Breast cancer

Woman with breast cancer is first to use Voluntary Assisted Dying Act

Wednesday, 7 Aug 2019

Kerry Robertson with her daughters Jacqui (L) and Nicole (R)

A Victorian women with advanced breast cancer has become the first person to use the state’s Voluntary Assisted Dying law.

Kerry Robertson, 61, died in a nursing home in Bendigo on 15 July from metastatic breast cancer.

She was the first person to receive a permit under Victoria ‘s Voluntary Assisted Dying Act and also the first to see the process through to its end, according to the lobby group Go Gentle Australia.

Ms Robertson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. Despite treatment, the cancer metastasised and in March 2019, when the disease had spread to her liver and the side effects from the chemo were no longer manageable, she made the decision to stop all treatment.

Her daughters Jacqui and Nicole said the assisted dying process went smoothly and took 26 days to complete.

Telling her mother’s story on the Go Gentle Australia website they said Ms Robertson had always known what she wanted.

“Mum already had an appointment booked to see her specialist the day the legislation came into effect, she made her first request that same day,” Nicole said.

They said their mother took the medication on the same day it was dispensed by the pharmacy.

“It was quick, she was ready to go. Her body was failing her and she was in incredible pain. She’d been in pain for a long time,” said daughter Jacqui Hicks.

She said that throughout her disease, her mother Kerry had undergone a lumpectomy, had her lymph nodes removed and received radiation and chemotherapy. However the cancer returned in 2014 and metastasised in her bones, lungs and brain.

During 2018 Ms Robertson was hospitalised twice to manage her pain, but this provided only short periods of relief. By March 2019, she had decided to stop all treatment; the cancer had spread to her liver and managing the side effects was making her lose quality of life.

“Palliative care did their job as well as they could. But it had been a long battle. She was tired, the pain was intolerable and there was no quality of life left for her,” said Jacqui.

Ms Robertson’s daughters were at her bedside and said say their mother’s death was a beautiful, peaceful and positive experience.

“We were there with her; her favourite music was playing in the background and she was surrounded by love,” Jacqui said.

“She left this world with courage and grace, knowing how much she is loved. It was the empowered death that she wanted.”

The women said the experience had reinforced their belief that anyone who has a terminal diagnosis, is suffering and in intolerable pain deserves the choice of a voluntary assisted death.

“It is the most compassionate, dignified and logical option for those suffering in the end stages of life,” said Nicole.

Go Gentle Australia’s director Andrew Denton said Kerry’s story demonstrated how well the law had been designed and implemented.

“The eligibility criteria were met, the safeguards were worked through, and Kerry Robertson and her family were offered the compassionate death Kerry wanted,” Mr Denton said.

“Importantly, too, access to the process was not an issue, even though the family was from regional Victoria. It is a testament to the dedication and compassion of everyone involved..

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