On Dec. 30, as snowflakes fell outside his window, my husband and the love of my life, J.J. Hanson, took his last breath. He was 36 years old. I was with him, holding our two young sons in my arms. We had known the day would come — J.J. had been living with terminal brain cancer for three and a half years. But that was more than three years longer than his doctors had expected.
Learning that you or a loved one has a terminal illness is devastating and scary. In our case it was also a shock. J.J. was a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and a new father, and he had a job he loved. We were living the American dream and thought we had a long future ahead of us, until we learned J.J. had stage 4 glioblastoma multiforme, one of the most aggressive and deadliest forms of brain cancer.
Living through that kind of illness day-to-day is a constant struggle that requires immense courage and great strength. J.J. had both. Even then, he — like many people who receive terminal prognoses — went through dark periods of depression.
Struggling against despair
Our struggle was taking place about the same time Brittany Maynard’s story made headlines across the country. Maynard suffered from the same cancer as J.J. and was roughly the same age, but she famously decided to end her own life through assisted suicide in Oregon and to advocate its legalization in her home state of California.
I didn’t know it then, but J.J. later admitted that during his illness, he sometimes felt such despair that he may have taken a lethal prescription had it been legal in New York, where we lived, and if he had it in his nightstand during his darkest days. He was tempted to believe that ending his life would relieve the burden on his caretakers and allow him to bypass the experience of illness-induced disability that the disease would otherwise cause.
Many people who consider or go through with assisted suicide have similar fears. Data from Oregon — where assisted suicide first became legal — show the main end-of-life concerns that people considering assisted suicide report relate to existential suffering, such as becoming burdensome to caretakers and facing disability. In fact, “inadequate pain control” or concern of physical pain isn’t even in the top five reported reasons.
There’s no telling what would have happened to J.J. and our family if lethal pills were available to him during that dark period. What we do know is that, as J.J. said, the support and hope of loved ones carried him past that difficult time and toward a different conclusion than the one Maynard reached.
Read more at USA Today.