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BEHIND THE SCENES: 'It's my turn:' MAID helps Collingwood woman get the end she wants

CollingwoodToday's Erika Engel takes us behind the scenes

In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.

These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here

Today's spotlight is on CollingwoodToday's Erika Engel, whose story "'It's my turn:' MAID helps Collingwood woman get the end she wants" was published on April 30.

Below is the full story, in case you missed it.

Last weekend Diane Petryshyn attended her own celebration of life. 

Last night she had a sleepover with six of her closest friends. 

Today at 4 p.m. she will die as she lived, surrounded by people she loves. 

Diane has chosen medical assistance in dying (MAID), an option she took without hesitation after confirming a terminal cancer diagnosis. 

“It’s my turn, and everybody gets a turn,” said Diane from her bed at Campbell House Hospice in Collingwood. On her tray table next to a soup and sandwich prepared by the “Hospice Angels” is a glass with one more gulp of an indulgent cabernet sauvignon, the remnants of a generous glass she drank with her friends late in the morning. Her room is full, everyday, with friends. 

Diane is 67, eight days away from her 68th birthday and two years and eight months into retirement. 

Diane Petryshyn, 67.  Contributed photo

This winter, her first in Florida as a snowbird, she felt the initial signs of cancer in her body. A pain in her hip sent her to the hospital, and her doctors told her to get home to Ontario.

She returned to Collingwood six weeks earlier than she planned, and the hip pain got worse, eventually confining her to one floor in her home, then to a bed. The cancer diagnosis came with a bleak prognosis: no cure. 

About five weeks ago Diane chose MAID. 

“I have been very clear about focusing on, did I leave a mark on this world that’s positive? Did I live a life well lived?” she said. 

The answer to those questions came from the friends who reached out in droves to tell Diane all the ways she made their lives better. 

A Facebook group chat started to keep people updated about Diane’s health news, as she puts it, “blew up.” 

“It got a life force of its own and there’s hundreds of people posting all of this incredible, glorious stuff about me,” she said. “It’s very humbling … I was just being me, living my life.” 

Diane grew up in Malton, a classic, everybody-knows-everybody small town. She enjoyed an iconic childhood, mostly outdoors, catching pollywogs at the pond, playing baseball at the sandlot, jumping rope, and skating in winter. 

She is the youngest of four girls, her oldest sister has now passed away. 

“I have always felt grateful for my parents,” she said. “Having great parents gave me this amazing rock solid foundation … it allowed me to embellish more on who I was.”

Malton is where she met a lot of the girlfriends who still get together annually for their girls’ weekend. 

“I have this abundance of childhood Malton friends and acquaintances you grew up with,” said Diane, who cherishes the Malton reunions every five years. “The beauty in that – there are many beauties – is they know me. They really know me. The good, bad, everything … they’re part of my joyous life.” 

Diane made her career in sales, starting as a pioneer in the male-dominated industry of HVAC, chiller and boiler sales for Honeywell.  

Later in her career, after meeting other women in the same and similar industries, she started a women’s networking group called Ladies Laughing Loudly. The inaugural meeting was a birthday lunch that stretched into dinnertime. 

“We kind of bonded and had a great time … and I thought, we’ve got this old boys club and we’ve got this huge collective of women who don’t come together,” said Diane, who proudly owns the feminist title. “And if we did, we could crack that old boys club, and create our own power.” 

Travel played a big part in the way Diane enjoyed life. She attended three Super Bowls, two Final Fours, the Rose Bowl, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. She spent a month in Turkey, took several trips to New Orleans, visited Italy, Greece, Spain, England and Ireland. 

“I did things other people will never do,” said Diane. “It was great, it was a good life.” 

Diane moved to Collingwood in 2021 to a home she had rented out for a few years. 

Diane was married twice and had three common-law partners. She believes she would have been a good mother, though she never had any kids. She is a good aunt to two nephews with whom she shares mutual love and adoration. 

She is an extrovert and a people person who shows her love in the gifts she gives and the food she cooks. Her five-foot-ten frame helped her stand out in a crowd, and her personality brought life to a party.

Last night, Diane and about nine of her girlfriends had a party with takeout from Fig and Feta and “a lot of wine.” Six of them stayed with Diane overnight for a sleepover. 

“The last couple of days, I felt the time is marching faster,” she said. “I do feel good, and my head is clear, which is what I want.” 

She had only two fears about dying – pain and a muddled brain. She feels neither. 

“I’m getting everything I wanted,” she said. “I’ve kind of orchestrated everything.” 

She has chosen recipients of her clothes, her furniture, her jewelry and her art. She is taking private moments for personal goodbyes. And she has welcomed five girlhood friends to be by her bedside for her final breaths. 

“I want them to have a picture of me just falling asleep peacefully,” she said. “When I reflect, now, on what’s happened over this last five or six weeks, I think I’ve given all my friends and the people around me another gift to take this journey with me … they’re watching me make choices that I’m fortunate enough to do … Their mind is more at ease about me passing. I think it’s a great gift I’m giving them … and I hope they’re embracing it as a gift.” 

Diane nurtured relationships with friends, colleagues, and peers, many of whom have told her over the last few weeks of how she helped elevate them, of what it has meant to them to have a friend in Diane. 

“I think it’s a pretty good legacy,” said Diane. “We’re not meant to be alone … when you have relationships, it’s not so one-dimensional. It’s nice.”

Her final message to the world is to tell everybody to live a good life, not a perfect life, but a good one. 

“And try to think about what marks you’re going to leave that will make you feel proud of a life well-lived,” she said. “I think if you can figure out those two things, it’ll be a more peaceful journey for you.” 

Today, Diane expects her phone will be buzzing with people who would like to say goodbye. She will have her friends with her and she anticipates laughing, sharing some private moments, some tears, some hugs and kisses, and floating through the day. She's having an eight-ounce filet mignon from Prime Seven Nine, medium rare, for lunch. 

“I’m telling myself that I’m just going to go to sleep, and I’m ready to sleep,” she said.