Why I'll switch myself off
Peter Taylor has been a top equestrian rider and coach, restaurateur, drag queen, author and owner of one of Auckland's most famous bars.
But on September 1, he will stop. Stop the chemotherapy he has endured three times a week, every three weeks. Stop taking the 250 pills he has swallowed for more years than he can remember. He will stop it all and, within 10 days, he will die.
At the Barcelona Olympics as an equestrian coach in 1992, Taylor was bitten by a sandfly that infected him with Visceral Leishmaniasis Donavani - a parasite that destroyed his bone marrow and attacked his organs. Because he's also HIV positive, Taylor was expected to die within 20 months, but 21 years on, he has survived longer than anyone thought possible.
"We didn't know why I started to live longer than anybody else. We didn't know how long the war was going to go on for. There were no benchmarks; there were no similarities, there was nothing."
But now, he said, it feels different. His breathing is laboured and he has little energy. This month he suffered a blockage in part of his liver, causing some of it to die. "The pain is extraordinary," he said.
At the same time the 60-year-old had a cancerous growth removed from his ear, which bled out hours later, meaning a platelet and blood transfusion was needed.
"At the end of that experience I said, disciplined or not, I've had 21 years of this shit and I can't do this any more. I don't want any more cut out, cut off, harvested, dug, slashed, burnt, spiked - I just don't want any more."
Taylor, who owned Auckland gay bar Dorothy's Sister, has just released his third book called Past My Expiry Date, and Saturday he'll attend a dinner in his honour at St-Matthew-in-the-City that he will get through "by hell or high water".
"And then the next day, nothing," he said. "I had done everything I'd wanted to do, there was nothing more I could do in this world that could add any further flavour to it - I felt like it was my time to say goodbye. But mostly, I wanted to get out of this awful body, which is causing pain and discomfort. There's not much fun left any more. And when there's no fun, it's just a trial."
Doctors have told him he will have between five and 10 days to live. He'll spend those in a hospice with his family around him.
"[This decision] has been part of a natural way of living my life, and I'm very grateful for it. It's part of the way I've lived life on my terms," he said.
Along with his partner of eight years, Rodney, Taylor has made all his funeral arrangements and he is full of witty one-liners when he speaks about the cost, the bureaucracy and the decisions. The time he and his family have had to talk about his decision has, he hopes, made things easier. "We've had three months to talk about it. We laugh about it. We laugh about all sorts of things . . . It makes me feel very privileged that we have this intimacy we've shared because of our relaxation around a subject most people can't talk about."
In a testament to the positive attitude he credits with keeping him well for so long, Taylor is not angry about the hand he's been dealt, just bewildered in times of exhaustion.
"I am without fear. I am excited. All the places I have travelled in the world - and I've travelled a lot - I've had no expectations of where I was going to, so I was never disappointed. And I feel the same way about this."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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