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I Have Cancer -- and I Want the Option to Die on My Own Terms

Our first year of marriage was not the honeymoon Harlan and I envisioned. At a time when I should have been writing him sweet love notes, instead I wrote him into my health care directive.
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Eloise and Jennifer, at home.

This piece originally appeared on

My 7-year-old stepdaughter, Eloise, snuggled in close as I read to her, smelling like sunshine and little girl sweat. She reached up to pat my face, then traced my profile and my throat with her finger before coming to rest on my chest, above my left lung.

"Were you afraid when you got cancer?" she asked. "Do you feel scared that you might die?"

We had talked about fear before. Eloise has heard well-meaning friends say, "You'll beat cancer, Jennifer. You're fearless!"

I'm not fearless, of course, but I have found ways to fear less.

One of the most debilitating things about life-threatening illness is the fear that comes with it. Fear because so much is out of your control. If you can take fear out of the equation, even a little bit, you can think more clearly, make better decisions, and -- with luck -- find a path to peace.

In January 2013, my husband Harlan and I were four months into our marriage when I was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. On the joyful day when Harlan and I said, "For better or for worse, in sickness and in health," we never imagined how soon those vows would be tested. With Harlan and his kids, my stepchildren, we learned to be a family under the shadow of life-threatening illness.

Tristan, now 17, is on the cusp between boy and man, still learning how to inhabit his six-foot frame. He leaves a trail of socks and sports gear around the house and consumes what appears to be his own body weight in groceries each day. He is smart, funny and kind. But since I got cancer he rarely brings friends to our house. I don't know if he's protecting me, or himself, or all of us.

Eloise knows that I have lung cancer and we have assured her that it's not contagious. She is respectful of my need for frequent rest. She offers to throw my trash away so I won't get germs from the garbage can.

Our first year of marriage was not the honeymoon Harlan and I envisioned. At a time when I should have been writing him sweet love notes, instead I wrote him into my health care directive. He was at my side throughout, my chemo-sabe. In the evenings, when I was exhausted from treatment, we watched TV and he rubbed my feet, the most tender and nourishing caress I could imagine.

Together, Harlan and I explored every option for treating my disease. And together we talked candidly about end-of-life options if my cancer spreads.

I am at peace knowing that my life will end, but how it may end if cancer runs its course, that terrifies me. Lung cancer is an ugly way to die.

I don't want to drown in my own lung fluid, under cold, hospital lights. My home is where I feel safe. It's where we have become a family. My home is where I want to die.

Last November Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman suffering from brain cancer, made the difficult choice to leave her home in California and move to Oregon where aid in dying is authorized. I've had the privilege and pleasure of coming to know her family. As devastating as the experience of losing Brittany has been, everyone who loves her is comforted because she was able to end her suffering and die with peace and ease.

If it becomes clear that cancer is going to end my life, I hope I won't have to leave my home in California to die on my own terms, as Brittany did.

This is why I support the End-of-Life Option Act for California (SB 128), which is currently under review in the state capitol. Similar aid-in-dying bills have been introduced in Washington, D.C., and 15 other states.

There would be great comfort in knowing that I could legally request and receive a prescription for aid-in-dying medication that I could take to end my life peacefully, at home, if my suffering becomes unbearable. Having this option would allow me to live more joyfully in whatever time I have left.

It would help me to fear less.

Chemo and radiation shrunk my tumors. Now I take a powerful medication to keep my disease from spreading. I get tested every few months and we take it one day at a time. I'm doing everything I can to extend my life. No one should have the right to prolong my death.

When Eloise asked if I was frightened, I thought carefully about how to answer.

"Sometimes," I told her, "I'm a little bit afraid."

"Don't feel scared," she said, giving me a hug. She repeated what her dad and I tell her when she wakes from a nightmare, "You're here in your own bed and everyone in this house loves you. Nothing's going to hurt you here."

Jennifer Glass is a writer, speaker and advocate who spoke in January at the California State Capitol at the introduction of the End-of-Life Option Act for California. She has more than 25 years of experience as a public relations professional. See more at