Abbey Egan turns grief into advocacy for VAD laws

Abbey Egan turns grief into advocacy for VAD laws

Newcastle local, Abbey Egan, was one of the key organisers who lined up six Dying with Dignity stalls at shopping centres across the Newcastle region on Saturday 30 January 2021.

Abbey lost her partner Jayde to a prolonged and unnecessarily traumatic death from cervical cancer in 2018 and is now heading the grassroots campaign in her hometown of Newcastle and nearby electorates.

“I want to make sure that part of Jayde’s legacy is that other people won’t have to suffer horrendously at the end of their life like Jayde did.

“The only thing Jayde wanted at the end of her life was the right to a peaceful, dignified death surrounded by her loved ones, and because we don’t have the laws in place in NSW, she was denied that.

Over 2,000 new signatures were added to the DWD petition from the six stalls in Newcastle. After reading Abbey’s story below, you can also read more about the stalls here – Newcastle supporters launch campaign blitz for voluntary assisted dying laws

Abbey collecting signatures for the DWD petition

Abbey shared her heartbreaking story last year after contacting Dying with Dignity NSW to join the campaign.

DYING HAD NO DIGNITY FOR JAYDE

Abbey Egan’s voice cracks …

Even now, nearly two years after her partner Jayde Britton’s horrific, premature death, the pain is raw.

She takes a deep breath …

“That doctor, a kidney specialist, sat down and took Jayde’s hand and asked her how long she thought she had … because, he said, she needed to decide whether to start watching Breaking Bad from the beginning or to start something shorter.

“It was an incredible moment because it was the first time after 17 months that someone other than me had given her permission to stop fighting a losing battle … the tension immediately went out of the room, the anxiety faded …”

Looking back Abbey said she and Jayde laughed about that meeting in precious, private moments during the five short but long weeks that followed before her death, aged 32 years old.

Jayde Britton

Jayde’s was a brutal journey, riddled with misdiagnoses, repeated tests, operations, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and massive quantities of medication … as well as the accompanying natural therapies the couple explored. And all to no avail …

Within two years, from being a happy, healthy young woman, who loved cooking, food, live music, their dog Winston, bushwalking with Abbey and spending time with family, her much-loved Nan and Pa, as well as their close knit circle of friends in Newcastle, Jayde was reduced to a shell, unable to talk, in unbearable pain, bleeding and leaking in what was an undignified end.

What she desired most was the choice to end it all, which in NSW is an impossibility … something she, and now Abbey, want to see changed.

Jayde’s suffering began in April 2016, on her 30th birthday after her first skydive, a birthday treat from Abbey.

“She began bleeding, there were pools of blood and she was in so much pain,” Abbey said.

“Doctors diagnosed ovarian cysts, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) … saying it couldn’t be anything serious because she was too young and fit and healthy. But nothing really matched Jayde’s symptoms …

“In early February 2017 she was admitted to hospital twice for a ‘kidney infection’ but they couldn’t find any traces in her urine … they did some CT scans (without dye) and still found nothing.

“We were getting so angry, it was so frustrating … finally in March they did a scan with dye – hallelujah!

Jayde with Winston

“That is when they found the tumour – it was massive and had been pressing on her kidneys and blocking her urethra. We had an appointment with the gynecologist, it was late Friday afternoon … he examined Jayde, he told her it looked like cancer and she had to have a biopsy the following week, just like that! You can imagine how we felt over the two days of that weekend.”

The results the following week were indisputable – cancer of the cervix that had spread to the pelvis and some lymph nodes.

“The oncologist said the scans had ‘lit up like a Christmas tree with cancerous cells’ and was the most unusual case he had seen in his 30 years … he told her she had a life expectancy of about 12 months.”

Abbey’s tears flow now as she relates the weeks of radiation and chemo that followed, the nausea, the weight loss … and then the hope that blossomed, when nine weeks later, in May, the tumour appeared to have gone!  Jayde was technically free of cancer!

“In the 10 months that followed Jayde lived her best life – we moved to a big old house in Maitland surrounded by bush and kangaroos, life was normal, healthy, fulfilled, wonderful.

“She went to Vietnam and spent time in Queensland with friends, she did a bicycle challenge to raise money for cancer and we fostered a young girl – it was astonishing what she packed in!”

In March 2018 the bleeding and the pain returned … but this time it was a lot worse.

“I thought Jayde was unwell and in pain the first time but this was much more intense, all the time. I quit my job (as a social worker with disadvantaged youth) to care for her.

“There was more radiation and a lot more chemo … the tumour was inoperable, they tried putting stents in. But nothing seemed to help – she had incredible lymphedema in her legs, up to 10kg of fluid by the end of the day.

“The tumour was blocking everything and actually ended up breaking Jayde’s spine (her t12 vertebrae), which then ruptured a nerve. She was leaking, she had to wear nappies … there was no dignity in how sick she was.”

And so, exhausted after all the poking and prodding and attempts to find a solution, the couple came to that blackly humorous exchange with the kidney specialist …

“From there, Jayde’s wish was to die at home … when we got her there two weeks later she knew she would never leave. Her mental state deteriorated, all this grief for her life came out. I was with her all the time – toileting, showering, massaging her legs.

“She told me she just wanted to die … and there was nothing I could do.

“You shouldn’t have someone you love begging you to die and be unable to help!

“If the option had been there, Jayde would have ended it all so much sooner.”

As it was with a healthy brain and heart she kept on living, three more awful weeks with six final horrific days, which Abbey describes as ‘torture’ with Jayde hallucinating and distressed, speechless, thrashing in pain that no amount of morphine seemed to ease.

When the end came, it was quick – in the blink of a moment, when Abbey had stepped out to make herself a peppermint tea.

“Everything went calm, and I thought, oh great! And then her dad put his head out and said she was gone. I couldn’t believe it! For half that cup of tea she was there and then she was not, and I missed it!”

At the celebration of Jayde’s life, her ‘fun-eral’ as Abbey calls it,  people were asked, in lieu of flowers, to donate to Dying with Dignity – they raised $2000 and are planning more fundraising events.

“You don’t think of people my age (Abbey is now 30) dying like this, maybe suicides or accidents but not like this, with cancer. You assume euthanasia is something for older people – which is why I am doing this, telling Jayde’s story.

“Our generation is the voice of change, we are the ones who need to push this in the right direction.

“It is so important to talk to people and share things on Facebook – I want this change, a legal framework for voluntary assisted dying, to be part of Jayde’s legacy.”

Jayde was a massive fan of singer Stevie Nicks and she felt profoundly that everyone is entitled to “go their own way”.

Artwork by Jayde Britton