Monday, November 3, 2014

Death with Dignity - Brittany Maynard

Coming to terms with anyone's choice to end one's life is a difficult process and I have an unusual perspective from three points of view:
  • A recovered Stage 4B cancer patient who was told three times I would die during my harsh, year-long treatment.
  • A suicide survivor - the term used when a loved one completes suicide as my brother, Steve Crohn, did a year ago August. 
  • A compassionate, health-challenged woman who is contemplating my own choices when and if I get critically ill again.
As 29-year-old Brittany Maynard said: "It's not a decision you make one day and you snap your fingers." 

No, it's not. Seventeen years ago, at age 36 and married with two young children, I had to fight the urge to let go - to surrender to the disease and end the outright pain it inflicted. I was determined to live because of my children. However, when it was all over, I said I would never, ever do it again; that is, I decided then and there that if I was ever re-stricken with cancer, I would not fight it and I would let nature take its course. Now I'm not so sure. 

My brother chose to die with his dignity intact. Suffering from life's challenges, personal trauma and mental illness, he selected the date, time and place and how he would end his life. Found with a smile on his face I 'see' him that way today; joyous and in Heaven dancing with friends and family. As much as I railed against his actions for months, I have come to realize it was his decision and he felt it was best. I accept it but I will always miss him. I just don't question his decision anymore. 

Finally, here I am today with news just last week that my white and red blood cells are, for the first time since 1997, in the normal range. I am no longer immuno-compromised. It is truly amazing what the human body can do - in time. I still suffer from Lupus, fibromyalgia, gastroparesis, severe osteoporosis, depression and anxiety but I manage day-to-day with no thoughts of ending my life. 

If time is only going to make you suffer more, I do believe we should have the right to our own life-ending decision. Maynard, who had terminal brain cancer with just months to live, had to move to Oregon to have that option. Other states are beginning to craft legislation that will allow assisted death in cases such as Maynard's.

Yesterday, surrounded by family and friends, Maynard wrote:

"Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more. The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type … Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!" 

May we all have the option to die with dignity and grace. 

Britanny Maynard in People magazine


  1. I believe we all have the option to end our own life at any time (that's what suicide is, a choice), yet am conflicted about legally sanctioning this and justifying it as "dignity" somehow. Personally I find those who endure suffering more dignified than those who opt out. And nobody knows the future -- some who were given diagnoses for "a few months to live" have lived much longer... some without increased suffering. I can only understand the choice when someone is suffering unbearably long-term (admittedly a relative concept) and there's no hope for relief nor improvement... along the lines of euthanasia for a beloved pet. My heart breaks for anyone who feels a preemptive death is the best choice for him/her and all involved... and for those who make such a choice in a moment of pain, unable to consider anything beyond that moment and their fears. Also, of course, those whose mental illness prevents careful decision making altogether. I hope I will never know what that's like firsthand and, if I do, that I will choose differently. And I hope all who have died by their own choice are at peace now... OF COURSE, including Steve Crohn, who was just a gem in this world and seemed, to me, larger than life. Like his sister Amy, I envision Steve smiling and laughing and spreading joy to others, wherever souls are gathered. ~Tracy in Boston

    1. Thank you Tracy. There is much we do not know. If you read backwards, you'll find how I struggled with my brother's death throughout much of the past year and a few months. I question why he helped me fight so hard to live (when I had Stage 4 cancer) and then chose to take his own life years later. There are no easy answers - we can just process the questions one at a time.

  2. Beautifully written with much to ponder. I agree that death with dignity is a choice and should be able to be made by us all without having to move. We should all have choices when the time comes. Thank you for this article.


Please comment! I'll write about what you'd like. Let me know.