Dying to live yet living to die
Alan Stewart, Staff Writer
Two recent stories of the human spirit ‘ somewhat similar but different ‘ and how they were handled peppered the airwaves and social media recently.
There was the story of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old wife diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer. Maynard was told by doctors last spring that she had Stage 4 glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor, and had only six months to live.
Knowing she only had a brief time left, she and her husband and family checked several items off her ‘bucket list,’ including a trip to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Alaska and British Columbia. She lived life as long as her body would allow.
After her diagnosis, she moved to Oregon, which is one of five states that allows for assisted suicide so she could ‘ by her own words ‘ die with dignity by taking a fatal dose of barbiturates that had been prescribed by her doctor. Maynard, who made a video for an advocacy charity that seeks to expand access to assisted suicide, said she would do so when her suffering became too great.
True to her word, Maynard ended her life Saturday at her home in Portland.
‘Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love,’ she told followers on Facebook. ‘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!’
Then there is the story of Lawrenceburg’s Lauren Hill, a young athlete at Mount St. Joseph’s University who was diagnosed with a brain tumor while she was in high school.
Like Maynard, doctors told Hill the medical condition ‘ Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma ‘ was terminal, and, like Maynard, she also had something she wanted to do before her health deteriorated. Her one dream was to play college basketball. Immediately after being told she had terminal brain cancer, her first question to her doctor was, ‘Can I at least still play basketball?’
Thanks to Xavier University in Ohio and the NCAA, she was allowed to play. In preparation for the game, and as much as her body would let her, she practiced with teammates. She got up at 5:30 a.m. for drills and did everything she could to realize her dream.
Seventeen seconds into the game ‘ and one day after Maynard took her life ‘ Hill made a left-handed lay-up (her tumor has forced the righty to shoot with her left hand because it has affected her coordination) to fulfill her dream. (She also closed the contest with two more points, which gave her team the win.)
As Hill jogged back down the court to play defense, she stumbled and fell. She was helped up and continued on as if the game was for the NCAA championship.
After the game, she said she didn’t want it to be her last game, and that she plans to be at all of her team’s games, even if she’s in a wheelchair.
One out of every one person on this planet will die. It’s not something that’s rainbows and puppies to think about, but it’s a fact of life that we’ll all face. Compounding that thought would be hearing, ‘There’s nothing we can do’ spoken by a doctor.
There are differences in the way Maynard and Hill faced their situations, but the most interesting is that both passionately believed what they were doing was the right way to bring awareness to their ordeals. Both seemed to be dying to live yet also living to die. One advocates for cure and health; the other advocates for assisted death with dignity.
For both, their final days will be remembered for starting national conversations about how to tackle terminal illness: Do we fight it with everything we have, or do we speed the process so suffering for ourselves and our family is at a minimum?