Today I feel the wind, rain and sun on my face for the very last time in my 57 short years of life. I enter the Gibson Unit at St John’s Hospital and I surrender myself to the elements of the inevitable.
With a diagnosis of Stage IV Gastric Cancer in October 2018, just a short 11 months ago, the deterioration has been drastic in recent months and every bit of life has been torn away from me.
The uncontrollable pain and relentless nausea over the last six months in particular has been persistent and has used every ounce of energy I have left. It has left me so broken. My family are witnesses of my suffering, just as I am of theirs. Our entire family feels broken.
Cancer took so many of my choices away from me 11 months ago and now in the final weeks of my life I have no choice other than to accept my torturous fate. I can accept dying. I cannot accept dying a slow death in intolerable pain. This pain in itself has me wishing nothing more than to die and to end my own suffering. I want my daughters to remember me as I am and I want beautiful lasting memories.
Would you believe I felt my only way out was suicide, seriously?!!!! You left me no choice to openly discuss this with my daughters.
It wasn’t the fear of dying early by suicide that deterred me, but the fear of dying alone and not surrounded by pure love and in the arms of my loved ones.
I’ve witnessed some bedside rituals in the past and I wholeheartedly know I do not want that for myself, my partner or for my daughters. I know they will not leave my side until I take my last breath and I know how soul destroying and torturous this can be, with the feeling of such helplessness and watching on while the person moves through the stages of death, more so when uncontrollable pain is involved.
I want to slip away under my terms and allow my children to have a final goodbye, not to be tortured for weeks of watching me suffer and lose every ounce of dignity I have left. After 11 months of hell and torture, surely I deserve at least this?!
During the course of the 11 months I visited hospitals on more than 10 occasions in an attempt to control my pain and nausea – but you know what? We never had it controlled to a tolerable level. This extreme pain and nausea has taken away nearly every piece of happiness I had left and I am a now a mere shadow of my former self, physically and emotionally.
If I cannot choose to end my own suffering, who exactly owns my body?
How is it that the families of patients who are being kept alive by technology and machines can have a choice to stop all medical interventions, but I do not? We do not allow animals to withstand chronic pain; however, we expect our family and friends to bear this excruciating agony.
I pray you and your families will never have to endure a situation similar to ours, but in reality unless you do, you’ll never have enough understanding or empathy to help legalise Voluntary Assisted Dying in Tasmania. Sit with me during the last few days of my life, look me in the eyes, deny me of ending my suffering while my withered away body convulses in pain… there is nothing humane about this ending.
This is not my life or my body anymore, I am a shell and you have taken control of me.
Let us live the last chapter of our lives fearlessly, knowing we can end our own suffering and despair. There is a difference between suicide and VAD. I do not want to die. I am dying.
Diane Gray, Hobart, Tasmania
Journal entry, Sunday 8 September 2019
Photos: (Top) Diane Gray with her daughters Jacqui and Natalie; (Bottom) Diane in happier times
Read the ABC story about Diane's final wish.