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Advance Care Planning

Advance care planning is an ongoing process of talking about your goals, values, and wishes in terms of your health care. You are encouraged to discuss these topics with your family or friends, those who represent you and your health care team.

It helps to have these talks with your family and health care team early so that you may think through your options and state what is important to you about your future health care. If your family or doctor should need to make choices when you are ill, they can do so with confidence that they are following your wishes.

How can I make my health care preferences known?

Whether you're a patient or caregiver, having conversations about future care should be an essential part of your cancer treatment planning process at every stage. It should start at the time of diagnosis. 

By preparing for your future, you can ensure your choices are given the utmost respect. Here are some steps for implementing the advance care planning process in your specific medical situation. This serves as a good starting point for patients and families.

Evaluate quality of life. Begin to think about what quality of life means to you. Ask yourself how you want to live. What things are important to you to be able to continue doing throughout your treatment or if you were to become seriously ill?

Have a conversation with your loved ones. Discuss your thoughts with the people who would be involved in making decisions for you if you aren't able to make them yourself. This will ensure that care choices are made to support your quality of life in the way you'd like.

Identify a loved one who can make decisions. Which person in your life do you trust to understand what quality of life means to you? Will this person be able to make these decisions if you aren't able to make them yourself?

Make sure this person is willing to take the responsibility of making decisions for you if need be and that he or she knows what's important to you in your care choices. Don't assume anything.

Talk with your health care provider. Once you have defined your own terms for quality of life and identified someone you trust who would carry out your wishes if needed, discuss all of this with your health care provider.  Your physician will be able to provide the medical perspective of your situation and your wishes.

Discussing this with your doctor informs them about what treatment options you would or wouldn't want down the road.

Complete the paperwork. Once you have made these important decisions and discussed these things with your loved ones and health care provider, it is important to complete the correct legal documents stating your wishes.

The Medical Power of Attorney and the Living Will are legally binding documents that state your wishes about who will make decisions for you, and what types of decisions will be made, when you can't make them for yourself.

Adjust as your medical condition changes. Just because you make these important decisions at the beginning of your disease doesn't mean you can't change your mind later. Don’t hesitate to re-evaluate your treatment goals as needed.

To learn more about advance directives, the advance care planning process or to speak with someone about your end of life concerns, contact Social Work  at 713-792-6195, or ask your nurse or doctor to speak with a social work counselor.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center