Dan Diaz, Brittany Maynard’s Husband
In early November, I lost the woman I love. My wife Brittany Maynard made the very personal decision to end her life peacefully, on her own terms.
Brittany had a terminal brain tumor and was suffering from increasingly frequent and debilitating seizures. Each seizure carried the risk of permanent paralysis, blindness and severe pain. She felt she was setting herself up to suffer a horrible death if she didn’t take action. In that regard, she was doing what she thought was logical and ethical. She was looking out for herself and her family.
Brittany and I lived in California, but we picked up and moved to Oregon – one of a handful of states with a Death with Dignity Act – so she could control the amount of suffering she would have to endure. Then she went public with her story.
To me, she was brave and courageous. But she didn’t think of it that way. She became a voice for death with dignity. She knew that by speaking up, it began a conversation that was needed, one that hopefully would lead others to be more open about their own views on death and dying. At the end of the day, we’re all headed there.
Brittany’s decision to speak so openly added extra turmoil to an already chaotic time, but she knew it was worth it. She wanted to remove some of the fear and stigma surrounding death, to get people more at ease so that legislators might put more laws on the books leaving end of life decisions to individual patients and their doctors.
It’s crazy to think Jan. 1 marks one year since Brittany’s diagnosis with brain cancer. She was one of the most energetic, adventurous people you could ever hope to meet. We had a TV mounted on the wall for the occasional movie, but she didn’t do well sitting around. She traveled to Thailand, climbed peaks in Ecuador and taught at an orphanage in Nepal. She reached the summit of Kilimanjaro a month before our wedding. We spent our honeymoon hiking glaciers in Patagonia.
We met in April 2007, and our first trip together was visiting my brother in New York that July. We rode bikes up and down the West Side Highway. It was easy and fun. I knew she was beautiful the first time I met her, but she got more beautiful the more time you spent with her.
The holidays have been tough. We moved into our house in northern California two years ago, and the last two holidays we hosted my family for Christmas Eve. We didn’t do that this year. I put the lights up outside, but I didn’t get a tree or anything. It was Brittany who decorated inside, with lots of holly and wreaths.
Sometimes my emotions drift from sadness to anger. I can’t help asking, ‘How did this come apart?’ But there’s a saying: you can smile that it happened or choose to be sad that it’s over. It depends on how you look at things. Everything we had together, that was real. Those things happened.
These days I carry her driver’s license in my wallet, with mine right behind it. Whenever I’m paying for something at the grocery store, I see her picture. I remember her day to day smile, her laugh, a conversation. She’s the woman I love.
Deborah Ziegler, Maynard’s mother
Brittany Lauren Maynard was a strong-willed child. As a toddler, she spoke her mind and utilized toys with a sense of purpose. This quality carried her through life. When faced with the worst diagnosis imaginable, Brittany’s strong will became her saving grace. Speeding past her family, almost skipping the stage of denial, Brittany asked difficult questions of her doctors. She immediately comprehended the severity of her diagnosis and began planning how she would deal with her illness.
Brittany chose a craniotomy because she wanted tissue from the brain tumor to be harvested and studied; this tumor resection reduced the tumor mass by approximately 40%. Unfortunately, by her first post-surgical MRI the tumor had grown aggressively.
Brittany did an enormous amount of research on what is referred to as the “gold standard” of treatment. Surgical reduction of tumor, chemotherapy and radiation are considered to be the normal way to proceed. However, Brittany’s tumor resided in the eloquent areas of her brain where language, memory and decision making skills reside. To treat her brain with radiation would cause certain eloquent skill impairment.
Brittany quickly determined she would not be participating in the standard treatments. She chose not to become someone other than herself in her last months of life.
She chose to keep her eloquent skills for as long as she could. She chose to live as fully as she could in her remaining months, planning trips to Alaska, British Columbia, Oregon and Olympic National Park in Washington. She organized her trips and expeditions around relocating to Oregon where she would be free to utilize the law providing end of life options.
We spent a great deal of time among the trees. The redwoods of California. The spruce and hemlocks of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. The moss-covered giant cedars and splendid pillar-trunked Douglas firs of Olympic National Park. The western red cedars, big-leaf maples and red alders on Wildwood trail in Portland.
Here, among trees, my child quenched her bottomless thirst for nature. Hiking on trails in the north western United States, enjoying the peaceful lazy light filtering through the bottom branches and photographing the local wildlife nurtured her.
Even when seizures began, even when she began to fall on occasion, her ankle giving way as it no longer received messages from her brain, Brittany loved to walk through the woods.
On one of these walks we talked of how unfair it was that some families might wish to avail themselves of Oregon’s end of life options but were not be able to. They simply could not afford to leave home and job in order to relocate to Oregon.
Brittany knew she was lucky to have the full support of her husband, mom, dad and entire extended family. She felt the injustice of the situation deeply. Under silent trees that emanated power and energy, Brittany began to think about working for the rights of other terminally ill patients.
My child walked through the woods the day that she chose to slip the bounds of this earth. She marveled at nature’s beauty as a group of friends and family wandered through trees that were over a hundred years old. We switched places by her side, rotating in and out, everyone longing to be close to her. My sweet girl, on the razor’s edge of death, took in the beauty of the day.
This ability to decide to live, to decide to notice beauty, to decide to be the most that she could be and then go before everything that made her who she was – was diminished, is what made Brittany the bravest and most intelligent woman I’ve ever known. I miss her terribly. I am so proud to have been her mother that my heart is full to bursting. Brittany’s ashes lie amongst a grove of trees. She is home.