Choosing when to die was 'one thing mum could control' after terminal cancer diagnosis

choosing when to die was 'one thing mum could control' after terminal cancer diagnosis

Maya Zetlin smiling with her two grandchildren

Choosing the date when she was going to die allowed Maya Zetlin to relax, enjoy time with her family and plan her funeral.

She picked out songs and yellow roses to lay on her casket, then left instructions for loved ones to wear bright colours.

The 75-year-old had decided to have a medically assisted death after being diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer.

Maya’s daughter, Dana Lewis, said: “It was about dignity. To be at the stage of needing to have somebody wash, dress and toilet her was not something she ever wanted to see.”

The Daily Express Give Us Our Last Rights crusade calls for assisted dying to be legalised in the UK for terminally ill people nearing the end of their lives.

choosing when to die was 'one thing mum could control' after terminal cancer diagnosis

Maya with her daughter Dana

Dana, 47, shared her mum’s story at a Sydney conference about the country’s voluntary assisted dying (VAD) services.

VAD was first legalised in Victoria, where Maya lived, in 2019, then four other states. New South Wales will be the final state to begin offering VAD from Tuesday November 28.

Dana described her mum as the “matriarch of our family” and a loving, generous and intelligent woman.

The grandmother-of-three had been treated for breast cancer a decade earlier. Then in 2018 doctors discovered the disease had returned in her bowel and elsewhere.

After 18 months of treatment, nothing more could be done and Maya raised the idea of VAD with her three children.

Dana said: “We had seen so many family members with cancer go through a miserable ending, and thought if that can be avoided, then why not? We don’t want to see her suffer.

“I would have liked my mum to be here for another 20 years. And she wanted to live. But the fact was that she was going to go, so we could make it easier for her by accepting it.”

choosing when to die was 'one thing mum could control' after terminal cancer diagnosis

Dana standing in front of a reflective wall in Sydney

Maya was found eligible after assessments and VAD medication was delivered to her home in a locked box. She kept it in a cupboard for a few months and spent time organising her affairs.

When her pain levels increased, Maya paid for her funeral and decided on a date when a nurse would arrive to help her take the life-ending medication.

Dana said: “From that time that she set the date, she said to me, ‘Now I feel like I can just relax and know that is the end of me having to go through this.'”

Maya’s condition deteriorated rapidly in her final days. Dana recalled: “She wasn’t eating, her skin was yellow. She could barely sit up without screaming in pain.

“I said to my sister two nights before [her death], ‘I’m so thankful that we don’t have to see this happen to her for days, weeks, months.”

On the day Maya had chosen in December 2020, classical music played as her children gathered around her at home.

Dana said: “There were no real big parting words or goodbyes, I think she just needed to be free of her pain. It was so peaceful.

“I’d almost describe it as uneventful. It’s not like in the movies.

“She drank the medication. Within a couple of minutes, she just went to sleep. In less than ten minutes, she took one final loud snore, and then nothing.”

Dana said the grieving process was made easier by knowing that Maya died in the way she wanted.

She said assisted dying was a “no brainer”, adding: “You don’t have to use it, it’s a choice that you get to make.

“For my mum, who liked control in her life, being told that you’ve got a disease that can’t be cured means you’re out of control.

“But this was one thing that she could control when she had enough. Give people the choice.”

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