In just a few days, an Oregon woman diagnosed with terminal brain cancer plans to take her own life. The woman's controversial but legal decision, according to the state's Death with Dignity Act, has sparked nationwide discussion with some calling her brave and others thinking the exact opposite.
Though Philip Johnson isn't the first person who also has cancer to offer another perspective about dying with dignity, he can say he knows very closely what she is going through.
Johnson has terminal brain cancer as well.
The former Navy man who is now in seminary to become a Catholic priest wrote in a post for the Diocese of Raleigh in North Carolina, that 29-year-old Brittany Maynard's story "really hit home" with him.
"I was diagnosed with a very similar incurable brain cancer in 2008 at the age of twenty-four," he wrote." After years of terrible headaches and misdiagnosis, my Grade III brain cancer (Anaplastic Astrocytoma) proved to be inoperable due to its location. Most studies state that the median survival time for this type of cancer is eighteen months, even with aggressive radiation and chemotherapy. I was beginning an exciting career as a naval officer with my entire life ahead of me. I had so many hopes and dreams, and in an instant they all seemed to be crushed. As Brittany said in her online video, 'being told you have that kind of timeline still feels like you’re going to die tomorrow.'"
After his diagnosis during his second deployment in the Northern Arabian Gulf, Johnson wrote that he had a "why me?" moment in a Catholic chapel on base where he "fell to the floor in tears." After beginning treatment and being discharged from the Navy, Johnson wrote that he answered a call to join the priesthood, something he said he felt God leading him toward since he was 19 years old.
In the six years since his diagnosis, Johnson said he has experienced "constant turmoil, seizures and headaches." He has changed hospitals in the hope that someone could offer him a better chance of survival.
"Like Brittany, I do not want to die, nor do I want to suffer the likely outcome of this disease," he admitted. "I do not think anyone wants to die in this way."
This undated photo provided by the Maynard family shows Brittany Maynard. The terminally ill California woman moved to Portland, Ore., to take advantage of Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, which was established in the 1990s. Maynard wants to pass a similar law in California and has turned to advocacy in her final days. (AP/Maynard Family)
Johnson knows that with his disease he will eventually lose control of his bodily functions and mental capabilities.
"This terrifies me, but it does not make me any less of a person. My life means something to me, to God, and to my family and friends, and barring a miraculous recovery, it will continue to mean something long after I am paralyzed in a hospice bed," Johnson wrote.
Johnson, like Maynard, hopes for a miracle. He considers the fact that he has already lived as long as he has beyond his diagnosis such an event. But that's not all.
"I have experienced countless miracles in places where I never expected to find them," he wrote. "Throughout my preparation for the priesthood I have been able to empathize with the sick and suffering in hospitals and nursing homes. I have traveled to Lourdes, France, the site of a Marian apparition and a place of physical and spiritual healing that is visited by millions of pilgrims each year. I have had the great opportunity to serve the infirm there who trust in God with their whole hearts to make sense of their suffering. Through my interaction with these people, I received much more than I gave. I learned that the suffering and heartache that is part of the human condition does not have to be wasted and cut short out of fear or seeking control in a seemingly uncontrollable situation. Perhaps this is the most important miracle that God intends for me to experience."
While Johnson wrote that he understands the temptation Maynard faces to take her own life, something that she plans to do on Nov. 1 with a lethal dose of prescription drugs, he said in doing so she is missing out on one of the greatest gifts that can come from suffering.
"Sadly, Brittany will be missing out on the most intimate moments of her life – her loved ones comforting her through her suffering, her last and most personal moments with her family, and the great mystery of death – in exchange for a quicker and more 'painless' option that focuses more on herself than anyone else," he wrote.
Johnson said that he would pray for Maynard in the hope that she would choose to fight the disease instead.
"She would certainly be an inspiration to me as I continue my own fight against cancer," Johnson wrote.
Read Johnson's full post on the Diocese of Raleigh's website.