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Coping with Advanced Cancer

  • Updated: 05/16/2014

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Advance Planning

Advance Directives
Other Legal Papers
Planning for Your Family

"Don't feel like you're being morbid because you're taking care of business in advance. My goal is to try not to leave things undone because it's not going to be any easier on anybody else." - Ronald

This section outlines some things you can do to ensure your wishes are understood. This can help relieve the burden on your loved ones later.

 Advance Directives

It's important to start talking about your wishes with the people who matter most to you. There may come a time when you can't tell your health care team what you need. Some people prefer to let their doctor or their family members make decisions for them. But often people with cancer feel better once they have made their desires known.

Advance directives are legal papers that tell your loved ones and doctors what to do if you can't tell them yourself. The papers let you decide ahead of time how you want to be treated. They may include a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care. Think about giving someone you trust the right to make medical decisions for you. This is one of the most important things you can do.

A living will lets people know what kind of medical care you want if you are terminally ill (dying). It states in writing your wishes about being kept alive by artificial means or extreme measures (such as a breathing machine or feeding tube). Some states allow you to give other instructions as well.

A durable power of attorney for health care names a person to make medical decisions for you when you can't make them yourself. (In some places, you can appoint this person to make decisions when you no longer want to.) This person is called a health care proxy. Choose a person you can trust to carry out your decisions and follow your preferences. Be sure to discuss this in-depth with the person you choose. They need to know they could be called upon. They should understand your wishes and any religious concerns you have.

Setting up an advance directive is not the same as giving up. Making decisions now keeps you in control. You are making your wishes known for all to follow. This can help you worry less about the future and live each day to the fullest.

It's hard to talk about these issues. But it often comforts family members to know what you want. And it saves them having to bring up the subject themselves. You may also gain peace of mind. You are making hard choices for yourself instead of leaving them to your loved ones.

Make copies of your advance directives. Give them to your family members, your health care team, and your hospital medical records department. This will ensure that everyone knows your decisions.

  Other Legal Papers

Here are some other legal papers that are not part of the advance directives:

  • A will divides your property among your heirs.
  • A trust is when a person you appoint oversees, invests, or pays out money to those named in the trust.
  • Legal power of attorney - you appoint a person to make financial decisions for you when you can't make them yourself.

Following State Laws

You do not always need a lawyer present to fill out these documents. But you may need a notary public. Each state has its own laws concerning living wills and durable powers of attorney. These laws can vary in important details. In some states, a living will or durable power of attorney signed in another state isn't legal. Talk with your lawyer or social worker to get more details. Or look at your state's government website. (See the Resources section at the end of the booklet for more on how to get copies of advance directives.)

 Planning for Your Family

Careful planning reduces the financial, legal, and emotional burden your family and friends will face after you're gone. For many people, it's hard bringing up these subjects. But talking about them now can avoid problems later.

Maybe you don't feel comfortable bringing up the subject with loved ones. Or maybe your family simply doesn't talk about these things. In either case, seek help from a member of your health care team. They may be able to help your family understand.

  • Clearing up insurance issues. Contact your health insurance company if you decide to try a new treatment or go into hospice. Most insurance plans cover hospice. They also cover brief home visits from a nurse or a home health aide several times a week. But it's wise to ask in advance. This may prevent payment problems later.
  • Putting your affairs in order. You can help your family by organizing records, insurance policies, documents, and instructions. You may want to call your bank to make sure you have taken all the right steps in doing these things. On the next page is a checklist to share with the person who will help you manage your affairs. (Also see the Personal Affairs Worksheet.)
  • Making funeral arrangements. You may want to help your family plan a funeral or memorial service that has your personal touch. Some people plan services that are celebrations. Talk with your family about how you want others to remember you.

A Checklist for Organizing Your Affairs

  • If you can't physically gather important papers, make a list of where your family can find them.
  • Keep your papers in a fireproof box or with your lawyer.
  • If you keep your important papers in a safety deposit box, make sure that a family member or friend has access to the box.
  • Although original documents are needed for legal purposes, give family members photocopies.

See the Personal Affairs Worksheet. You can use it as a guide to the types of papers your family will need.