The Current

Will Pegg will die an assisted death. He couldn't feel more alive

Will Pegg's body is slowly falling apart, riddled with metastatic bone cancer. He knows he doesn't want to die this way. So he's chosen to go on his own terms, with a medically assisted death.

Victoria gardener diagnosed with metastatic bone cancer last January

Will Pegg, of Victoria, was diagnosed with metastatic bone cancer in January 2017. He has over 200 metastases on his bones, spine, pelvis, ribs and skull behind his left eye. He knew he didn't want to die in pain, so he chose an assisted death. (Submitted by Bonny Glambeck)

July 23, 2018 update: When this documentary first aired in December, Will Pegg didn't think he'd get to see and hear finches again this spring — but he did. His partner Louise, along with their extended family of friends, continue to support him.

Pegg sat with his friend Raven Hume to send us this recorded update:

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Will Pegg's body is slowly falling apart, riddled with metastatic bone cancer.

First his rib cage will fall apart, then his vertebrae. That will crush the nerves in those areas and may cause paralysis.

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At 58, he knows he doesn't want to die this way. So he's chosen to go on his own terms, with a medically assisted death.

"It seems beautiful that we can end our time together on this planet potentially somewhere that's beautiful for me and them and with a lot less drain on the resources of myself, my family and the Canadian medical system."

Death is a scary thought for some, but Pegg has come to terms with it. (Submitted by Bonny Glambeck)

Pegg was diagnosed in January 2017, a mere six months after medically assisted dying was made legal here. At least 2,000 Canadians have died this way since.

About one-third of those have happened in British Columbia — the majority on Vancouver Island, where Pegg lives in Victoria. Those who live on the island have chosen assisted death at a rate five times higher than the rest of Canada.

Cancer was the most common reason why people decided to get an assisted death, representing about 63 per cent of all cases in this country so far, according to Health Canada

Pegg takes a trip on the ferry to Salt Spring Island, not far from his home in Victoria, B.C. (Kristin Nelson/CBC)
Pegg's view from the deck of the Salt Spring Island ferry. (Kristin Nelson/CBC)

Pegg has been getting to know Dr. Stefanie Green, who will administer the drugs that will kill him.

She explained how it works in a recent visit. There are four doses of medication. Pegg has to say he is ready to go before Green will start, and even then, she will ask him again, just in case he's changed his mind.

The whole process only takes about 10 minutes.

It's a scary thought for some, but Pegg has come to terms with it.

"Stefanie gave me my life back. And I think the perception might be that MAID [medical assistance in dying] is about dying. But as far as my personal experience of it, it is about living," he said.

Dr. Stefanie Green and Will Pegg in the waiting room of her office. She will help him die when he's ready. (Kristin Nelson/CBC)

"In my situation, it's allowed this year to flower and for me to have full participation in the culture, in my family life. Stefanie is in the position to accord me mercy, which is an incredible gift in the midst of dark circumstances."

Green worked in maternity for many years — the sign pointing to her office still says "maternity and newborn care."

When the law changed last year, she began taking on patients at the opposite end of life.

She feels very privileged at the opportunity.

"This is an amazing opportunity to be involved with someone on such an intimate level," she said. "And I don't take that for granted."

The beginning and the end: there are pictures of babies on the wall because Dr. Green used to provide maternity care before she began offering medical assistance in dying. (Kristin Nelson/CBC)

Given the relationships she makes with her patients, Green said there's no weight on her in helping people die. 

"I always feel like I've done something good when I leave," she said. "I will never assist someone who I don't think meets the criteria of the law, so I don't put myself in a position where I'm worried about going to jail.

"I've only experienced gratitude from people and — it sounds weird — I feel like I've done a good thing. I feel satisfied, I feel good."

A look at the side table in Pegg's living room shows he is reading books about death … and making notes. (Kristin Nelson/CBC)
There are several 'Do Not Resuscitate' signs hanging in Pegg's apartment, should something happen. He also carries one in his wallet. (Kristin Nelson/CBC)

Support system

Pegg has surrounded himself with positive people, like Green. Also in the group are Quakers, Buddhists, environmentalists, nurses, and counsellors. When he became sick, they set up committees and got to work. 

There's Marga St. James, a dear friend since the '80s who has put her life on hold to help him. She sorts out his finances and registers him for palliative care.

Marga St. James, Pegg's dear friend since the '80s (Kristin Nelson/CBC)

Dan Jason is Pegg's farming friend.

Before he got sick, Pegg ran his own organic gardening business. He primarily hired young people who were recovering from addictions and trauma.

Jason runs Seed Spirit Farms, which Pegg likes to visit. On his last trip there, they planted garlic together.

Pegg and Dan Jason stroll the farm at Seed Spirit. Pegg had Jason hold his arm because he has started to struggle while walking. 'The cancer is more advanced than the last time I saw you.' (Kristin Nelson/CBC)
Pegg plants garlic, while Jason gets some more garlic from the bucket. He said it will grow by next summer. But Pegg isn't sure if he will still be alive then. (Kristin Nelson/CBC)

Erin Munro was 24 when she first met Pegg. He hired her as a gardener, and they went on to become dear friends.

She's supports Pegg and his decisions — going to doctor's appointments with him — but has mixed feelings about when he decides to die.

"I just don't want to miss any moments, that comes up for me. Because it's just so final," she said. "The end is the end and that's it."

Erin Munro, right, and Pegg enjoy a kayak this past summer. He thinks of her as a daughter. (Submitted by Bonny Glambeck)

And of course, there's Louise Takeda.

She was a mere acquaintance of Pegg's before the diagnosis. But after he told her the bad news, she decided there was still time to get to know him. She began volunteering to stay with him after his chemo treatments.

And unexpectedly, they fell in love. 

Pegg poses in his living room with Louise Takeda. She didn't know Pegg well until after his diagnosis, when she started volunteering to stay with him after his chemo treatments. (Kristin Nelson/CBC)

The two were married in November. It was a Buddhist wedding, and Pegg said it probably would not be legally recognized.

It's a special kind of love to fall in love with someone who is dying, said Pegg.

"She really saw me at my completely lowest ebb and my most vulnerable." 

"My body aged 10 years in a few months. My hair fell out, my skin fell apart," he said.

"You really have to find a love that's greater than that pain," added Takeda. "And be willing to make that space in your own heart to have pain, to have fear and to be okay with that."

Takeda, far right, accompanies Pegg to one of his doctor appointments. Other members of his support group tag along too. (Kristin Nelson/CBC)

Pegg has come to terms with it.

He doesn't know when he'll be ready to die. But he's in no rush. Last February, it looked like he might die soon, and then his treatment started working.

Pegg's rainbow-coloured socks stick out wherever he wears them. (Kristin Nelson/CBC)

When the time comes, he'd like to die on a beach at Clayoquot Sound, on the far west coast of Vancouver Island.

"Having never died before, or at least not that I'm aware of, it's a bit hard to envision. But this whole process for me has been about trying to embrace wellness for the people around me," he said.

"It would be without drama, hopefully, without a lot of footprints left on their hearts because of my desire for things to be this way or that way. I'll need to surrender to what's possible. And there should be singing."

Pegg reflects on a trip to the rainforest this past summer. (Submitted by Bonny Glambeck)
'This whole process for me has been about trying to embrace wellness for the people around me,' said Pegg. (Submitted by Bonny Glambeck)

The documentary, One More Moment, was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson and Liz Hoath.