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My niece fought for my end of life choice

19 April, 2021

I consider myself lucky to be a Victorian - particularly since I was diagnosed with metastatic, advanced and terminal breast cancer in August of last year, aged 55, says Jennifer. I now have access to a voluntary assisted dying law, in part thanks to the advocacy of my brave niece Penelope. Sadly, she did not have this choice herself.

I have always been a firm believer in a person's right to choose how they die. I have witnessed too many horrific deaths close to me to think otherwise. I know first-hand that even the best palliative care cannot erase all pain and suffering.

My niece Penelope (pictured below), who died a horrific death aged 39, used her final days in 2018 to advocate for the end of life choice Victorians like me now benefit from. She was a prolific letter writer and a passionate, articulate advocate when the VAD law was going through our Parliament.

She was delighted when the legislation passed and, even as she lay dying, she was pleased knowing it was there for others to use in the future. It gave her comfort then, and it gives me comfort now.

So, now it’s my turn and I have access to the precious legislation.

From the moment I was given my death sentence of maybe three years, I have undergone extensive treatment including radiotherapy, chemotherapy and continuing ‘antibody’ therapy which has succeeded in shrinking my extensive tumours, throughout my bones, spine, liver and lungs. I am currently being assessed for a trial and am completely open and accepting of any treatment that may prolong my most excellent life.  I am extremely lucky to be loved and supported by many, including adoring husband, our children, grandchildren, my family, my husband’s family, our friends, neighbours and a great treatment team. I have every resource available at my disposal, otherwise good health, financially secure, close proximity to those I love and all medical facilities. I know I am incredibly fortunate, despite having a less than enviable prognosis.

I feel overwhelming relief knowing that when my options run out, and my tumours return with a vengeance and mean business, that I have an out. You cannot know how empowering this is, to feel like I have control. I know what my end looks like, since I lived it with my niece Penelope. I will go the same way. My liver will fail me, and I could be reduced to a wreck of a once-dynamic human.

Knowing I have a choice keeps me strong, motivated and eager to embrace love and life.

I have plans and am keen to share each precious well moment with those I love, while I’m still well. I can do this, not having to plot, to worry, to stress, to involve or potentially implicate those who love me to liberate me from the cruel end I will face. I am not having to consider moving away from those I love, to a mature state with the legislation to allow me the dignity I need.

What I cannot understand is why my fellow Aussies are not afforded the same respect. Especially when poll after poll clearly indicates the strong community support for a person’s right to die with dignity. To opponents I say: That's OK if you don't want that choice for yourself, but please don't take that choice away from me.

It is so unfair that I get to live my best terminal life while many of my fellow country people and their families are denied the right. There is no rational reason not to allow the changes necessary to give all Australians access to the option of a death of their choosing with dignity, safety, respect, love, empowerment, security and control.

-Jennifer, Melbourne

More than 80% of us believe terminally ill Australians should have a choice not to suffer at the end of life.

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