My daughter was adamant. She didn’t come home to die.
Maya* was admitted to hospice care in my home in May, 2005.
She had just turned 33. Her diagnosis was stage IV colon cancer.
She was in severe pain. She had undergone major surgery, and
endured three debilitating chemotherapy protocols. Physically
weakened, she was not a candidate for clinical trials.
Hospice offered daily monitoring of
complex pain medication. For that reason
and no other, Maya consented to ‘end-oflife’
care. She said that living with me was
temporary, until she was well enough to
return to her home and her work as a
teacher on the west coast.
While Maya’s pain medication dosage
increased during her first month of
hospice care, her hope remained strong.
She asked and indeed insisted that those
around her support her will to live.
I spent my days carrying out Maya’s
wishes. I prepared organic food using
strict guidelines; I ground herbs from a
Tibetan doctor and poured the mixture
into gel caps three times a day; herbs from
a Brazilian healer accompanied each meal;
an acupuncturist, a massage therapist, a
chiropractor, and a Feldenkrais practitioner
visited Maya regularly; guided visualizations
focused on shrinking tumors and
All these actions gave my daughter a
degree of control over her life. At the same
time, the practices sustained my flickering
faith in her recovery.
In June 2005, a friend sent me an
email about the proposed MAPS-sponsored
research with advanced stage cancer
patients. Anecdotal reports suggested that
“people with terminal illnesses who have
taken the drug found it easier to talk to
friends and families about death and other
uncomfortable subjects.” A quote from
Rick Doblin stated that benefits might
include “facing directly life’s great challenge,
to die gracefully and in peace.”
With trepidation I mentioned the
study to Maya. She was not interested in
discussing end-of-life issues. In her eyes,
talking about dying was like giving in to
death, and giving up her will to live.
During a hospitalization, she told two
palliative care specialists to “please leave”
because she couldn’t bear to see their
expressions “that look like I’m going to
Nevertheless, Maya was interested in
MDMA. She didn’t view it as a drug to
help her die peacefully. To the contrary,
she saw it as an opportunity to trigger a
transcendent source of healing, and begin
The proposed MDMA study wasn’t
ready to enroll patients, so I began to
search elsewhere for a psychedelic therapist.
Fueled by the urgency of Maya’s
expressed intention to heal, and my
unexpressed wish for her to have a good
death if she had to die, I found help for my
The psychedelic “therapist,” Theo,
approached Maya as a partner and a
companion - not a guide - on her journey.
The separation between teacher and
student, and all perceptions of hierarchy
Theo was a learner, an explorer, a
collaborator, and a co-creator of experience.
He told stories about his own life and invited Maya to talk about hers. We
discovered many connections, such as our
common love of children, animals, science,
and social justice.
We wove humor into every session. In
this way death was included and detoxified
as part of the entire flow of human
Theo told a story about two lifelong
friends, older men who affectionately
called each other “Shithead.” When one
friend was on his deathbed, the other came
to visit. As he entered the room he said,
“Hi Shithead.” The dying man acknowledged
his loyal friend with a smile and
said, “No, you’re the Shithead.” He
promptly died, thus getting in the last tag
and winning their lifelong game.
Before her first session, Maya could
only get out of bed a few minutes at a time.
Sitting or standing caused her pain to
spike to unbearable levels. She longed for
simple pleasures like going for a walk.
During the first session with MDMA,
Maya’s pain receded, her spirits soared,
and she was able to walk to a park near my
house and hang out with a friend.
She was hospitalized soon afterward
with heart arrhythmia, a jugular vein
blood clot, and an intestinal blockage, all
likely caused by her pain medications. The
benefits of the MDMA session appeared to
be lost. Ten days in the hospital without
food left Maya much weaker, more
anxious, and in need of more pain medication.
Over the next two months, Maya
chose to have three more psychedelic
sessions: one with MDMA, one with
mushrooms, and one with LSD, MDMA
and marijuana. She was taking as many as
twelve different prescription drugs
(including ketamine**), for pain, for
anxiety, for depression, for preventing
blood clots, and for countering the side
effects of all of the other medications. It
was impossible to predict optimal psychedelic
drugs and dosages. The progression
of disease was another ‘unknown’. Only
experience could tell us what would work.
Although there were poignant
moments with each psychedelic session,
the results were not as dramatic as in the
initial session. On one occasion Theo
asked Maya how she felt about her pain.
She said that it was like an unruly child in
need of attention. She would send it love.
On another occasion Theo asked Maya
how she felt about her cancer. She answered,
“There’s a snake in my house.”
Maya was able to talk about her fears
metaphorically during sessions.
During the fourth session, Maya
experienced strong waves of energy and
shaking through her entire body. She said
the trance-like state helped her shift focus
away from cancer and her pain, to remember
how good the rest of her body felt.
After her fourth session using a
combination of psychedelics, Maya wanted
to go back to MDMA, taking a higher dose
to overcome the sedating effects of the
other prescription medications.
Theo was away on business for nearly
three weeks while Maya’s condition
deteriorated rapidly. She was taking
maximum doses of prescription medications
with little relief; she was too weak to
sit up or even to cross her legs; she lost half
of her body weight; and she became
Faced with these changes, at first
Maya told me that she was afraid her will to live was slipping away, but she didn’t
want me to give up on her. Within a few
days, however, she began to say, “I can’t do
this any more,” “I want to go fast” and
“I’m ready for terminal sedation.” She held
on because she hoped to have another
session with Theo.
Theo returned from his trip, got my
message with Maya’s request, and came to
our home for a high dose MDMA session
the following day. For the first time, Maya
asked her father to join us. She said, “I
know I’m going to die soon.”
As the MDMA took effect, Maya’s tics
and spasms subsided, her labored breathing
became easy and regular, and her pain
vanished. We told stories, we laughed, we
sang, we danced. Maya directed us to pick
up her limbs and move them to the
rhythm of the music. We were in love
with her and she with us. We celebrated
life. For approximately eight hours, there
was only love.
As the MDMA wore off, Maya’s
symptoms began to reappear. We discussed
with Theo what to do next. We
could keep Maya on low doses of MDMA
and hope to control her pain, or we could
alternate sedation days with MDMA days
to maintain the optimum physical,
emotional and spiritual benefits of the
drug. We decided on the latter.
Theo gave me enough MDMA for
another session and offered to provide
whatever was needed for the rest of
Maya’s life. The next day Maya slept
fitfully. She awakened only briefly and no
longer ate or drank. I looked forward to
the following day when I hoped Maya
would have another ecstatic experience.
When morning came, Maya could
barely be awakened. She took the MDMA
sublingually, and promptly went back to
sleep. Her sleep became peaceful, without
tics, spasms, moans or gasping for breath.
Maya’s dad joined us when I told him
I believed Maya would not wake up again.
For the next eight hours while Maya slept
peacefully, we told stories, played games
and caressed Maya with love.
At 10 p.m., Maya awoke. Her dad was
stroking her and I was reading aloud from
Laura Huxley, about the importance of
loving touch and the nobility of death. She
opened her eyes with an expression of
absolute wonder, reached out to touch her
dad, and died.
We are grateful beyond measure to
Theo, and to those working to make
psychedelic therapy legally available. We
are honored to have witnessed and shared
a holy experience, my daughter’s good