Mom of 4 with Incurable Cancer Becomes Advocate for Controversial Right-to-Die Movement
"I'm done being scared. I want to live the life I do have without fear and limits," says Hanna Olivas
When Hanna Olivas was told she had a rare blood cancer and was given just three to five years to live, she made sure that every moment of the time she did have left was filled with purpose.
Hanna, now 45, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2017 and after undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments, doctors told her there is little less that they can do.
With a new prognosis of up to a year to live, Hanna knows that the end of her battle could be filled with immense physical pain and suffering. So, Hanna decided to take control over one thing she can decide: how and when she dies.
“I want my family to remember me smiling, happy, peaceful and loving life,” the mom of four, who lives in Las Vegas with husband Jerry Olivas, tells PEOPLE. “My type of cancer is a long, suffering death, so I should be able to end my life before it gets that bad.”
Surrounded by her husband Jerry, 46, and her four adult children, she will empty a prescription of powdered medication into a glass of water or juice and drink it. She will fall asleep within minutes and die within an hour.
Because assisted dying isn’t legal in Nevada, Hanna and Jerry will first have to move to California if she chooses to end her life. (Nine states plus Washington D.C., allow the terminally ill to die with medical assistance.)
Hanna wants this option to be available for everyone who has terminal cancer no matter what zip code they live in. Since April, she has been working with the right-to-die advocacy group Compassion & Choices, lobbying her governor and state legislature to guarantee end-of-life options for the terminally ill.
“I’m done being scared,” says Hanna, who also has two grandchildren. “I want to live the life I do have without fear and limits.”
She and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta together pleaded before the Nevada state legislature for action on the Death with Dignity bill. Hanna has also raised more than $20,000 for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, and she and Jerry volunteer every Tuesday and Friday with a program that helps people get out of prison to re-enter society.
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“While I’m still here, I’m going to try and help as many people as I possibly can,” says Hanna, who also plans to write a book and spends a lot of time helping and guiding other women with the same type of cancer.
Hanna’s push for legislation in Nevada (which failed in April but is expected to be reintroduced in January) was inspired by the activism of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old newlywed with terminal brain cancer who made a crusade of her move from California to end her life in November 2014 under Oregon’s “death with dignity” law. (California approved a similar law 11 months after Maynard’s death.)
Under these laws, mentally sound, terminally ill adults with less than six months to live are eligible for lethal medication if they get two doctors to certify mental capability and issue a prescription.
“Knowing I’ll be able to have this if the time comes is very comforting,” she says. “Why should anyone die a painful death? I don’t have control over dying, but I do have control over the final moments.”
Hanna isn’t scared to die if she knows she lived a fulfilled life and one that includes being an advocate.
“This is my purpose now,” says Olivas, who ran a mobile hair-and-makeup business that traveled around Nevada before she was diagnosed. “We need to fight for every other terminal patient.”
Jerry and her the rest of her family are in awe of Hanna’s grace and strength.
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have her as my wife and best friends,” says husband Jerry.