A northern Tasmanian man who fears a slow, painful death if his cancer returns says he will have to move to Victoria if the Tasmanian Parliament does not pass voluntary assisted dying legislation.
Mat Burke, 46, of Carrick was diagnosed with stage four nasopharyngeal cancer last October.
"I may have been given the all clear for now, but as I was told from the start, there is always the possibility of it coming back," Mr Burke said.
"My operation was always a one shot deal so if the cancer does return in the future currently I am left with no option but to move to Victoria and needing to suffer for 12 months to be eligible under the Victorian voluntary assisted dying laws.
"I find that very confusing and the unnecessary and the protracted anxiety makes me very angry.
"If Victoria and Western Australia have passed laws why can't I die in a State that I love and consider my home?
"I want to be in Tasmania until the end and not have to move somewhere else and then endure 12 months of a slow lingering death (as my GP put it so elegantly) until I qualify."
In other news:
Independent member for Mersey in the Legislative Council Mike Gaffney will introduce his voluntary assisted dying bill in August.
It will be the fourth attempt to get assisted dying laws in Tasmania. If the bill passes, Mr Burke says it will be a weight off his mind.
"It would give me peace of mind and allay so many fears that are part of my daily existence, and have been for the entire six months of my treatment," he said.
"Doctors have told me that it would be a slow suffering death as the cancer grows across your airways and you will need to be sedated and put in a nursing home - which at 46 years of age is horrifying on so many levels."
"I know how chemotherapy and radiation treatment, especially in high doses, changes a person now and forever.
"When it comes to the end of life bill it's about dignity and unnecessary suffering of not only myself but also my loved ones.
"It makes me so angry and also deeply sad how people who sit in power have never faced death in a prolonged and painful way could even deny somebody this.
"At one stage in hospital I was on over 20 medications and still on over 10.
"I definitely do not want people to have the same impressions of me as I do of my father's last three years of his life when he become a frail and silent shell. Is that quality of life - you tell me?"
A healthy life
Until last year, Mr Burke had never had a serious illness or operation.
"I lived in Belfast for five years and was significantly injured in a motor bike accident or two in my life but this is something very different when you're faced with a life threatening condition," Mr Burke said.
He grew up on a farm in country Victoria with his father who was a Vietnam veteran but died in 2016 from cancer. He moved to Tasmania in 2017 and worked as a motel caretaker.
"My cancer is in the same area as dad and I truly believe it's related to his war service and his exposure to Agent Orange and dioxins," Mr Burke said.
"I have a great doctor and team at the Holman Clinic who have given me a second chance at life. They inspired me to complete treatment even when I thought I truly couldn't endure any more.
"I still suffer with some side effects from radiation and chemotherapy including blood clots, diabetes, gout and swelling of the neck.
"Every day, the cancer feels like it's still there and as I have no saliva glands it leaves me with a very limited choice of what I can eat and it is drowned in gravy or made wet/liquid form which is not pleasant. I also had a nasal gastric tube when I couldn't keep my food down."
Mr Burke, who has a son, has proposed to his partner Rhonda Varker, a disability worker.
"We've been together 18 years and I've asked her to marry me. It's very upsetting to see the heartbreak in my partner's and my mum's eyes.
"The strength of these two women along with my sister from Victoria is what keeps me going on a personal level. I am looking forward now and want to be a cancer council driver and volunteer and give people hope."
Mr Burke also wants to thank the doctors, nurses, speech therapists, nutritionists, counsellors, front desk staff, his GP and chaplain.
"They are my real life heroes and I want to acknowledge them as it's so hard to look at somebody that saved your life and just say 'thanks mate'," Mr Burke said.
"I genuinely suffer not knowing how to. I had made up coffee mugs with a photo of them and a little saying and thanks on the back but it still doesn't feel adequate in any shape or form.
"I beat a stage four head cancer so I believe I have touched the other side and know I shouldn't be here."
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