Two voices on opposite sides of the ultimate cancer issues

As millions of people now know, Brittany Maynard's husband Dan Diaz will celebrate his birthday on Oct. 26. They will gather with friends and family and then, days later, the 29-year-old Maynard plans to take the prescription drugs that will end her life.

The couple cleared legal, professional and financial hurdles to move from California to Oregon, where she is eligible for physician-assisted suicide. The clock was ticking -- due to a malignant brain tumor -- toward a "nightmare" she did not want her loved ones to have to endure with her.

As a spokesperson for Compassion and Choices, which evolved out of the old Hemlock Society, she shared the details of her diagnosis and choice at and then through major media.

"Now that I've had the prescription filled and it's in my possession, I have experienced a tremendous sense of relief. ... It has given me a sense of peace during a tumultuous time that otherwise would be dominated by fear, uncertainty and pain," she wrote, in a essay.

"Now, I'm able to move forward in my remaining days or weeks I have on this beautiful Earth, to seek joy and love and to spend time traveling to outdoor wonders of nature. ... When my suffering becomes too great, I can say to all those I love, 'I love you; come be by my side, and come say goodbye as I pass into whatever's next.' "

With its accompanying video, her message went viral online and in national news. As planned, it inspired renewed public and private debates about the ethics of physician-assisted suicide. Oregon is one of five U.S. states in which this practice is legal.

The Maynard case -- involving such a young patient -- is statistically rare. The CNN package quoted official statistics noting that since 1997, and the landmark passage of Oregon's "Death with Dignity Act," only 1 percent of those who have died with the aid of a physician have been her age or younger.

Activists on both sides of the physician-assisted suicide issue are used to political debates, which have raged for decades. But in the age of social media, some of the most poignant responses to this particular media campaign came from other women who were facing cancer and all-but-certain death.

Maynard poured out her heart online and other hurting hearts replied. One letter posted by author Kara Tippetts, a 38-year-old mother of four, sounded many now-familiar themes about medical ethics, but also noted that the ultimate debates were, as Maynard stated, about the meaning of life and then "whatever's next."

It has been two years since Tippetts was diagnosed with breast cancer, which has since metastasized throughout her body. Early in her online essay -- entitled "Dear Brittany: Why We Don't Have to be so Afraid of Dying and Suffering that We Choose Suicide" -- she bluntly noted, "I too am dying."

Tippetts stressed that it was important for Maynard and others to share the details of their decisions, in Oregon and wherever physician-assisted suicide is debated.           

"It matters, and it is unbelievably important. Thank you. Dear heart, we simply disagree," wrote Tippetts, author of the book "The Hardest Peace" about her battle with cancer. "Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known. ...

"That last kiss, that last warm touch, that last breath, matters -- but it was never intended for us to decide when that last breath is breathed."

From the perspective of faith, Tippetts stressed that her final comfort was the fact that she was not in control. Thus, she said that she will trust in "knowing Jesus, knowing that He understands my hard goodbye, He walks with me in my dying."

For Maynard, however, the final comfort was in knowing that she would remain in control, as much as was humanly possible under the circumstances.

"I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms," she said. "Who has the right to tell me that I don't deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain?"