What I Learned as I Watched My Friend Die of Brain Cancer

Tracy Mathis I

In light of the recent suicide of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year old woman who was diagnosed with brain cancer, I decided to re-post an article about a friend of mine who, just like Brittany, was diagnosed with brain cancer and died this past May.

In the months leading up to her suicide, Brittany became the face of the right-to-die movement. She and others believed that choosing to end her own life was somehow a noble and dignified cause.  I would like introduce you to another face–the face of Tracy Mathis, a wife, mother and friend who chose to live and give us the privilege of loving her in the pain and suffering of her disease.

I’ll admit it, watching someone die of a terminal illness is a very scary, hard thing.  I have seen it up-close and personal with my father who died of liver cancer, a most beloved aunt who died of pancreatic cancer, and most recently with Tracy.  To see disease ravage the body, mind and spirit of another human being that you love is excruciatingly painful, especially when you know there is nothing you can do make it better. But there is also something transforming in the experience.

Spending time with Tracy, interacting with her and listening to her share her struggles about the disease forced me to get outside of my superficial mode of living. Likewise, holding my aunt’s hand and wiping her brow, sitting with her as she writhed in pain, and listening to her last requests gave me a unique opportunity to learn how to love in a way that I could not have otherwise. I believe that Brittany’s decision to end her life came as a result of living in a very plastic, superficial society; where anything that looks less than perfect is unacceptable. We live in a part of the world where vulnerability and weakness is shunned and where pain and suffering is a disgrace not to be tolerated. Anything short of perfection and beauty has little worth and should be discarded.

As scary and as painful as it was, I’m grateful that my friend had the faith to stay the course and allowed us, her friends and family, to love her in her pain and suffering. She is my hero! Below, is a copy of the original piece that was published in DCHE Dispatch.

Thanks for reading.


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2 thoughts on “What I Learned as I Watched My Friend Die of Brain Cancer

  1. Barbara Smith, a long-time member at Grace, also died of a brain tumor, in Nashville. I visited her shortly before her death and what a terrific witness she was to life in Christ! My sister-in-love died of uterine cancer in a relatively short time. She, too, was a terrific witness to our family and to the staff–never being unkind or unpleasant, always saying “God bless you” whenever someone left the room and “Thank you” for any effort on her behalf.

    The former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop said something to the effect that we are called to sustain life but not necessarily prolong death. This does not bring “quality of life” into the issue. Joni Tada does not have the same quality of life that I have — nor has she for most of her life — yet she has accomplished more and assisted more people than I expect to do in my lifetime.

    Prolonging death may be using “historic measures” to keep a patient alive beyond what is possible if the patient were left off machines or medicines. Hospice care is a wonderful possibility with palliative care offering hope for less suffering. Not necessarily all suffering, however, because sometimes to give more pain medication would suppress the breathing process and yet the maximum dose doesn’t completely relieve the pain.

    God is quite able to answer our prayers to take a person who is suffering, but it is not within our domain to assist that process. He is God; we are not.


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