In 1991, my father was placed in a nursing home because of rapidly failing health caused by no longer treatable prostate cancer. One day, a nurse found him dead — on the toilet. He was all alone. There were no goodbyes, no last words, no embraces, no comfort. My mom, for the rest of her life, was haunted by that image.
In 2009, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I had flashbacks of my father’s long and unnecessary suffering. In his later years, he had pleaded not to die in a nursing home, but it was the only option at the time. I believe that’s when he lost his will to continue living.
It’s now 12 years since my prostate cancer diagnosis. Surgery, radiation and testosterone-suppressing drugs have kept the cancer at bay. Eventually, the treatments will stop being effective. Of course, I could also die of something else. My point is, if fate decides my death won’t be sudden, my fervent desire is to have much more control over how I die than my father did.
One of the ways I’m taking more control is through stipulating my wishes and sharing those with family. I’m using an invaluable workbook entitled “My End-of-Life Decisions, An Advance Planning Guide and Toolkit” It’s published by a national nonprofit organization called Compassion and Choices.
Another way I’m taking more control is through my own advocacy in support of passing medical aid in dying legislation in Illinois. Ten states and the District of Columbia already have this option. In those jurisdictions, people with terminal illnesses can request a prescription from their doctors for medication that will result in a peaceful death. The patient decides when the moment is right to take the medication, or may opt to not take the medication at all. More information can be found here.
For more information, please contact www.CompassionAndChoices.com.
Jim Kelly, Oak Park