By Olivia Kelleher
A woman in her forties with terminal cancer who was set to complete the Dublin mini marathon today is now going to conduct it in stages this week at her local gym in order to provide inspiration for her children.
Gaynor French, who is originally from England but lives in Roscommon, was too ill to travel to complete the marathon in the capital but is determined to fulfil her commitment.
She is on palliative care pain relief medication and plans to head to the gym this week to do the walk in stages for Mayo/Roscommon Hospice Foundation.
"I am getting on top of it now. I am doing this because I want to say to my kids not to give up their challenges. But in life sometimes you have to be flexible about those challenges. I have reduced liver function and an extended abdomen. We have to adapt and change and be flexible. So I suppose that is a lesson in itself."
Gaynor has spoken publicly about the need for voluntary assisted dying (VAD) and says that people with a terminal diagnosis ought to be given compassionate and dignified options in relation to their end of life.
She says Ireland has a real opportunity to provide for individuals who require assisted dying. But she insists that it has to be done safely with stringent measures in place to ensure that there is no coercion.
"If you get a prescription you have to be able to drink it yourself. There is no third party. The only support you get is a written prescription. You don't have to take it. You are not under obligation. And only a third of people do take it."
She says VAD gives patients a sense of control. But she warns that it needs to be done "legally, transparently and properly."
Gaynor says VAD is a dignified death for someone who is already dying and has less than six months to live. Her hope is to see the American Oregon VAD model incorporated in to standard palliative care in Ireland.
She insists that at all times the control has to be in the hands of the person who has terminal illness.
Meanwhile, Gaynor (48) who has had a varied and diverse career having mastered multiple disciplines says she was frustrated at being able to travel to Dublin for the marathon.
However, she is relieved to have made it this far in life as one of her children is celebrating a milestone birthday this week. However, she has been pragmatic about her approach to her life and has put her funeral arrangements in place.
Dark humour has sustained Gaynor through the trauma of dealing with breast cancer and her sense of fun will even be present at her funeral service. She has already determined that she will have a closed casket as she doesn't think the whole community needs to see her in her Christmas jumper, socks and leggings.
A keen crafts person on top of her coffin she plans to have a cross stitch of Holmsey and Fergus (her design
character) and Holmsey hare. She says if her little granddaughter attempts to grab the hare then she can have it as "Life after all is about living."
A music fan her song choices involve her beloved Depeche Mode. In particular, and after much consideration, she has determined that her main funeral song will involve the song "My Sun" which contains the lyrics "I feel your sorrow, I feel you pain. Behind the darkest clouds the sun always shines again."
Cognisant of the sadness of the occasion Gaynor says she has also chosen "If you are happy and you know it" to bring a smile to the face of loved ones particularly the younger attendees at the cremation service. Gaynor says that not many people book their own funeral only to renew the quote later on.
Gaynor was diagnosed with terminal cancer nearly two years ago but was diagnosed with breast cancer several years earlier. She has had dark days but she has also actively lived her life fulfilling many of her ambitions. The rebellious spirit in her always craved a stint in handcuffs for a nefarious activity.
So it was arranged that she be "arrested." However, her crime wasn't international drug smuggling but instead her family looked at her passions and jokingly had her arrested by local gardai for the so called illegal importation of wool from the UK.
Gaynor has variously worked as a scientist and in social care. She has written a children's book, worked in prisons and reached her lifeline ambition of riding on a motorbike.She even managed to throw some underwear on stage at a Depeche Mode concert.
The mother of three says she doesn't get angry at her situation even if she was someone who was "fit and ate healthily and organically."
"I am not angry. Life is not what I wanted it to be. I am just grateful it is not my children. My (youngest) son is 18 in a couple of days which I am incredibly grateful for. I got where I wanted to be. We didn't get the time we wanted after that. But I still have a lot to be grateful for."
She adds that society has to be wary of sanitising death.
"I have done all the birthday cards for my granddaughter up to the age of 18. I have written advice letters. It is like a collection of newspaper cuttings. When I take the camera out they
say 'Oh no, not another one.' We don't talk about death as a society. And we really need to."
Donations can be made to the Gaynor French charity walk here.
Visit her Facebook Page here.