My aunt Roslyn Hamilton-Brown, my mother Eulalie Maria Celine Humphrey, and my father Stanley Maurice Humphrey.
I’ve lost all of my family to cancer. I cared for each and every one of them. Towards the end I know they wanted to leave but I was powerless to help them. They died without dignity, in pain and with no quality of life.
My dogs are not treated that badly.
My first experience was with my aunt, who had breast cancer that spread to her lungs. She had a terrible end – she couldn’t breathe and they kept having to drain her lungs. I cannot imagine a God who would want people to suffer like that.
Next was my mum, who died from liver cancer in the early 90s. My mum was so community focussed and well-known and respected – she was the first female Councillor in our Shire, she got the aged care home up and running in our area. Poor mum never got a retirement, she was diagnosed three months before she was due to hang up the boots.
Mum was sick for 18 months and I was her primary carer. I’d administer her morphine and I’d have to phone up every time and get it recorded, so if she died it would protect me.
There were times where she would be screaming in pain and she looked at me and I knew exactly what she wanted me to do.
But she wouldn’t ask because she didn’t want me to put me in that situation.
My mum had to go into palliative care to get her pain under control. I promised her she wouldn’t die on her own. I would stay by her bedside all day then race home, feed the horses, the dogs, bring dad to see her, then take him home, then drive back and sleep by her bed. I did this every day for six weeks. In palliative care there would always be someone screaming out in pain, begging for a nurse to come. In the end they gave my mum so much morphine she was comatose. Her mouth was ulcerated, her lips were so dry. She wasn’t awake or aware, we didn’t know what pain she was suffering, she couldn’t swallow, we couldn’t give her fluids. What’s the point in keeping someone alive like that when they’re not going to get better?
After mum died dad didn’t want to be on his own so he came to live with myself and my partner, Michael. Then dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer, which went to his bladder, prostate and lungs. Dad was vomiting food as soon as he would swallow it. It took me ten days of fighting with hospital staff before they did an x-ray and found a tumour behind his esophagus.
It’s hard to understand how anyone who has been on this journey could ever be against voluntary assisted dying.
It’s awful to see someone deteriorate like that. My mum weighed 32kg when she died, you couldn’t even help her in bed without her screaming in pain.
The people I cared for were all so traumatised by the feeling of being a burden. It added to their suffering. I didn’t treat them in a way to make them feel like that – I kept them clean and comfortable, I fought their battles for them, I was there for them morning, noon and night. But how embarrassing for a 6’2 man having to have his daughter clean up his dirty bottom. It was so upsetting and degrading for him that he couldn’t manage it himself. I’d say, ‘don’t worry about it, dad, shit happens!’ I’d try and play it down, but of course he worried about it. My mum was so worried about me too, she wanted me to go and have a life.
Michael and I lost everything in the fires in 2014. We were insured, but they fought us on everything and we lost too much financially. Michael ended collapsing from heart failure and I found him dead in our back paddock. He was in his 60s and despondent at the idea of trying to make that money back. A month after Michael died, to the day, my dad passed away.
I have PTSD as a result of everything I’ve been through. My mum was my best friend. I miss her dreadfully. Dad and I became very close when I was caring for him too. When Michael died, I thought, ‘I don’t have time for this, I have to look after my dad.’ But when dad went it was like I was on a fast train and I couldn’t find the brakes.
I’m 67 now. I have no partner or family. I’ve appointed a guardian and asked her to accompany me to whatever country will euthanise me when I’m ready to go. I’d rather not have to travel across the world to do it. Those that have religious beliefs – if you wish to live to the bitter end, I won’t stop you. It’s your choice. But I would also like the choice to end my life without judgement from others.
Jacqui Humphrey, February 2019