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End-of-Life Issues: A Delicate Subject

separator Even though people who get cancer often have successful treatment and are proclaimed to be cancer free, an initial diagnosis of cancer can’t help but bring thoughts of the end of life to mind. It’s always helpful to think positively and focus on the good things, but it’s also helpful to spend some time making plans about the way you want to be treated at the end of your life. Besides, every life will have its end, whether it’s from cancer or an unexpected accident. Being prepared for this can help not only you, but your loved ones, through a difficult emotional time.

What are some of the things you need to think about when you’re preparing for end-of-life issues?

A living will: A written document that explains what kind of medical treatment you would want if you are not able to communicate at the end of your life. Some of these decisions are determined by state law, so it’s not always clear cut, but it’s good to put your wishes in writing so that your loved ones can respect that. Living wills falls under a category called “advance directives.”

Medical power of attorney: This is a document that lets you choose a person you trust to make decisions about your medical care if you become unable to make decisions yourself. Generally, the person you choose is able to speak for you whether you are at the end of your life or not. Medical power of attorney documents are also in the “advance directives” category. These documents are also sometimes called “healthcare proxy,” “appointment of healthcare agent,” or “durable power of attorney for healthcare.”

The decisions you outline in your advance directives take effect only if you are unable to communicate. As long as you can speak your mind, you are the one who makes the decisions about your care.

It’s best to have both documents—the living will and the medical power of attorney. The living will can serve as a guide to the person you choose to represent you as medical power of attorney. And the person who represents you can act as your voice, in addition to your living will.

Where can you get these documents?
The documents are available in a number of places. Most hospitals and long-term care facilities have them, as well as many doctor’s offices. You can also call an organization called Partnership for Caring at 800.989.9455 and they will send you the documents for a small fee. Or you can go to their Web site and download the documents.

Once you’ve signed the documents, make several copies, and give them to the person you’ve chosen as your power of attorney, your doctor and anyone else involved in your healthcare. For yourself, keep a copy that’s easy for others to find.

American Cancer Society; Partnership for Caring.
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