Don Kent’s gift to Canadians

Personal Stories | December 14, 2018 | Dying With Dignity Canada

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DWDC’s Rachel Phan reflects on what it was like to help the late Don Kent blog about his journey with assisted dying.

“I have just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.”

These were the opening words of the email Don Kent sent to DWDC just hours after he received the devastating news: he had cancer, again. The Kemptville, Ont. man was not shocked by the diagnosis and knew immediately that he wanted to explore the option of receiving medical assistance in dying (MAID).

“Is there anything that DWDC would want me to do to document my journey […] to help promote the cause?” he asked in his email. “I would be happy to contribute in any way that I can.”

I was speechless. Here was a man who had just received a catastrophic diagnosis, and of all the things he could have chosen to do that night, he decided to reach out to virtual strangers to see if he could turn his misfortune into a gift for others. I knew from that moment that Don Kent was someone special.

A photo of Don on vacation in Florida

Don Kent posing for the camera while on vacation in Florida with his wife, Barb.

I wrote back quickly to ask Don if he’d be comfortable with being the first person to document his journey towards an assisted death in a diarized series on our blog. (Later, we would realize that his series was the first of its kind in all of Canada.) He wrote back a few hours later to say yes.

The next day, his first entry arrived in my inbox, marking the beginning of Don’s Journey.

From his first sentence, Don never minced words about his condition and prognosis. He wrote candidly about his history with cancer, from his first diagnosis in 2007 and the too-brief period of remission that followed. He also wrote about how he had considered ways to take his own life if his cancer ever returned — “most were violent by necessity to ensure the desired outcome” — and his relief when Canada legalized assisted dying in 2016.

“Salvation!” he wrote in his second entry. “Thanks to the [government] and many decades of advocating by groups such as DWDC, some of us are finally able to make that choice and end our lives humanely on our own terms.”

‘This gave Don a new goal’

As a result of the cancer in his throat, Don — who described himself as a social animal — lost the use of his voice and slowly became more socially isolated. “Online communication became a way for him to remain connected to the outside world,” his mother, Sandra, wrote in her own DWDC blog post.

That’s one reason why Don took his role as regular blog contributor “most seriously,” Sandra said. Another was his unwavering commitment to ensuring that Canadians became more aware of MAID as an end-of-life option.

“During his final months of life, this gave Don a new goal,” Sandra wrote. “[And] as Don’s health rapidly deteriorated and death approached, chronicling his experiences seemed to calm him.”

A photo of Don and Barb

Don and his beloved wife, Barb.

In the span of just under three months and seven eye-opening blog posts, Don touched countless Canadians from coast to coast. Whether he wrote about his sudden, frequent trips to the hospital, his rapidly deteriorating health, or his discussions with his health care team about his wishes for MAID, Don gave us all a no-holds-barred look at his dying process. His courage and willingness to expose his own vulnerabilities to others was done with the hope that others could learn from his experiences.

“He was comforted in thinking there was a purpose to the end of his life, and he hoped that by sharing his story that others facing similar realities might benefit,” Sandra said.

Don’s writing clearly resonated with readers. His entries quickly became among the most popular postings on the DWDC blog. And by early November, his articles had been viewed more than 17,000 times.

As DWDC’s digital communications coordinator and Don’s editor, I will forever treasure the months I spent getting to know him. It didn’t take me long to grow incredibly fond of Don. I learned about his likes — beach days in Florida, fast cars, and thick-cut steaks — and how deeply he cherished the great loves of his life — his wife, Barb, his mother, his sisters. I learned that he was a natural writer and entertainer, with a larger-than-life personality and the cheekiest sense of humour. I believe all of this shines through in the words he gifted to us.

My friend Don Kent died peacefully with medical assistance on April 20, surrounded by his mom and sisters, and held tightly in Barb’s arms. As he requested, Deep Purple’s “Child in Time” was cranked up in the background. His death was completely on his own terms, just as he wished.

—Rachel Phan

You can read Don’s Journey in its entirety by clicking on the following links:

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