Why early advance care planning conversations are so important
When you hear the word cancer, you begin to contemplate the finality of life and ask yourself a hundred questions: Will I survive? If treatment is no longer an option, how do I want to spend my remaining time? What if I am no longer able to make my own decisions? How do I choose someone to speak on my behalf?
I’m thankful my cancer journey has not reached a point when those last questions mattered, but when I was just beginning my breast cancer treatment, I didn’t know what was going to happen. Thankfully, advance care planning helped me prepare for every scenario.
Establishing clarity with MD Anderson and my family
After my breast cancer diagnosis, I really took the time to understand my disease, prognosis, as well as my treatment goals and plans. That information allowed me to openly discuss all my options with my family and health care team, and choose the treatment course that best fit my needs. And because I had already completed my Medical Power of Attorney, Living Will and Out of Hospital Do Not Resuscitate Order, MD Anderson knew from the get-go who could speak on my behalf if I was no longer able to do so and what my medical team needed to do in emergency and life-or-death situations.
Taking control of my medical decisions
Making my care preferences known early got everyone on the same page and lessened my anxiety about the future. When I was being wheeled into surgery, someone asked me if I’d already completed my advance directive forms. I was glad my answer was yes because I didn’t have the added pressure of thinking about those questions.
Advance care planning also gave me the opportunity to remain in control of my care. So if I’d somehow lost the ability to convey my thoughts after surgery or during one my chemotherapy treatments, it felt good knowing that my family and care team could still execute my wishes. Plus, it also protected my family from having to make any of those unbearably difficult decisions on my behalf.
How advance directives can make your cancer journey easier
I know talking about advance care planning during cancer treatment can be frightening, and it can generate a lot of emotions. However, I believe that it can empower us to become involved in making decisions about our care. It can help us avoid undesired medical treatment, stress in a time of crisis, and lessen the financial and emotional burdens on our loved ones.
I recommend documenting those decisions at the start of treatment, before the possibility of unforeseen circumstances even exists. Doing so helped me thoughtfully choose the care I really wanted and gave me some sense of control in my cancer journey. It can help do the same for you, too.
If you are interested in learning more about advance care planning and/or advance directives, please call the Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195.