Several days ago, I sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown, urging him to sign into law ABX2-15, California's End of Life Option Act. I feel compelled to add my voice to the growing chorus of those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, as well as respected institutions such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, urging the governor to make death with dignity possible in California. I hope that by sharing this open letter, my voice and my story can help ease the path out of this life for those facing harrowing, terminal illnesses. Someday, that person will be me.
Dear Governor Brown:
Five years ago, when I was 27, I developed a curious limp that grew worse over the course of 2010. It was around the time I stopped being able to walk up and down stairs without assistance that my physicians arrived at a diagnosis: brain tumor, right motor cortex. By that time, the tumor was too large and too diffuse to remove, and so I embarked on what has been a long and arduous course of treatment. Study data shows -- and my physicians believe -- that my latest treatment (a double whammy of radiation and harsh chemotherapy) could buy me a number of progression-free years. I know that most people with brain tumors aren't this lucky, and I'm so grateful for the time I've been given.
As the End of Life Option Act (ABX2-15) has cleared the Assembly and Senate and made its way toward your desk, I'm sure you've heard stories from people whose prognosis is much worse than mine. Folks who are currently in the midst of a terrible march toward death. Loved ones who want their spouse or parent to have the option to die without unbearable pain and suffering. That's not me. Not yet. But the likelihood is: it will be someday.
Of course, my most dearly held hopes are that currently available treatments buy me enough time to see the advent of new treatments that come closer to a cure; that I live to grow old with my new husband; that my parents don't have to watch me die before them. But I'm not an unrealistic person. I know that -- unless something else kills me first -- this awful disease will.
And when that day comes, I want to have the option, here in my home state of California, to experience what Dan Diaz calls "a gentle death." Maybe I won't need to. Maybe I won't want to. But after facing the trauma of years with cancer, the last thing I want is to die on cancer's terms: a painful, slow, horrible and dehumanizing death. I want my husband to remember me the way I am today, not the way I'd be if I were eaten alive by a merciless disease, my body and personality mangled by pain.
Governor Brown: I urge you to sign ABX2-15. Give me and the dozens of other amazing humans I've met on my journey with cancer (and the countless others I've never met) some peace and relief from the dread of those final months. Give us the chance to take back control when our time is up. Give us the opportunity to die with dignity. I don't want to rage against the dying of the light. When my time comes, I want to go gently into the night. Help make that possible for me and so many others like me.