Planning for "The End"
When I found out that I not only had cancer, but stage IV metastatic cancer, I knew that my life would not necessarily end grey-haired and old. Now, I have every intention of fighting to see what I look like with fabulous silvered hair, but I do understand that because of my diagnosis, my life has been shortened. Because so much of my future is unknown, I recently took steps to plan for “the end."
Granting power of attorney
I’ve watched family after family struggle with being able to make decisions and handle finances during a cancer patient’s final days. I made sure to sit with my husband and discuss with him my desires for medical care and granted him power of attorney. This allows him to act as my voice in the event I become incapacitated. Having someone you trust who understands your medical/personal wishes and preparing the power of attorney paperwork can be a great comfort. You are able to set parameters for when these abilities go into effect and when they expire.
Planning advance directives
One of the most important items any cancer patient should prepare is their advance directives. This involves clearly writing out your wishes and guidance regarding your medical care if you are ever unable to make decisions on your own (often these wishes are carried about by the power of attorney). These directives can include guidance regarding pain management, procedures/treatment you refuse, and any non-negotiables regarding your medical care. Advance directives should be clear, detailed, and should leave little to interpretation.
Prepare a living will
I was surprised to learn that a living will is separate from advance directives, but it is an equally as important document. This is where you can plan specifically for your end-of-life care. For me, I listed out types of DNR, pain management, and life-prolonging measures I am okay with and what I do not want to be done.
Write your will
A living will expires upon your death, so this document is where you can plan out your wishes for after you pass. This can be extremely difficult to sit down and write, but think of any experience where a family is left lost or fighting over what happens after a loved one passes and it is well worth the time and heartache to write. This document can range from funeral arrangements, bequeathments, to financial access. My will actually details how my body will be donated to the Emory Medical School to teach students about my very rare diagnosis.
Have honest and open conversations
For any of these documents and duties to be executed smoothly, one of the hardest things you need to do is have open and honest conversations with your family. The close family that have been involved with my care since day one have all been told explicitly what I want. Everyone has a copy of the appropriate documents and knows where the originals are filed. One of the most difficult conversations has centered around my wishes regarding life-prolonging measures. Making sure my family understands I value quality over quantity, no matter my age.
These plans bring me comfort
Whether or not you are a cancer patient, I strongly believe having your medical care and end-of-life wishes planned can be a great comfort. None of us know when “the end” may come, but ensuring my family does not need to make difficult unguided questions and my wishes are met makes me feel more confident in living out my life as fully as possible.