I am dying of pancreatic cancer. I wish I wasn’t. But dying isn’t a failure on my part, it is part of life. I wish to live as long as possible, but not at the expense of enduring an undignified death.
These are the words of Ann McPherson in a Guardian Comment is Free article that she wrote in June 2010. Ann was a GP, a campaigner, a writer, an educator, a wife, a mother, a grandmother and I’m sure a friend and inspiration to many. I had the absolute pleasure of hearing Ann speak a couple weeks after that article was published, at Out of the Box #box10, an unconference organised by Patient Opinion.
I blogged about it on the train home that day and offered general reflections without picking out speakers in particular – with the exception of Ann, she was the speaker who had made such an impression that I did record my thoughts.
Ann was fabulous, her very candid sharing of her experience left me wanting to know more. She is obviously very passionate and personally and professionally tied to what she does, she is the Director of Health Experiences Research Group; and has also had breast cancer and is living with pancreatic cancer. Ann was always going to light my fire as she talked research methods and analysis, not just anecdote; she also made a call for realistic, normal stories and patient experiences – not just the tragic or the heroic.
Ann’s latest campaign was to secure a change in the law to allow terminally ill people to be helped to die, if they so wished. Unfortunately any such change, if indeed it does happen, will come about too late for Ann as she sadly died at the weekend. Ann believed that it was not death that scared most people, but the process of dying. The few conversations I’ve had with Dad about dying and palliative care suggest to me that Ann was right, at least for him, he has chosen to sign a DNR and decided not to die at home but even those steps don’t take the fear out of dying.
I’m fairly confident that if the law was different my Dad would not take advantage of the assistance that Ann campaigned for; I’m also completely confident that I feel that they both should have had the choice.
Ann McPherson was an inspiration to me, the conversations that she supported sharing via Healthtalkonline, alongside her personal reflections freely offered, allowed those who came into contact with her or her work to share in her journey….a process that has helped me face our family’s journey with cancer, and for that I’m very grateful.
You can read Ann’s obituary on the Guardian website here if you wish to learn more about her or her work.