‘Don’t take your health for granted,’ Vancouver Island 26-year-old says preparing for medically assisted death

If you had unbearable, untreatable pain – where would you end up? This is the question a 26-year-old Vancouver Island woman has had to grapple with, realizing that for her, the answer is a medically assisted death.

If you had unbearable, untreatable pain – where would you end up?

This is the question a 26-year-old Vancouver Island woman has had to grapple with, realizing that for her, the answer is a medically assisted death.

Lana – who is not sharing her last name to protect her family’s privacy – is preparing to leave the world on her terms, sharing her story before she’s gone as a gift to those who may be facing a similar situation.

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“Maybe there are two or three people in B.C. who have something I do or experience the world like me, and they can see this and think maybe they’re not alone,” Lana told CityNews.

Unlike the majority of people in Canada who pursue Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) because of cancer, Lana is pursuing an assisted death because of increasing, unrelenting, and untreatable pain, in part, from a malfunctioning immune system.

“I really encourage everyone to not take their health for granted. This started when I was 19 and it’s progressed. There have been beautiful moments in that time but I lost a lot of my life to illness.”

Becoming legal in Canada in 2016, MAID is only permitted to be conducted by medical practitioners after meeting a slate of specific eligibility criteria. Part of the requirements include having a “grievous and irremediable medical condition” that cannot be reversed.

Last fall, Lana says the years of pain peaked along with no foreseeable treatment to alleviate it.

“I felt so lonely for some years with all these symptoms and this progressive dysfunction that no one could address, no one could answer.”

She says she remembers clearly the day she realized it had to end with a medically assisted death.

“… And from that point just … this is what needs to happen. This isn’t a decision. I can’t take this. It’s unbearable. It’s just gotten worse, and worse, and worse, and it needs to happen.”

During the assessment process to receive approval for MAID, Lana says she found an affirmation of her suffering that she hadn’t felt before. 

“That piece of validation can be so important, [after] having spent so much time trying to advocate for yourself in a system that feels like you are on a treadmill with the highest incline.”

It has been years, she says, of people doubting her pain.

“A big part of the reason I [am sharing my story], is the loneliness I felt and I do want to include that part — I want people to know if they are struggling in similar ways, or god forbid the same way, I see them.”

And Lana says if someone tells you they are experiencing pain, believe them.

“To the people who say: ‘Why doesn’t she just hang on’ or ‘try  X or Y,’ my answer is, believe me, I’ve tried it.”

Now, she is doing the work to prepare for the end of her life.

“I am in the process of figuring out how to live with the awareness of my own death, and I will be until the last moment I think.”

There are a lot of tears, she says. The good-byes; everything to do with dying. But Lana says she is not having second thoughts, nor has she since she applied for MAID.

The required 90-day waiting period for those with non-terminal illnesses ended for Lana at the beginning of February. At the request of her family, she’s agreed to stay until after her 27th birthday at the end of the month.

“I am unbelievably grateful I have this option because there’s one other outcome if MAID weren’t available for me, and that’s for me to take this into my own hands and do this alone,” she explained.

Lana is arranging to have her ashes pressed into vinyl records which will play some of her favourite songs to those she loves.

“Through MAID I’ve been able to direct my own death, have time with loved ones, to feel validated in my suffering by the assessors.”

The vision she had for how and where her final goodbye was going to be has changed since she learned she could leave one last gift as she leaves this earth — donating her organs. This requires her to be in hospital.

“It’s one of the most beautiful gifts I was given, to know that I could save however many lives with what’s to come.

“I never got to go to university and I would happily keep kicking if I could,” she said. “Ultimately, if you have unbearable pain that can’t be treated, where do you end up? Here. and I’m at peace with that.”

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