Aggressive brain cancer is trying to end my life. The best cancer doctors in the world are trying to kill it before it kills me. My life hangs in the balance. Only 3 years ago, I was living the American dream: happily married, our son had just turned one, and I had a job that I loved. Then, life changed in an instant. One day at work, I had a grand mal seizure and was rushed to the hospital. They ran all kinds of tests, including a CT, and couldn’t find anything wrong. They were ready to send me home and I probably would have let them, but my wife demanded they do an MRI. That’s when they found the cancer — Grade 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme — we were told that it was inoperable and I had only 4 months to live. The doctor’s recommendation — go home to enjoy what little time I had left. Thankfully, we didn’t listen. It was the third neurosurgeon, the top of his field, who finally agreed to perform the risky surgery. I chose to do standard treatment — chemo and radiation — along with a new clinical trial drug. Fortunately, my cancer went into remission for almost 2 years.
As many of you know, I found out I had a recurrence of my brain cancer this Fall. As a terminal patient fighting for my life, I’ve dedicated the last year and a half to fighting assisted suicide legislation across the country because I see how much it hurts patients like me. Legalized assisted suicide, touted by proponents as ‘Death with Dignity’, has the opposite effect hoped for. Many patients in my exact circumstances are offered lethal drugs and denied or delayed coverage for the care they need. I have felt at times, as most terminal patients do, that I was a burden to family and experienced depression at certain points in my illness. Tragically, those feelings are enough for people in my shoes to choose death over care.
Over the last few months, I have been doing everything I possibly can to fight my cancer back into remission. In December, the swelling in my head from the tumors caused multiple grand mal seizures — I was rushed to the hospital, where it took days to stabilize me for the trip from Florida, where I was visiting family, to New York to undergo surgery with my team. They successfully removed 2 tumors last week. I am lucky to be alive and I am grateful for all of the family, friends, colleagues, and community that have supported me during the last 3 years. My doctors remain hopeful and they are diligently working to find the best treatment plan for me moving forward. I am very lucky to have an amazing team fighting for me. Not all are fortunate as I am. All of this has been a dramatic reminder of the dangers of assisted suicide.
James ‘JJ’ Hanson
Patients Rights Action Fund