Tracy Snelling

Written by Steve Riley-Snelling, Tracy’s husband

Tracy assisted dying personal story

“Once her prognosis was terminal, Tracy declined secondary chemotherapy because she wanted to look her best for our wedding in September”

My wife Tracy was just 49. She was beautiful; she was highly intelligent, a member of Mensa; she was a senior manager in a major European bank. Tracy loved her life, she loved me, she loved her son and she loved her job. She had everything to live for and did not want to die.

In the run up to Christmas 2012, Tracy was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Only about 20% of people with stomach cancer are able to have surgery to try to cure their cancer and we were therefore pleased to learn that it should be operable. There was some evidence that the cancer had spread but we were reassured that eight cycles of chemotherapy should both shrink the stomach tumour and address the spread.

In March, we celebrated when we were told the chemo was working…. Keep Calm and Carry On. Three months’ later we were devastated when told it hadn’t worked; the cancer had spread, it was very aggressive, the drugs hadn’t worked and it’s game over.

 

“Once her prognosis was terminal, Tracy declined secondary chemotherapy…because she wanted to look her best for our wedding in September”

 

We were madly in love but never got round to getting married. We both led very busy lives and, in any event, we had all the time in the world didn’t we? How wrong could we be?

Once her prognosis was terminal, Tracy declined secondary chemotherapy – which would have given her an extra couple of months at most – because she wanted to look her best for our wedding in September. It was the perfect day, she looked stunning, and it was very emotional. On the face of it Tracy looked the picture of health but the cancer was already taking its toll. None of our guests realised she had been so poorly the night before that we had to call the duty doctor to attend her or that she could eat nothing and vomited no fewer than 10 times on the day. Needless to say, there was no honeymoon and very shortly after the wedding Tracy’s condition deteriorated at a rapid rate. It was as if all her strength had been mustered for that special day.

 

“I am immensely grateful to the nurses who attended her twice daily but whatever the medical profession may say, palliative care has its limitations.”

 

Stomach cancer is a horrible disease; as one might expect it causes a great deal of pain but Tracy suffered unrelenting nausea, excruciating constipation and vomiting every few hours. Within a week of the wedding Tracy was hooked up to a syringe driver which drip-fed a cocktail of morphine and anti-sickness drugs 24 hours a day – neither of which gave effective relief. I am immensely grateful to the nurses who attended her twice daily but whatever the medical profession may say, palliative care has its limitations. Pain control is relatively straightforward but managing the symptoms of stomach cancer are not. This is no reflection on those that administer the care but they can only play with the clubs in their bag and if the drugs don’t work, the drugs don’t work.

Tracy wanted to live; she would have done anything to survive and I would have given my life to save hers but that was not an option; once her diagnosis was terminal she had no choice but to die. But she was also denied the choice to decide how and when she died. Because this country, the epitome of a free society, denies its people the right to self-determination in death, Dignitas was arguably the only option. Tracy applied for membership but we soon came to realise that, unless you go there too soon, it is too late. Once we realised it was time to go, she was too ill to make the two journeys needed to Switzerland.

 

“Nothing in my worst nightmares could have prepared me for Tracy’s death: for more than five hours she endured the most awful suffering one could possibly imagine until she finally passed away screaming as I held her in my arms. “

 

So I watched my beautiful, kind, intelligent wife slowly deteriorate day by day; she couldn’t eat, she could hardly drink without vomiting, she couldn’t walk more than a few steps without becoming breathless, she developed a blood clot and suffered constant pain, nausea and constipation, despite the drugs.

Tracy was destined to die, not peacefully at a time of her choosing with her family around her, but in an indescribably horrible way with me helpless to comfort her. Nothing in my worst nightmares could have prepared me for Tracy’s death: for more than five hours she endured the most awful suffering one could possibly imagine until she finally passed away screaming as I held her in my arms. Four nurses in attendance could do nothing to alleviate her suffering; they could only clear up the continuous and endless stream of vomit and blood as she lay on her side.

 

“Why as a so-called civilised society do we force our loved ones to die in pain, suffering and humiliation?”

 

Had the law allowed, the nurses could have put an end to it, rather than stand by and allow her to suffer so dreadfully, but their hands were tied. After three agonising hours, I pleaded for Plan B; there was no Plan B.

Tracy was my wife and my lover, she was my best friend and my champion, but most of all she was my soul mate. Tracy was my world, she was my life, she was my reason for being and now I have none.

Without her I am totally lost, I fell bereft, I feel robbed…. it’s as if the most precious jewel has been stolen from me, knowing that all the policemen in all the world will never, ever recover it and bring it back to me.

To lose such a wonderful person to cancer was devastating; to witness her suffer such a violent death was heart-breaking.

Why as a so-called civilised society do we force our loved ones to die in pain, suffering and humiliation? Choosing how and when we die is not a choice of last resort – a passive choice of desperation – but a choice of first resort. My beautiful wife, along with countless others in this country, was denied that choice.

 

The accounts made in the personal stories section of the Dignity in Dying website reflect the views of the authors.

 

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