This is important! And often overlooked, neglected, procrastinated, or ignored…for many reasons. If you are an adult, you need to think about your future and your wishes and desires in terms of your health care. And you need to discuss these wishes and desires with those close to you. It is only by doing this that you can ensure that your choices will be heard.
It is sometimes a difficult conversation to start, but those around you and close to you need to hear you. Start by thinking about quality of life, choices, and what is important to YOU. Think about who you can trust to listen to you and carry out your wishes if you are no longer capable of doing so.
If you are a cancer patient, think about what treatment options are available to you, what makes sense to you and what doesn’t. Do your research, talk to your provider or medical team and talk to those close to you. Then think about those discussions and what is important to you.
This is ultimately an individual and very personal decision. However, family members need to hear and respect your viewpoint, so include them in the conversation early on.
So many times, it happens that when a patient is unconscious or incapacitated in some way, family members get together and try to make decisions. Often, the family members cannot agree on what the patient would have wanted and their opinions and emotions cause conflict, anger and heartbreak. And then, since the patient never made her wishes clear, they are not carried out.
You can avoid this.
Take action now and start the conversation.
Once you have discussed your wishes with family members and loved ones, it is important to fill out the correct paperwork. Medical directives are legal documents that will state your wishes and help to see that they are followed. But do not rely on medical directives alone. Be sure to talk to family members or others close to you.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, large national studies showed that although more patients are completing medical directives, these directives are not always available to hospital staff when they need to be. Patients often keep them filed at home and they do not find their way into patient medical records or into the hands of those caring for the patient in an emergency situation. Be sure and make your wishes know to those closest to you and give them a copy of your directives.
Advance Care Planning is also a process. You can change your mind and may do that as time progresses. Be sure and update family members as your wishes change.
You do not have to do this alone. There are numerous avenues of help.
There are many resources that help with Advanced Care Planning. One good website is The Conversation Project.
Here, you can find information, a “starter kit” to help you get your thoughts together and start the conversation with your loved ones. This kit is available in Spanish, French and Mandarin as well as English.
There is also a PDF on how to have the conversation with your doctor, in Spanish and French as well as English. The website has a blog with patient stories and stories from staff members and advisors.
MD Anderson has an entire web page dedicated to Advance Care Planning . Specifically for cancer patients, this page was developed by an interdisciplinary team of doctors, patients, social workers, health educators and other health care professionals.
On this page, you will find step by step guidelines on how to start discussions with family members, talk with your provider, assign a family member to be your spokesperson and how to complete the legal paperwork necessary. PDFs are available in English and Spanish.
There is also a 5 part video series explaining the process of Advance Care Planning in depth with patient viewpoints and advice on how to make the decisions and discussions go as easily as possible.
The MD Anderson web page also includes information on Advance Medical Directive documents such as Living Wills, Power of Attorney and Out of Hospital DNRs (Do Not Resuscitate) with links to the legal documents and instructions and advice on filling them out.
This page is an excellent resource and also includes a number to call for further questions.
Don’t hesitate. Start the conversation now.