Open Letter to Brittany Maynard

Brittany Maynard’s viral video drew huge responses from people urging her to choose life—including some from other women with her disease. One came from Maggie Karner, director of life and health services for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, who posted a YouTube video directed at Maynard on Oct. 29, 2014.

Hi Brittany, my name is Maggie Karner. I live in Connecticut, and just like many Americans I saw your heartbreaking video. And as I watched, my tears quickly turned to sobs because you and I have one big thing in common: I was also diagnosed this past spring with a glioblastoma grade IV brain tumor. So your video hit pretty close to home for me. The other night I couldn't sleep, so I decided to write this letter to you.

Dear Brittany, honestly, I really do get it. I'm a strong woman, just like you, and I understand the horrible fear that you're facing. The scary predictions of what will happen, the loss of control, even the stupid name of that tumor sounds just as ominous today as it did when I first heard that word in the doctor's office. Brain cancer (stinks) in a really big way. It's a beast that lurks and prowls, just waiting for the chance to pounce and take away more of our faculties, our everyday joys and our very lives.

But you know what? Death (stinks), too. It rips us from the people and the passion that we love the most. Remember when Robin Williams took his own life? The shock, all the remembrances on TV. The world lost some of its beauty and joy that day.

Brittany, if you take your life, the world will lose some of its beauty again. And quite frankly I'm not sure this world can spare any more public losses like that, with all the death and destruction going on around us every day. We need the presence of people like you. Please don't let cancer get one more second of your life than it desires.

Your video was seen by tons of people around the world. Every day, millions of people, including me, are lifting you up in prayer for your peace and healing. And because of that video we all, all of us, are feeling your loss and pain. As a nation we're all walking right alongside you. No one is judging, but people are watching.

Because your video was so popular, someone told me, it's almost like you've stepped out on a ledge and you're ready to jump. But when that happens in real life, we try to talk to that person and we say, "No, no—don't jump, don't jump!" We try to explain to them why they're valuable, why we want them here longer. We tell them there can be a better way. But what would happen if our society decided to yell to that ledge jumper, "Yeah, you're right, there isn't a better way. Go ahead; jumping is the best solution for you!" What would that say about us as a society?

So I guess I'm yelling to you, Brittany, on your ledge. I'm asking you to stay with us as long as possible. That's just my desperate attempt to get you to say "no" to jumping. Don't let that arbitrary date pressure you. You are strong.

How about this instead? On Nov. 1, you and I choose to squeeze every drop out of life and cheat this beast of a cancer for as long as we can. And who knows, maybe we can be part of a research trial that leads to a cure for us or others. And in the meantime we can spend precious moments with the people that we love.

When I was a young woman, just a few years older than you, my dad suffered a severe accident that severed his spinal cord and left him paralyzed from the neck down. My siblings and I were just horrified by the black hole of fear and uncertainty that was before us, and for five months before his death my dad was cared for by dedicated hospice workers. During those months our family had precious time just soaking up the presence of my dad. He couldn't do anything—except talk. And quite frankly, I never had that kind of candor and intimacy with my dad before those days.

My brothers and sisters and I—we learned more about ourselves and each other than we ever could have in any other way. We grew as a family and we learned about sacrifice and love. Each of us became wiser and better people through that whole experience—so really, in essence it was a gift my dad gave to us. Brittany, I ask that you allow your family this gift of caring for you in your cancer journey.

Like you Brittany, I am apprehensive. I know the predictions, I know what's ahead for me and possibly for you—but we're still here, aren't we? We haven't squeezed out every drop of life left in us yet—so Brittany, please don't. Please don't leave us yet. Let's choose life for as long as we've got it.

L'chaim. (To life.)

From Family Institute of Connecticut at © 2015 Maggie Karner. Used by permission.