Last week, Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old face of the controversial right-to-death movement, ended her life. She captivated millions via social media with this bold decision to die in light of her terminal brain cancer diagnosis. Doctors diagnosed her with Grade 4 glioblastoma, the exact same and rare cancer that my dad died of two years ago.
So I wanted to share with you what it probably would’ve been like if Brittany didn’t choose to end her life before the disease killed her. From being with my dad since his symptoms started, until he took his last breath, I can vouch that this disease is horrific. Brittany saved herself and her loved ones a lot of pain and suffering.
Here’s a timeline of how the disease progressed with my father. It’ll hopefully help you understand why the right-to-death movement is so necessary.
First off, this is was my dad before anything fishy, when he was healthy:
Now…on to the ugliness of this disease:
First 1-2 months: a few mild migraines but most noticeably forgetfulness. My father would confuse the names of things, constantly thinking about the right word to say. When I noticed he was forgetting his co-worker’s name, I dragged him (yes, dragged because he refuse to go) to the ER. An MRI showed a 6cm Grade 4 Glioblastoma tumor, given 6-12 months to live. The tumor is removed via surgery and he begins chemo and daily radiation treatments.
3-5 months after diagnosis: The chemo works for a few months, but the tumors return. This time there’s two of them. My dad undergoes another surgery to get them out and begins a new form of chemo called “Avastin”. He’s tired often, but fairly lucid.
6-7 month after diagnosis: The Avastin is too harsh on his intestines and it ruptures. He requires stomach surgery to repair the rupture and can’t continue with the chemo. He also can’t eat normally because of the colostomy bag that he now had surgically put in. The tumors continue to occupy more and more of his brain and he begins to forget how to put sentences that make sense together. He can’t walk without assistance, usually in bed and if not in bed, in a wheelchair.
8-10 months after diagnosis: He is placed in hospice type of facility with nurses on call full time. He starts to forget how to do basic things like swallowing an hence a feeding tube inserted in his nose (which he constantly tries to pull out because he doesn’t understand why it’s there and it bothers him). He can’t speak much, it becomes increasingly difficult to communicate with him. He gestures a lot with his hands, but a lot of it does not make any sense. I’m not sure if he was aware what was happening.
6 weeks before death: His motor movements slow down and noticeably weaken, he can hug and wave, but slowly. He can’t really say words clearly and begins to lose control over bowel movements. He sleeps a lot, when awake, his eyes become glassy and milky, almost like fish eyes. His vision seems to be impaired. I can tell the tumors are almost entirely taking over his brain.
A few days before death: minimally responsive and doesn’t make any sense when he speaks, just sounds like chanting or noise, like what a baby might make. Begins to have a sporadic wet cough. His bowel movements completely cease and he sleeps most of the time. Refuses to swallow anything and doesn’t understand why there’s a tube in his nose (the feeding tube) and tries to pull it out often. During this period I begin to worry he’ll die any minute. It becomes harder to rouse and waken him from sleep. I feel like he’s essentially a vegetable.
24 hours before death: His mouth slackens, never fully closed. He goes in and out of coma like sleep and barely fidgets anymore. Breathing is mucusy and I can tell it becomes increasingly difficult.
Time of death: every breath is drawn out and he seems exhausted after each time he inhales. He appears overall relaxed and let’s out a sigh with eyes wide open.
I can’t really tell you what he looked like after he passed because I ran out of the room after I saw them confirm that his pulse stopped.
I can’t imagine how hard this was for my dad, but even for me, seeing my dad, someone that I always perceived as a genius deteriorate to a vegetable was gut wrenching. Brittany save her and her loved ones a lot of agony and a very painful death. I don’t know about my dad, but if I were diagnosed with this disease, I’d chose to end my own life before the disease got real ugly. Everyone should be able to have that choice.
This post is very raw and candid, but this disease is still far from a cure and not many people know about it. We hear a lot about breast and prostate cancer, but rarely about brain cancer. I hope this helped you understand why Brittany did such an important thing bringing attention to this issue. I often wish my dad was offered this choice.