I campaigned for assisted dying before my terminal cancer – now I'm desperate

I know I am going to die.

I cannot change that, but I do want a say over how it happens. I do not want to be hospitalised and on drugs that just keep me going when all quality of life has gone.

It is also extremely important to me that my family do not have to helplessly watch me suffer. I know that other people may be facing even more cruel deaths from terminal diseases.

So this week – when MPs debate assisted dying for the first time in over two and a half years – it is vital that they listened to terminally ill people like me and families like mine.

If they have any compassion or common-sense, they will agree that the law urgently needs to change.

My journey with cancer all started with a pain in my back last summer, which I put down to working too hard. Now, at the age of 55, I look eight months pregnant.

I have fluid filling my abdomen, generated by my liver due to the cancer. It started in my colon and my ovaries, and has spread elsewhere via my lymphatic system, fusing other organs together.

This has hugely reduced space for my lungs, making it difficult to breathe. They can’t remove the cancer because it is wrapped around the parts of me that keep me alive, such as my spine.

I never expected to be on the front line of this fight

I have always held fairly pragmatic views on death, possibly due to the approach in Ireland where I grew up – where it was much more common than in the UK for children to attend funerals and see dead relatives. So while I wasn’t devastated by the news of a terminal condition, it slowly dawned on me some future events I would be ‘missing’ – my daughters’ graduations, weddings, plans for holidays and to go travelling again with my husband.

I have always been a passionate campaigner, especially fighting for environmental justice. I have been a long-time supporter of Dignity in Dying too, so that people can have justice at the end of life. I don’t want people forced to suffer or take matters into their own hands, with their families criminalised for helping them.

But I never expected to be on the front line of this fight.

At the moment, I am taking painkillers that help me stay mobile, and I have recently had surgery to drain the fluid in my abdomen to help me breathe properly and feel more comfortable.

I am having chemotherapy, but it won’t cure me; just prolong my life for a short time. There is only so much that can be done.

At first, my doctors told me I could have two years, but now they estimate I may only have another year, at most.

I am practical about my death. I’ve started to plan my funeral and I should be able to plan for my death in the same way. I have accepted that I am dying, but what I can’t accept is how my family, friends or even myself might have to suffer.

If the choice to determine how, when and where I die were legal, I absolutely would choose an assisted death. It would ease my fears of dying in pain and allow me to enjoy the rest of my life without always dreading the end of it, for my family as well as for myself.

They have been wonderful and are coping so well. My husband looks after the house and takes care of my medication. I know they will all be heartbroken whenever I go, but I don’t want to leave them with even more bad memories of seeing me in pain in the last few months of my life.

Under the current law, my options are very few. I know that hundreds of people in the UK in my situation take their own lives every year, but I cannot do that. I could make my symptoms even worse and I can’t risk my family getting into trouble with the law if they helped me.

I used to talk about going to Dignitas in Switzerland, as around 50 Brits do every year, but who has £10,000 laying around? I also don’t think I’d be physically strong enough to go at the end of my life, so it would mean dying earlier than I’d like, just to have some control.

My other option is letting nature take its course, but I know palliative care cannot cure everyone’s pain or suffering.

When MPs speak in this debate, I hope they will think of me and the thousands of other terminally ill people every year who are facing uncertainty and a lack of control over their deaths.

According to Dignity in Dying, 84% of people in Great Britain agree with the legalisation of assisted dying as a choice for people like me in their final months of life, providing there are strict checks and balances in place.

It’s time that MPs in Westminster stopped ignoring the will of the people and the pleas of the terminally ill. Banning assisted dying does not work.

They need to understand the extent of the damage it causes, listen to us and give assisted dying the time and respect it deserves.

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