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Dr Carmen Zammit shares The Experience of Dying

By on November 8, 2014
Carmen Zammit- heartofpeace218

Dr Carmen Zammit discovered some wonderful truths about healing from cancer.  Her video presentation for the Cancer Society traces her own experience from being hours or minutes from death from metastatic cancer to a full remission and three years of vibrant health during which she lived life to the fullest.  It will be of vital interest to anyone diagnosed with a life threatening illness.

Slipping Away - Carmen's Artwork

Slipping Away – Carmen’s Artwork

I never actually met Carmen but from following her beautifully documented journey I feel as though I have grown to know her and am so grateful to her for the Legacy she has left, which can help so many others with their own journey. As an artist myself I am profoundly touched by this incredible documentation of her journey and I feel as though she speaks directly to my heart. I bless her for this gift.

Her sister-in-law Wendy Zammit who shares with her husband their research on the Afterlife from a legal perspective which you can read about also on The End of life Matters has created a website in honour of Carmen’s work and it is full of some absolute gems. I suggest you give yourself time to really travel through this extraordinary work.

Her husband completed her work for her after she died and it can be found here  Heart of Peace – A Journey of Love – by Michael Brooke and Carmen Zammit

FeatherInscape - One of Carmen's incredibly powerful Artworks on her journey

FeatherInscape – One of Carmen’s incredibly powerful Artworks on her journey

Carmen knew during the last three years of her life, that her cancer would recur and she would certainly die prematurely — but the kind of death she would have was important to her. She was horrified by the manner of other deaths from cancer that she had personally witnessed. She was determined to die with courage, dignity and awareness having achieved peace.


Zammit, C 2008, ‘The experience of dying : a reflective topical autobiography’, PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

This thesis aimed primarily to describe my experience of dying. A second consideration was to describe the impact on family, friends and others. My initial objective was to write down my experiences in response to the many questions and concerns raised by family members and friends. I believed they were interested in making more informed decisions about their lives and treatments should they themselves be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. I wanted to give a true account and accurate information, which in the first instance might help my own genetic family. Beyond this, I hoped to reach those interested parties, who would benefit from this information and knowledge, particularly those who themselves were diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, and those at risk of doing so. My hope was that it would also help their partners and carers, both personal and professional, to also know and understand the experience, so that they could give the support that comes from knowledge and empathy.

Heart of Peace - Carmen Zammit

Heart of Peace – Carmen Zammit

The images and stories portraying my life journey with cancer include works entitled: Origins, My Family, My Culture, Rag Doll, The Demon Within, The Silent Scream, The Fighter, Feather Inscape, Slipping Away, Living Horror, Mother, Morphine, Heart of Peace, Living in the Shadows, Cancer (Mis)information, and Withdrawing/Emerging. Accompanying reflections provide insights into the creation of the images and how I have come to interpret them and make sense of my experience of dying.

Carmen Zammit - Withdrawing Emerging

Carmen Zammit – Withdrawing Emerging

Withdrawing / Emerging

This portrait depicts my state of health at the time of this writing. It is now four and a half years after my initial diagnosis of metastatic cancer, and approximately two and a half years since my admission into the hospice I was not expected to leave. This image reflects my present state of being. Amazingly, I am alert and well. I have regained my health and mobility. I have taken myself off all the medication I was prescribed – a process that had taken courage and faith, and two years altogether to complete. The withdrawal process began when I first intuited that I was recovering. Until that time, I was reliant totally on my medication, which gave me a significant measure of pain relief and control of other symptoms.

When I was in the hospice and for some months afterwards, I was confined mostly to my bed, on which I lay quite still. My wanting to return home from the hospice was seen as an opportunity to grant my last request. I was told by my doctor in response to my inquiries that I could expect that my levels of medication would continue to increase until my death. However, contrary to all expectations, I very gradually became able to sit up independently, and then for increasingly longer periods of time. On discovering this hint of improvement in my health, I decided to begin to withdraw my medications, initially from the anxiety and sleeping tablets, then incrementally all the others. At that time, the medications I was taking included: morphine tablets (MS Contin for pain), a morphine liquid mixture (Ordine for “breakthrough” pain), paracetamol (Panamax for pain), docusate sodium and senna (Coloxyl with Senna laxative), Macrogol 3350 (Movicol sachet laxatives), metoxlopramide tablets (Pramin for nausea), omeprazole (Lozec Acimax to reduce acid secretion in the stomach), Temazepam (to assist with sleep), Diazepam (to assist with anxiety), chlorpromazine (Largactyl, a major tranquilliser and neuroplegic), a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (Celepram anti-depressant) and a bisphosphonate (zoledronic acid, Zometa). I withdrew from the minor drugs as soon as I felt I could, and I withdrew from the major drugs one at a time.

For example, I withdrew from 100 milligrams of morphine, morning and night, at an average rate of 10 milligrams per month. On two occasions, I needed to go back on to my previous dosage. On reflection, these were times of added stress. I became aware gradually of the fact that environmentally induced stress had a profoundly negative effect on me. I believe that this was because I was already dealing with an enormous amount of distress from being critically ill. Even those situations that were anticipated as pleasurable were sometimes experienced as stressful, as for example, when family or friends stayed over. My daily need for peace and quiet had become extremely important to me, and major disruptions to my routine affected me negatively. Over time, I learned to become aware of my physical and emotional needs and limitations, and to avoid or minimise any form of stress. When I perceived any physical or emotional distress, I would then wait until I had regained peace of mind and body, before continuing with my withdrawal process. 

In terms of the morphine, I had the advantage of knowing that withdrawing from opiates is a physically painful process. I had worked as a drug addiction counsellor for some years and I had learned this from my heroin-dependent clients. When I consequently felt the pain of withdrawal, I knew it was to be expected. The challenge for me was to discern whether it was, in fact, the pain from malignant tumours. I judged this by noting the location of the pain. I reasoned that if it was tumour pain, it would be felt in those places I knew the tumours to be, especially the largest of them. I found this not to be the case, and so I felt the confidence to proceed. 

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