I read it on CNN via Twitter on Monday evening and my heart just crumbled.
Elizabeth Edwards and the gift
"Elizabeth Edwards is surrounded by family and friends in her North Carolina home after doctors informed her that additional cancer treatment would be pointless."
I knew it would be a matter of hours before Mrs. Edwards would end her 6 year battle with cancer in her own terms. I knew it because I was there 2 months ago when my mother-in-law Adrian had made the same decision; to end her own very short lived battle with terminal leukemia in her own terms.
The news took me back to that horrible Tuesday afternoon when I was rushing my husband Steve from work to his mother's bedside in a Glenview hospital. Her hematologist was coming to ask Adrian and her family if she wanted to go on life support.
Three weeks before that, after being in the hospital for flu like symptoms, my mother- in-law had been diagnosed with terminal leukemia. She asked her doctors how long she had. (Adrian always wanted the honest truth) They said 9 to 12 months, but "you should spend the most time you can with your family." A day after her first treatment as part of a clinical trial (chemo was pointless for her cancer), she developed pneumonia. She was at death's door in 5 days.
That Tuesday morning her doctors told us the prognosis was horrible. Adrian would never get well enough to receive any type of treatment and her cancer was quickly killing her. Life support would just painfully prolong the inevitable. They were going to ask HER what she wanted to do.
As I rushed to get my husband to the hospital, I kept thinking "they are going to ask Adrian if she wants to keep living like this. They are asking my husband and his father if his mother should keep living like this."
By the time we made it to the hospital, the hematologist had told my mother-in-law, who was surrounded by her loving family, the reality of her condition, and if she wanted to go on life support. Steve and I were not there, but we were told the doctor removed the oxygen mask so Adrian could answer.
My mother-in-law who, was overwhelmed by the simplest of decisions, simply said "Let me go." And with that, Adrian Vihon made the most courageous choice I've ever seen anyone make. She took charge of her end and released her husband and son from making that excruciating decision in the long run. I will forever be grateful to her for that.
We had her awake for about an hour after that. She made every effort to smile through the pain. We told her how much we loved her. Her husband of over 40 years thanked her for taking care of him. We cried together while seeing videos from her only grandchild. Her niece and nephew made her laugh and her sisters promised to take care of her son and his family. Then Adrian fell asleep and her pain was over.
I replay that day often in my mind. What would I do if I'm given that choice? How would I say good bye to those who love me? I'm sure I would be at a different state of mind but right now it's just unthinkable.
Our only consolation is that Adrian's suffering lasted 3 weeks, unlike Mrs. Edwards who endured 6 years of cancer. My other personal consolation is that Adrian will get to meet one of her favorite Democrats in heaven. I'm sure those 2 courageous women are going to talk politics. Ay Mama!