Jennifer Rhodes is an accountant in St. Louis, Missouri.
The family got the news on Christmas Eve 2014. My father had been diagnosed with Stage 4 bone cancer and Stage 3 lung cancer almost exactly a year after my grandfather died. We were all in shock.
I grew a thick skin, became the strong one for our family. My husband and I would go to my mom and dad’s house and help them with yard work and other projects. My dad couldn’t do much since he was sick and fatigued so much of the time. I had to be strong.
I tried to tell my mom and my sister, he needed to fight this. He fought and he fought and he fought. He tried two different experimental drugs. In the first round of chemotherapy, the doctors eradicated the bone cancer and reduced the lung cancer. It took my dad a couple months to regain his strength and prepare for the next round of drugs. The second round of chemotherapy didn’t help, and soon his lung cancer returned.
In summer 2016, my husband and children and I moved from Florida, where we lived close to my parents, to Missouri. It was very difficult, because once we had moved, my mom and dad didn’t have anyone to help them out. Once my dad wasn’t able to work anymore, then it was all on my mom to support them on one income. She was working overtime, so they were able to stay afloat, but it was hard on them both.
My dad got a little better with steroids, but he knew he would feel it when they stopped working. In June of last year, he decided not to do further treatment, and entered hospice care.
Everyone knew he was in a lot of pain. He kept saying that he wished he could just take a pill and not wake up so we didn’t have to see him suffer.
He asked my mom, “If it got to a certain point, would you put a bunch of pills in my mouth and let me swallow them?”
She said, “No, because that’s a crime.”
The Final Days
He was getting worse. He’d wake up, feeling unwell. Another day, all he did was sleep. The hospice staff said his blood pressure was going down, and he was nearing the end.
On April 26th, I got a call from my mom. “You need to get here.”
I booked a flight and got there that night. My dad knew I was there, but he was in a dazed state. It progressed even more, to where he couldn’t get up. By the next night, he’d lost all control.
My mom and I had a talk. I said, “I’m deathly afraid of what’s going to happen, but I want him to go. He is struggling so much, I want him to be pain free.”
I felt helpless. I thought I had prepared myself for what I would see and what I would hear but I was wrong. It was still scary. It felt like he was drowning, and there was nothing I could do to help him.
I believe that if you are terminally ill, you should be able to decide when it is time to pass on.
On April 30, his final day, the family was sitting around his bed talking. He opened his eyes for the first time in days, looked at my mom long enough for her to say, “You can go, you are OK, we are OK. I love you so much.”
He took a breath, and then he was gone. He was at peace. I was at peace. But he had to endure so much before he got there.
My father embraced life and had many passions. He loved to play golf. He loved his Harleys; he was a real biker man. He loved muscle cars and dinners at Waffle House. He loved hosting barbecues and large get-togethers. He was obsessed with Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was a season pass holder for 17 years.
But most of all, he loved spending time with his grandkids and my mother, to whom he was married for nearly 30 years. I have so many fond memories of him from when he was healthy, memories that stay with me now that he’s gone.
Death with Dignity Means…
I know how much pain he was in with the cancer. That made me think about why Death with Dignity is important. If it can keep somebody from being in that much pain, then why not give them that option?
To me, Death with Dignity means you’re able to pick when you are ready to leave this world, free of pain. I was a true believer in Brittany Maynard and the choice she made. I truly believe that everyone should have that opportunity. My mother is 100 percent for Death with Dignity, and she’s trying to educate people in Florida about it.
If I had the chance, I would give someone opposed to Death with Dignity insight into what I went through. Until somebody goes through what you’ve gone through, they will never understand.
We need to get together and get laws passed so people can pass with as little pain and as little impact on the family as possible. I believe that if you are terminally ill, you should be able to decide when it is time to pass on.