe that life is no longer worth living…. Both cases are very similar, just one physical illness the other mental illness…This is suicide, plain and simple and should not be celebrated or admired. We as a society should be saddened and mourning, that yet another person has failed to see the inherent dignity that their life holds, the same dignity that their life was given by God at conception, the same dignity that no illness, Mental or physical Can subtract from. That another person has ceased to have hope and has ceased to recognize that even in the months, weeks, days, and moments leading up to our death, that God has a plan for our lives, even if it the suffering makes that plan seem
    beyond our understanding or comprehension.
    About 8 years ago I walked hand in hand with my grandfather as he battled Gleoblastoma (yes the same brutally aggressive brain cancer as the woman in Oregon has) I was with him, at his bedside, merely hours before his death. Yes he was in pain, yes he was a distant image his former college football star self, yes it was very tough for us, his family to see him like that… However as I sat there hand in hand by his bedside we stared at each other, him groaning from
    The pain, no longer able to speak; me offering comforting words and hiding my tears; and as I looked into his eyes, not only did I cherish those final painful moments, but I also recognized something very special, very profound in his gaze… It was his human dignity, it was the image and likeness of our creator, still present within him, a 75 year old man on his deathbed.
    Here’s a bit of wishful thinking…
    That instead of wishing this woman farewell, and supporting her decision to chose death. (Even if it’s less painful and only speeding things up by a few
    Months) Let’s flood these new stories with comments reaffirming her dignity in hopes that she can once again hope. Reaffirming that she, even in her sickly and painful state is beautiful,
    Is human, is alive.

    • Belsma

      Being in pain and dying is not beautiful. I don’t think I could be as brave as her. Apparently this is what “god” has chosen for her and she is making her choices. I support her for that. What do you think happens at end of life in hospice care? You get pumped up with morphine to make you comfy and so you don’t suffer. Then you get dead. It’s common practice, she is choosing her own destiny.

  • Tina Journey

    Beautiful woman, I hear your fear at the idea of dying in a painful place. I would like you to consider a miraculous healing. God heals all the time. You have purpose here on earth. A reason for living. A life to live. You don’t have to decide when. I want to encourage you to live! Live and not die. Don’t be afraid. I want you to know I’m praying for you. I believe in a miracle for you, because you’re worth the miracle, because you are a miracle. Don’t let people (or doctors) dictate what you can believe for yourself. You are amazing and wonderful and important in this life. You have stuff to do here on earth that only you can do, things that only you can contribute to make this world a better place. Please don’t give up. I may not know you. But I know what it’s like to want something to end or to die and not experience the pain I was headed into. I was healed. It took some time; but I was healed. I’m a miracle and so are you!

  • Diane

    Brittany, if you were my daughter, I would want you here as long as possible even if it meant me sadly watching you slipping away. I’m not saying that because of selfish reasons. I’m sorry, I’m not a believer in someone taking their life for any reason! God loves you, He is the giver of life and He alone knows when it is time to call us home. Please consider how special you are and how wonderfully He created you, even in death He cares for you! My heart goes out to you and your family but please don’t do this. I watched my mom die and took care of her for several months before, even though she wasn’t able to talk to me, I talked to her and held her hand and cherished those very precious moments. Your life is precious up to your last breath! I don’t know if you are a believer in God, but before you consider doing this, please just ask Him to make himself real to you, He will! Jesus loves you Brittany! People care and I care, PLEASE LIVE until God calls you home!

  • smart

    To Brittany Maynard, I sincerely hope you read and consider this post. Going so young is sad, and it would not hurt to try and continue on, the page I am linking is related to a Chinese professional doctor who specializes in cancer treatments. He has saved a great number of lives, and here you can review the comments his patients have left regarding their treatment. Many are written Chinese, but if you look you will find a good handful of English reviews as well. Google translate may help too if you want to read the ones in Chinese. Please Please consider this post, life is wonderful don’t leave it too soon. This is the patient testimonials:http://oeyamamotocancerresearchfoundation.org/review.php Here is the doctor’s location, he is here in California: 600 N. Garfield Ave., #206, Monterey Park, CA 91754 His phone number is: 626 967 8822 I wish the best of luck to you.

  • Rina

    Brittany please try spiritual therapy, I am sure there will be something which can be considered as option. There are many treatments available, please do right research.

  • Susanna

    Dear Brittany, please don’t give up. You are too young. My Dad was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer starting to spread this July. It has been hard to get through this time but with Gods help he is on the mend. He completed a treatment in Germany at an oncologists clinic. They are amazing there. They complete localised chemotherapy and immunotherapy. They also do many other natural treatments. The address is: http://www.hallwang-clinic.com/en.html
    They are helping many people. Also, please consider some natural remedies such baking soda (without aluminium) and molasses. Google it. Lots of people are having great success. It increases pH in your body and cancer does not like this. Please don’t end your life. God has a purpose for you and I don’t believe your journey is over yet. All the best.

  • Peggy

    Brittany, I don’t think you should give up either. You seem to have a lot of people praying for you, myself included. I’m not here to judge you. I am hoping you place your life in God’s hands and you and your family will draw strength from Him. I’m sure you can find a pastor or priest you can talk to that can help you and your family at this difficult time. I hope you give your family as much time with you as possible. My prayers will continue to be with you and your family through this difficult time.

  • Mary Maresh

    Hi, Brittany…I have cancer and want to tell you about Protocel, an alternative medicine explained in the book, “Outsmart your Cancer”. It’s working for me! It lowers the electrical charge of all cells in your body, and the cancer cells are so low energy already that they literally fall apart and pass out of the body through various channels. Here is one source of buying it: Vitamin Shoppe (330)
    834-0008. The Lord Jesus died a horrible death for you, Brittany, and He loves you immensely!
    Trust in Him…don’t end your life! With Love and prayer, Mary Maresh

  • Jessica R. Leonhard

    Dear Brittany and Dan, You are in the prayers of many strangers who believe that the Lord God wants to perform a miracle and save Brittany’s life. The Lord God has a purpose for Brittany’s life and the Lord can make you well again. The Lord has healed the bodies of individuals since the beginning of time. Don’t give up on God. Please ask the Lord God to Heal your brain. Fast and Pray with family and friends and believe that God will not let you down. He has a purpose for your life. Don’t give up on God.

    Sincerely, Jessica Leonhard if South Bend, Indiana

  • laswan57

    I can’t believe nobody is telling her how cannabis oil totally cures cancer no matter the stage. She doesn’t have to die. Dammit someone do something!!

  • Mary Maresh

    Hi, Brittany…New remedy especially good for brain cancer. Look up Dr. Joseph Mercola”s interview with Dr. Thomas Sigfried about the calorie-restricted ketogenic diet which substitutes fat for carbs
    and there has been success with the shrinkage of tumors. Also consider again “Protocel” which is
    available at Vitamin Depot, 330/834-0008, and is tremendously successful. “Outsmart Your Cancer” is the book that explains it.
    Only God can create a life, and only He should take it. I’ve never met you, but in Jesus I love you
    and hope you will have hope, pray, and try these or other remedies! I have cancer and Protocel is working for me! We’re praying for you…..Love, Mary

  • George

    Thank You for sharing and still being among us. As in your case I wish they would change one part of the law, that a family member may step in if needed. If I choice to hold on until it was to late to complete my self and at a set point someone could complete the process for me at that point of time.