Terminally Ill Single Mom Christy O'Donnell Dies of Cancer at Home with Daughter Holding Her Hand

"I take comfort in knowing that someday aid in dying will be lawful not only in California, but throughout the United States," O'Donnell wrote in a letter to be released upon her death

Photo: Austin Hargrave

Terminally ill single mom Christy O’Donnell, who campaigned hard to get a right-to-die law passed in California last year and filed a lawsuit asking for that right as well, died at her home Saturday afternoon, her older brother tells PEOPLE exclusively.

O’Donnell had Stage 4 lung cancer that had metasticized throughout her body. While O’Donnell feared she would die drowning in her own fluids, she actually had a “peaceful” death, said Jay Watts, her older brother. She died in her bed at her Valencia, California, home, with her daughter, Bailey Donorovich, 21, holding her hand and Watts by her side.

“She did take advantage of hospice care, so they did what they could to keep her as comfortable as possible,” says Watts. “Unfortunately, she had tumors throughout her brain and her liver and everywhere. They did the best they could, but they couldn’t stop the seizures on and off or the breakthrough pain.

“She and Bailey have been going through a lot the last month,” he says.

While California has signed the End of Life Option Act into law, it is still not in effect in California. O’Donnell, 47, was a former police sergeant and trial lawyer and told PEOPLE she did not want to break the law.

Had it been in effect, she would have “taken the option a month ago when her seizures started,” Watts says.

“She knew what was going on she did the best she could,” he says. “About a week ago, she wasn’t able to speak at all because of the strokes causing damage – that was her second greatest fear.”

Her immediate family will hold a private service to celebrate her life, per O’Donnell’s request, at a later date.

Last year, O’Donnell said she was hoping she’d live long enough to celebrate her daughter’s 21st birthday with a special trip to the Bahamas, which they took on June 26.

“It was priceless,” O’Donnell told PEOPLE at the time. “To be able to actually make it to be there – that in and of itself, without doing anything else, was wonderful for both of us.”

Before she died, O’Donnell wrote a letter to be released upon her death.

“Today, I write this goodbye with tears in my eyes, not of sadness, but joy for my daughter s future and the life I have lived,” she wrote. “I have taken advantage of everything current medical science has to offer to try to live longer. I have prayed to be healed and have had people around the world praying for me.

“Yet, I have suffered more emotional and physical pain than anyone should have to endure. My daughter and I fought very hard during the last months of my life to try to bring about positive change in this world. My daughter has unselfishly given up her time with me to all of you, so that no child will ever again have to watch the person they love suffer at their death. I ask you all to continue making your voices heard for those who are suffering.

“I take comfort in knowing that someday aid in dying will be lawful not only in California, but throughout the United States.”

As always, Bailey was uppermost on her mind.

“I have done everything I can think of to prepare you for this moment and I pray that it has been enough to lessen your suffering after Mommy is gone,” she continued. “I also pray that all of Mommy s friends and family will be there for you in the future and they have set up a trust for you to do what I could not be there to do, get you through college in our own home with our ‘poopies,’ ‘Lady’ and ‘Pup Pup.’ Mommy loves you more than 10,000 blue stars. Xoxo.”

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