Living While Dying

Mara McGraw takes a bike ride on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020 in her neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. McGraw's intent during her psilocybin therapy was to "figure out how to keep living when I'm dying."

Mara McGraw is learning to live while dying, with the help of psilocybin therapy.
Just before her birthday in 2017, McGraw was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer, a rare, terminal cancer with a life expectancy of 18-24 months. She was faced with her beliefs about life and death, and was faced with the conversations she would have with her family. To cope, McGraw turned to psilocybin therapy.
Psilocybin therapy uses the psychoactive chemical compound found in “magic mushrooms” to treat anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges.
McGraw’s therapy experience lasted around six hours, but she’s still benefiting from it months later.
“It was a really gentle experience,” McGraw said. “The insights that were coming for me, it was like I just knew things in my body.”

A scar from the surgery to remove a four-pound tumor from Mara McGraw's liver is visible on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020 at her home in Portland, Oregon. The surgery was the first of several surgeries McGraw has had to treat the neuroendocrine cancer. 

After her diagnosis, McGraw had a four-pound tumor removed from her liver. In the coming months, she’d have 12 lymph nodes removed and one-third of her right lung removed.
The psilocybin therapy experience allowed her to remember how to relax again, while still dealing with the progressive nature of the cancer. When receiving new prognoses, McGraw turns to the insights and feelings she realized during her therapy.
“In the past I would’ve gone right into fear, adding stories like, “What does this mean? Am I going to die sooner? There’s no treatment for me,” McGraw said. “And so the psilocybin gave me the ability to take all those stories out and just be with what is.”

Mara McGraw lays down to take an afternoon nap on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020 at her home in Portland, Oregon. The cancer treatments she undergoes cause fatigue among other side effects.

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