July 27, 1958 – April 11, 2022
Isobel McDonald left to join her ancestors on April 11, 2022 in Courtenay, BC. Isobel’s green ally Salmon Berry was in flower, the nettles were up, and the cherry blossoms were everywhere.
Having lived with the pain and suffering of metastatic renal cell carcinoma for many exhausting and painful years, she gratefully chose the kind and compassionate support of a medically assisted death. She passionately loved life and dearly wished she could have more, but the body was done.
Choosing death with dignity was an extraordinary privilege. Isobel saw that MAID is part of the evolution of end-of-life care that focusses on comfort and kindness for our souls.
Isobel said before her death that her Granny’s spirit visited her, and her Uncle Bill came too, making his usual droll comments while offering friendly guidance. She knew she was ready.
Isobel leaves behind her mum, Elizabeth Ann Powell McDonald and her dad, Donald Alexander (Sandy) McDonald, both still fully engaged with life, ideas, politics, reading and the arts. Sandy’s second wife Thelma McDonald, much beloved by all the family, passed away in 2017.
Isobel had two sisters and a brother. Her big sister Nancy Shamanna, despite living with multiple myeloma for more than ten years, lives a rich and active life in Calgary with husband, Dilip. Her daughter Emily Duncan, husband Sean, & sons, Wesley and Conner live close by as does her younger daughter, Sylvia McCulloch, husband Rob, & sons, Jayden Carter, and Evan.
Big Brother Malcolm McDonald and his wife Alexia live in Calgary with their sons Michael and Robert. Her younger sister, Madeline McDonald and husband Dan Olson live in the Fraser Valley. Isobel loved being part of the Vegh in-law clan, including Olga, Wendy, and John; Lana and Tim; Tony, Ashley, Kelly, and Wendy.
Isobel was married for 31 years to Steve Vegh. She fell in love with him when she worked at the hospital in Queen Charlotte City. When she left nursing to study massage therapy in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she lasted less than a year before she jumped on a train back to Vancouver to study at the West Coast College of Massage Therapy so she could legitimately work as an RMT in BC, but, really, so she could marry the handsome Steve and make a living doing massage.
Isobel loved hiking, gardening, and learning about the trees and clouds and roots and berries, all the natural world. At Hollyhock one summer Herbalist Susan Weed initiated her as a “Green Witch.” She loved kayak adventures on the west coast, paddling to the Broken Islands, Maud Island, Cape Scott, Cougar Annie’s Garden and Hot Spring Island. Steve built her a wooden kayak that flew across the waves like a sailing ship, faster than anything and a source of endless joy and adventure.
Isobel’s family grew up between the lush, rocky waterfront of Lions Bay and the dreamy-sweet meadows and poplar forests of Calgary’s foothills: the Alberta Rockies close by on the prairie side and the Coastal Range on the Pacific side. Isobel felt deeply connected to both landscapes. She loved both Vancouver and Calgary as creative, diverse nurturing cities.
Isobel believed that heath care should start and finish with massage therapy. She built a successful clinical practice in Haida Gwaii. She had the great good fortune of working closely with Haida Elders in Skidegate in the 1980s, so that when she returned to a nursing practice in 2003, she was set up pretty well to work for Health Canada First Nations and Inuit Health, and then First Nations Health Authority.
The Elders had taught her a thing or two. Before she moved to Haida Gwaii, she worked for OXFAM Global Health Project, a natural evolution of years of solidarity and social justice work from her late teens.
Isobel’s first degree was an Honour’s English Degree from the University of Saskatchewan followed by a degree in nursing from UBC and a diploma from the West Coast College of Massage Therapy. She had a graduate degree in Adult Education and enjoyed the various teaching opportunities that came up throughout her career.
Isobel was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2014. In 2017 spots were found in her lungs. By 2019 the cancer had metastasized. In early 2022 Isobel could still walk on the beach with a coffee, climb stairs, and go to Costco. She spent two weeks in Victoria getting palliative radiation for pain management.
Then, in early March, there was rapid, sudden loss of function, medical instability and pain, resulting in a profound loss of function and landing her in Comox Valley Hospital, where she was supported to palliate by staff so compassionate, she cried with gratitude. After extensive consultation and deep thought she gratefully choose MAID to alleviate suffering for herself and her loved ones who have witnessed her struggle.
Isobel was working on building a writing life through participating in the Comox Valley Writers Society and Sisters in Crime, Western Canada Chapter. She was an enthusiastic student of Traci Skuce (Hunger Moon) and took workshops through SFU’s continuing ed programs. It was the work with SFU’s Paul Headrick (Losing Shepherd) that gave her the deepest understanding of how the creative process works.
Isobel had also been toiling on writing a murder mystery: Jas. But cancer meds took their toll and often left her unable to concentrate enough to write. When she knew she couldn’t finish Jas her friend J.E. Barnard (The Falls Mysteries) kindly took the book with an eye to see if it might live on in some way.
In her last days of life hospital staff came into her room and generously shared their life stories. Fascinated, Isobel observed the transformative power of storytelling as a healing tool at the end of life. She was especially inspired by her care aides Sherri, Wendy, Francisco, and Teresa, her nurse David, and David’s student, Nichol. She wrote a poem to honour them called “Wendy – Tree of Life.” She was deeply inspired by Francisco’s photography and the stories he told.
Isobel was helped by many people she wanted to thank: her long-time GP, Dr. Davyduke, Dr. Johnson, Dr. Wilson, and especially Dr. Nel, who showed great compassion when she needed it the most for the end-of-life journey. Isobel wanted to thank Dr. Jonathon Reggler, MAID provider, Dr. Roland Guenther, (Germany) and Dr. Barbara Fehlau.
Thanks also to Physio Shannon Lawrence and ND Andrea Rayburn, to Ruth from the hospice, and to the community palliative care team. Thanks to OT Rachel. Thanks to the nurses and doctors at the cancer clinic in Courtenay.
Big shout out to Isobel’s former workmates on the Geriatric Specialty Services team in Campbell River: Nicol, Monique, Dave, Helen, Natasha, Cathy, and Steph. She felt very lucky to have worked with these lovely, smart people and learn from them.
Big shout out to the kind and caring neighbours of Tatton Road, especially Sonya and Peter, Debbie and Mike, Ruth and Mark, Andre, and Gil. Also, Desmond and Teddy.
At exactly the right time, oncology RN Tara provided crucial information Isobel needed to understand what dying from metastatic renal cell carcinoma without MAID would be like, and why, oh why, would one choose suffering?
Isobel thanked her lucky stars she could choose Medical Assistance in Dying.
Isobel thanked her lucky stars for a life full of wonder, for the love and compassion she received and the support to have a good death.
Isobel thanked her lucky stars.