Paula Ford-Martin passed away on March 25, 2020, after more than five years enduring stage IV metastatic breast cancer (MBC). She never liked to call MBC a “battle” or a “war,” since that implies she had a chance of winning the unwinnable — beating an incurable disease. She passed peacefully at home, surrounded by loved ones, just as she wished.
Paula’s husband, mother, sister, and children all took care of her during her last month of life. On the first day of this month, she was rushed to the hospital and given a two-day prognosis due to a massive brain hemorrhage. Those who know Paula can attest that she’s never adhered to deadlines related to her illness. It has now been more than five years since her initial Stage IV diagnosis, and her longevity has exceeded the expectations of even the most experienced doctors. Paula was knocked down by her illness time and time again, but she’s bounced back with a smile on her face every time. This was no exception.
On March 3rd — the day Paula was supposed to die — she woke up. She shocked her family and the doctors as she opened her eyes, smiled, and recognized her sons by name. The neuro-oncology team at Yale had never seen someone in Paula’s cognitive state come back so quickly, especially after such a grim prognosis. Suddenly, the surgeons who had been so sure of her imminent death just a couple days before were suggesting surgical procedures that “might buy some more time”… but they wouldn’t fix the other painful problems in her brain and body.
Paula always knew that she wanted to die at home, on her own terms and timeline — not on an operating table. When her options were explained to her during that final hospital stay, she made the decision herself: “I want to go home.” No more hospitals or strangers fussing with blood pressure gauges; no more endless tests or chemo sessions; and most importantly, no more suffering. For the last month of her life, Paula was at home, comfortable, and surrounded by love. She went on her own time — not on a doctor’s order.
Paula’s family is taking care to ensure that all of her wishes are respected. Her ashes will be spread in all of the “bucket list” destinations she didn’t make it to, along with some of her favorite places like Key West and London. A memorial scholarship for LGBTQ+ youth and their allies will be established in her name to honor her incredible life as a mother and advocate of trans children. Paula wanted nothing more than for her legacy to support not just her own family, but all those who face discrimination, illness, or hardship. She and her family requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Paula Ford-Martin Memorial Scholarship Fund — or to Metavivor, the only organization exclusively dedicated to MBC research.
There will be no funeral service at this time due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, per Paula’s wishes, the family will hold a “celebration of life” gathering once it is safe for all her loved ones to travel. Further information will be posted on Paula’s Facebook page and this blog as it becomes available. Cas Martin (Paula’s son and the author of this post) will be preserving this blog and maintaining the Paula Ford-Martin Memorial Fund with the help of Tim Hemhauser (Paula’s beloved husband). The family welcomes any communication regarding Paula’s legacy via firstname.lastname@example.org.