Two Tales of Imminent Death

I suppose none of us really knows how we will face death until the moment comes — and it comes eventually for everyone.

Not everyone, however, gets an advance heads-up and a seemingly settled timeline.

Two stories came out this weekend about two young women facing terminal illnesses in two different states, and the very different ways each of them chose to face their own deaths.

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The first is about Brittany Maynard, 29, of Portland, Oregon, who was diagnosed earlier this year with brain cancer and given six months to live. Over the weekend, she committed suicide, with her family in attendance, by taking a lethal drug prescribed by her physician under Oregon’s “right to die” law.

Maynard and her husband, Dan Diaz, moved to Oregon from California specifically to take advantage of the law, which requires patients to provide physicians proof of residency in the state.

Lauren Hill
Lauren Hill

The second story involves Indiana native Lauren Hill, 19, a freshman at Mount St. Joseph’s University in Ohio, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in her senior year of high school, after deciding to attend MSJ.

On Sunday, Hill suited up with her team to play her first university basketball game, in front of a sellout crowd of 10,000 against Hiram College. It turned out to be a 66-55 victory for MSJ, to which she contributed two baskets before cheering fans.

The two women and their decisions couldn’t be more different.

Maynard made national news when she announced that she was going to kill herself on Nov. 1, then said she would delay a little longer, taking her life Sunday.

Maynard became a spokeswoman for a group called Compassion and Choices, which wants to see doctor-assisted suicide expand to more states.

She posted the following last message on her Facebook page:

“Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more. The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type. … Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!”

Earlier in the week, when she had said that she would delay her death, Maynard indicated it would still happen soon because she felt herself getting sicker.

By way of contrast, when Hill was not on the court, she sat on the bench with her team, wearing sunglasses and sound-cancelling headphones because the tumor has made her sensitive to bright lights and noise.

Despite the effects of the cancer, Hill managed two baskets during the game, shooting one with her left hand. The cancer has affected her coordination as well, so the right-hander compensates by often shooting with her left.

The game itself was a bit unusual, because rather than choosing Maynard’s option, announcing that she would kill herself before the cancer could take her life, Hill and her supporters had petitioned the NCAA to move the game up two weeks in case Hill’s condition would worsen before she got a chance to hit the floorboards with her team.

Rather than becoming a spokeswoman for a national “right to die” group, Hill — the new recipient of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association’s Pat Summitt Most Courageous award — said, “we’re gonna fight this.”

Hill, who plays as No. 22 for MSJ, has become a national inspiration for other athletes and coaches, who send her No. 22 jerseys from their own teams as a message of support. Fifteen of those jerseys adorned the team’s bench during this weekend’s game.

This summer, Hill started an online layup challenge, similar to the ALS ice bucket challenge, that involves spinning around five times then shooting a layup with the non-dominant hand. The fundraising challenge (#Layup4Lauren) has drawn members of the Bengals and other pro sports teams, and has raised about $40,000 for The Cure Starts Now Foundation.

Two women, two very different choices.


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