this is about my mom — Ask a Manager

This is not a work post.

My mother woke up one morning last July itching all over her body, from the top of her head to the soles of her feet. She called me and I told her it was probably bug bites and her body’s antihistamine response was just misfiring.

It was not bug bites.

Several days later we learned she had a mass on her pancreas: cancer.

Several weeks later we learned that it had spread.

She was told in July that she had eight to eleven months to live. Maybe a bit more, maybe less.

I can’t explain strongly enough how blindsided I was. My mom, despite obviously being old enough to be my mom, is one of the healthiest people I know. She’s a passionate devotee of yoga and exercise. Half her friends are my age or younger (and my own friends tend to think she’s barely older than we are). Her sensibility is … not an old person’s. I recently watched her fill out a medical form that asked whether she’d had more than one sexual partner and she amused herself by writing, “Not at the same time.”

I guess my point is, she never really got old, regardless of her age, and at some level this led me to think I would have her forever. It turns out that I will not.

Metastatic pancreatic cancer is a bad cancer, as cancers go, and dying from pancreatic cancer is not a good death. It can be painful and prolonged. My mom doesn’t want to die that way, and she’s determined that she won’t — and that’s why I’m writing this.

For the last few years – starting well before her diagnosis – my mom has been a legislative advocate for Medical Aid in Dying.

Medical Aid in Dying allows a terminally ill, mentally capable adult with a prognosis of six months or less to live to request from their doctor a prescription for medication they can decide to take to die peacefully in their sleep. It’s only legal in 10 states and D.C. She’s been working to make it legal in Virginia, where we live.

When she started working on the issue, she no idea that the issue would become so personal to her; she just cared deeply about adults’ autonomy and right to make their own end-of-life choices.

My mom has always lived her life on her own terms, so it’s been no surprise to me that she’s spending the limited time she has left continuing to fight to be able to do that. Since her diagnosis, she has testified before our state legislature, lobbied elected officials, and last month went on TV to speak about the need for the law to change.

She stresses that with this legislation, terminally ill patients can fill the prescription and then decide never to take it; many people find peace just knowing they have the medicine on hand in case they need it, but never end up using it. They just want to know they have that control. (Also, states where it’s legal have strict safeguards to ensure the decision can be made only by the sick person themselves, not by doctors or family members or anyone else.)

Last month, a Virginia Senate subcommittee voted (on almost straight party lines) against passing the legislation in our state, so – despite having lived here most of her adult life – my mom now has to move into D.C., where she’ll be allowed to die without suffering when the time comes.

Medical Aid in Dying is currently legal in California, Colorado, D.C., Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington state. Legislation has also been introduced in Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.

If you live in a state that doesn’t currently give terminally ill people the right to ensure their death is a peaceful one, my mom and I very much hope you will contact your legislators and ask them to change that. The organization Compassion & Choices is the one she has been working with, and they make it easy for you to contact your elected representatives here.

some things about my mom

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