Terminally Ill 29-Year-Old Woman: Why I'm Choosing to Die on My Own Terms

Terminally Ill 29-Year-Old Woman: Why I'm Choosing to Die on My Own Terms
Brittany Maynard with her Great Dane, Charley
Courtesy Dan Diaz

10/06/2014 AT 09:00 AM EDT

For the past 29 years, Brittany Maynard has lived a fearless life – running half marathons, traveling through Southeast Asia for a year and even climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

So, it's no surprise she is facing her death the same way.

On Monday, Maynard will launch an online video campaign with the nonprofit Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life choice advocacy organization, to fight for expanding Death with Dignity laws nationwide.

And on Nov. 1, Maynard, who in April was given six months to live, intends to end her own life with medication prescribed to her by her doctor – and she wants to make it clear it is NOT suicide.

"There is not a cell in my body that is suicidal or that wants to die," she tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. "I want to live. I wish there was a cure for my disease but there's not."

Maynard has a stage 4 glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor.

"My glioblastoma is going to kill me, and that's out of my control," she says. "I've discussed with many experts how I would die from it, and it's a terrible, terrible way to die. Being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying."

The campaign's six-minute video includes interviews with Brittany as well as her mother, Debbie Ziegler, and husband, Dan Diaz, 42.

"My entire family has gone through a cycle of devastation," she says. "I'm an only child – this is going to make tears come to my eyes. For my mother, it's really difficult, and for my husband as well, but they've all supported me because they've stood in hospital rooms and heard what would happen to me."

Maynard was a newlywed when she started having debilitating headaches last January. That's when she learned she had brain cancer.

"My husband and I were actively trying for a family, which is heartbreaking for us," she says in the video.

Three months later, after undergoing surgery, she found out the tumor had grown even larger and was told she had, at best, six months to live.

After researching all her options after her diagnosis, Maynard, who was living in San Francisco at the time, decided aid in dying was her best option.

Her entire family moved with her to Portland earlier this year so she could have access to Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, which has been in place since late 1997. Since then, 1,173 people have had prescriptions written under the act, and 752 have used them to die.

Terminally Ill 29-Year-Old Woman: Why I'm Choosing to Die on My Own Terms| Health, Real People Stories, Brittany Maynard

Brittany Maynard and husband Dan Diaz

Courtesy Tara Arrowood

Four other states – Washington, Montana, Vermont and New Mexico – have authorized aid in dying. Compassion & Choices has campaigns in place in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

In mid-October, Maynard will videotape testimony to be played for California lawmakers and voters at the appropriate time.

"Right now it's a choice that's only available to some Americans, which is really unethical," she says.

"The amount of sacrifice and change my family had to go through in order to get me to legal access to Death with Dignity – changing our residency, establishing a team of doctors, having a place to live – was profound," she says.

"There's tons of Americans who don’t have time or the ability or finances," she says, "and I don't think that's right or fair."

This is why she's using the precious time she has left to advocate for everyone to have the same choice she does.

"I believe this choice is ethical, and what makes it ethical is it is a choice," she says. "The patient can change their mind right up to the last minute. I feel very protected here in Oregon."

But Maynard doesn't think she will change her mind. The date she picked was carefully chosen.

"I really wanted to celebrate my husband's birthday, which is October 26," she says. "I'm getting sicker, dealing with more pain and seizures and difficulties so I just selected it."

Maynard says her exhaustion has "increased a lot" recently.

"I still get out and take a walk with my family everyday," she says. "I try not to hold onto the dogs anymore because the past few weeks I've fallen a few times."

Her pain has increased, too, but so far she's been managing it with medications from her doctors.

"I was in the hospital two weeks ago after two seizures," she says. "Immediately after, I lost my ability to speak for a few hours. So it's scary, very frightening."

Which is why she knows she's making the right decision.

When Maynard passes on Nov. 1, she will do so in the bedroom she shares with her husband. By her side will be her mother, stepfather, husband and best friend (who is also a physician).

"I'm dying, but I'm choosing to suffer less," she says, "to put myself through less physical and emotional pain and my family as well."



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