British Columbia·A Good Goodbye

B.C. woman says she wants to go out with her boots on

After Diane Stringfellow was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, she got approved for a medically assisted death. She says her decision to have assisted death as an option has been met with resistance and outright anger. However, she insists that medical assistance in dying is about controlling quality of life.

Diane Stringfellow says having assisted death as an option is about controlling her quality of life

Taking in the ocean view from her home in Royston on Vancouver Island, Diane Stringfellow has enjoyed a life of kayaking, scuba diving and horseback riding. (Jean Paetkau)

The last item on Diane Stringfellow's bucket list was visiting a Spirit Bear in Hartley Bay.

The trip to the remote West Coast community is an accurate reflection of how she has lived her life.

A resident of Royston, B.C., Stringfellow loves kayaking and scuba diving and challenging herself with outdoor adventures.

However, in 2013, she was met with a different kind of test.

Doctors informed her she had gone into renal failure. Less than two years later, she was diagnosed with the blood cancer, multiple myeloma.

"At this point, I have five of the lesions in my spine," Stringfellow said. 

"One they filled with bone cement, and the other four, they are just waiting to see what they are going to do with them.

"And then, I've also had three broken ribs, so far and I had a broken hip, a partial hip replacement done."

Faced with the potential of an extremely painful death, Diane has been approved for medical assistance in dying (MAiD).

However, she has been met with resistance and even anger when she talks about her plans.

"One person told me I was taking the easy way out. So, it's really hard to have those conversations," Stringfellow said,

"Some people are quite critical of the idea."

Stringfellow says a visit to see a Spirit Bear in Hartley Bay was bittersweet, because it was the last item on her bucket list. (Diane Stringfellow)

Stringfellow thinks part of the issue is that we live in a culture that doesn't have a relationship with death.

But even her own children struggle with her decision to have a physician-assisted death as an option.

"I don't think anyone is every ready to lose their parents. It is certainly the hardest conversation that I had with anybody, the one I had with my kids around it."

Still need to support the individual's choice

Nino Sekopet is a registered psychotherapist who works with Dying With Dignity as a personal support program manager, and he says stories like Diane's are not uncommon.

He says a strong negative reaction to a person's decision to get approved for MAID is really about personal boundaries and personal autonomy.

"We, as a society, we are really poor at recognizing where our boundaries should stop and where someone else's begins," Sekopet said.

He admits he can understand when family members have a tough time accepting the decision of a loved one for assisted death, but he contends they still need to support the individual's choice.

Sekopet adds that any decision to share information about considering MAiD as an end-of-life option should depend on the level of trust in a relationship.

"If you are a dying individual, I think you should be very aware that some people deserve to know that about you and some people don't and what would guide me in their place is the level of safety."

Even though Diane defends her choice to be approved for MAID, it is, in fact, only the backup plan.

'It's really hard to be sick all the time'

She has been told by doctors that many people have a fairly peaceful death if they simply stop dialysis.

"It's actually a fairly pleasant way to die. You sleep more and more and eventually you just slip away and don't wake up."

Diane is grateful she has options when it comes to how she will die, but she also makes it clear she does not want to die.

"I don't think anybody wants to die. I just ... it's really hard to be sick all the time. It's really hard to be in pain all the time.

"I am choosing to have a quality of life. I am the kind of person who would rather go with their boots on."

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio link below:

 A Good Goodbye is a radio and digital series exploring medically assisted death in B.C. Tune into your local CBC Radio One morning show Jan. 29 to Feb. 1

About the Author

Jean Paetkau

Associate producer, CBC Victoria

Jean Paetkau is an award-winning writer who works as an associate producer for CBC Victoria. Her work includes writing for digital, TV, radio and print.