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A tumor in her brain, she wants the option to die peacefully -- before it's too late

Reid Forgrave, Star Tribune on

Published in Women

MINNEAPOLIS — Nancy Uden took her place in front of legislators, the first to testify inside the overflowing hearing room near the Minnesota Capitol. A head wrap covered her scalp. It hid 36 electrodes that slow cancer cell growth, perhaps adding months, even years, to the time she has left.

"I'm not afraid of death, but I am afraid of how I will die," she told lawmakers and onlookers. For more than a year, Uden has battled glioblastoma, a devastating form of brain cancer with an average survival rate of 14 to 16 months. She was beating the odds, but she knew that could change in an instant: "I don't have time for long debates. This bill has been in front of the Minnesota Legislature for 10 years already. It's time to act."

The bill — supporters call it medical aid in dying, opponents call it assisted suicide — would allow physicians to dispense life-ending medication to terminally ill adults with a prognosis of less than six months to live. Patients would then ingest it themselves.

Leading into this legislative session, supporters were optimistic. Similar bills had gone nowhere in previous years, but they liked their odds with this DFL-controlled government. The issue jumbles predictable political alliances: Supporters frame it as bodily autonomy or as a bulwark against government intrusion; opponents frame it around the sanctity of life or fears that a slippery slope could force suicide on people with profound disabilities.

Uden, 72, understands the irony of spending what may be her final cogent months advocating for a law that could help her die.

Nancy Uden is fighting for her life while she fights for a choice in her death.

 

She is determined to live her remaining days fully. She hopes to travel to Sweden and Arizona. She wants to see the pop star Pink again. She yearns to meet her first great-grandchild, due in May.

She's had aggressive treatment: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. In the year after diagnosis, her doctor at Mayo Clinic in Rochester relayed little but good news. But the median time to recurrence is less than 10 months. Uden is already a few months past that.

When the cancer returns, she worries a growing tumor could press against her brain, inducing seizures and hallucinations, bringing painful headaches and blindness, stripping away her communication and tinting her skin blue. It's the type of death she doesn't want loved ones to witness.

She told legislators of the seizure that caused a car crash in late 2022, of waking up at North Memorial Health Hospital, of doctors finding a brain mass.

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