United States Marine Corps veteran J.J. Hanson always identified as being strong and active, playing football and serving his country in Iraq. His world was rocked in 2014, when after a grand mal seizure, doctors diagnosed Hanson with glioblastoma multiforme, an extremely aggressive form of cancer. Hanson wrote in an op-ed for Fox News about the devastating diagnosis. He was told the tumor was inoperable and would kill him. He writes, “In fact, three different doctors told me there was nothing that they could do.”
Hanson and his wife Kristen had recently welcomed their first son and moved to Florida where Hanson had a job he loved. The diagnosis and lack of treatment options were devastating blows. Hanson says, “When I was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer … I went in an instant from living the American Dream … to living a nightmare.” In those dark days following the diagnosis, Hanson realized how dangerous assisted suicide is. He writes, “I’m thankful I don’t live in a state like Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal.” The reality for Hanson and so many other vulnerable patients given a prognosis without hope, is that, Hanson says, “in that moment of depression, I might have chosen to end my life.”
In a video about his family’s story Hanson says candidly, “I could identify with what Brittany Maynard was dealing with.” Brittany Maynard was the 29-year-old California woman who moved to Oregon to end her life in assisted suicide following her diagnosis with the same form of brain cancer with which Hanson still lives. Hanson elaborates, “The same disease. Roughly the same age. We both had families,” he said. “But I don’t agree with what she chose to do.”
With the help and support of his family, Hanson chose to pursue experimental treatment, and today he is still alive more than three years after doctors told him he would be dead. In order to move beyond the depression of those early days, Hanson focused on his family and his strength. He adopted the motto his father had used during his childhood: “You can’t hurt steel,” and started using the hashtag #CantHurtSteel to share his family’s journey online. Although Hanson still has active cancer and is still undergoing treatment, he is adamant that his family has hope and he says, “Every single part of my day, I spend toward improving my ability to live.”
Part of that journey has brought the joy of welcoming a second son to the Hanson family. Kristen writes honestly about the fear and uncertainty that came with welcoming new Life while J.J. was still undergoing treatment. Nonetheless, she says, “We have been blessed with a light in the darkness. This little miracle has given us so much to look forward to and it has helped us to stay focused on hope.”
Part of the reason Hanson has shared his story is to fight against the anti-Life assisted suicide laws proposed in many states in recent years. Through his personal story, he shows how assisted suicide would have ended his life in a time of deep depression, which is common among patients with a terminal diagnosis. More importantly for Hanson, ending his life would have left his wife and young son without hope. And now, the blessing of a second child has shown just how much is still possible following a difficult and uncertain prognosis.
In the fight against assisted suicide laws, the Hansons founded the Patients Rights Action Fund to inform patients, families, and legislators about the risks of assisted suicide and offer concrete ways people can support the Right to Life for vulnerable patients. The Hanson family continues to share their story and speak out against assisted suicide, so that other families will find support during times of crisis instead of death.