30-year-old seminarian with terminal brain cancer reaches out to Brittany Maynard: 'Suffering is not worthless and our lives are not our own to take'

Philip G. JohnsonThe Catholic Diocese of Raleigh

Philip G. Johnson, a 30-year-old Catholic seminarian with inoperable brain cancer, reached out to terminally-ill brain cancer patient Brittany Maynard on Wednesday.

Maynard, 29, has publicised her plan to end her life on November 1, and is devoting her final days to pushing death-with-dignity legislation. Johnson, who has suffered debilitating seizures and headaches for six years - similar to Maynard's symptoms - implored her to turn to Jesus for comfort and reject assisted suicide.

In an open letter, Johnson sympathised with her suffering, describing the anguish he too felt when he was told that he had terminal brain cancer in 2008.

"After years of terrible headaches and misdiagnosis, my Grade III brain cancer (Anaplastic Astrocytoma) proved to be inoperable due to its location," he wrote on the Diocese of Raleigh's website. "Most studies state that the median survival time for this type of cancer is eighteen months, even with aggressive radiation and chemotherapy.

"I remember the moment I saw the computer images of the brain scans – I went to the Catholic chapel on base and fell to the floor in tears. I asked God, 'Why me?'"

Maynard also published a letter on Wednesday, and reinforced her commitment to ending her life.

Brittany Maynard(Photo: The Brittany Fund)

"No mother should bury her child, and no husband should be a widow at 43," she wrote in a blog post. "But for them, and for me, great comfort lies in knowing they won't have to live with the memories of my physical deterioration and suffering."

Johnson also wrote of the continued suffering he will face if his cancer progresses.

"I will gradually lose control of my bodily functions at a young age, from paralysis to incontinence, and it is very likely that my mental faculties will also disappear and lead to confusion and hallucinations before my death," he said.

"There have been times over the past six years that I wanted the cancer to grow and take my life swiftly so that it would all be over. Other times, I have sought forms of escape through sin and denial just to take my mind off of the suffering and sadness, even if only for a few moments.

"I learned that the suffering and heartache that is part of the human condition does not have to be wasted and cut short out of fear or seeking control in a seemingly uncontrollable situation. Perhaps this is the most important miracle that God intends for me to experience."

Johnson said that Maynard's decision to commit suicide is "anything but brave," and urged her to reconsider her choice.

"Suffering is not worthless, and our lives are not our own to take," he wrote.

"I will continue to pray for Brittany as she deals with her illness, as I know exactly what she is going through. I still get sad. I still cry. I still beg God to show me His will through all of this suffering and to allow me to be His priest if it be His will, but I know that I am not alone in my suffering... I have walked in Brittany's shoes, but I have never had to walk alone."