Advance care planning is an ongoing process of making decisions about your future health care and includes discussing goals, values and wishes with your caregivers and health care team. In the event you are unable to speak for yourself, it is important that your health care team know and honor your wishes.
Advance care planning is a routine part of cancer care and is applicable for patients in all stages of illness. Conversations should start at diagnosis and be revisited through every phase of treatment. Here are some steps to get started:
Evaluate the quality of life. It is important to think about how you define the acceptable quality of life and how you want to live. What is important to you? If your illness were to worsen, what would be your priorities?
Talk with your health care provider. To make informed decisions about your care, you need to fully understand your disease and your options. Ask your physician to explain your diagnosis, benefits and burdens of treatment options, and prognosis. These may change over time. Continue to discuss your care with your physician as you go. The best care is when patients, caregivers and health care providers work together and communicate goals and wishes on an ongoing basis.
Identify a loved one who can make decisions. This is a person who you trust to speak for you in the event you cannot make decisions for yourself. This can be a trusted family member or friend. This person is called a health care proxy or health care power of attorney. Make sure this person is willing to serve in this role. Consider a ‘backup’ person to appoint in case this person is unavailable.
Discuss your wishes with your loved ones. Have a conversation with those who would be making decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make them yourself. Discuss what quality of life means to you.
Complete the paperwork. Completing an advance directive is the best way to put your wishes in writing. You do not need a lawyer to complete these forms. Once completed, you will be asked for a copy to include in your medical record. Below are a few specific types of advance directives in Arkansas:
- Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: This form allows you to appoint someone you trust to make health care choices for you if you are unable to do so for yourself.
- Living Will: This form allows you to tell your health care team what kind of medical care you would like to have or avoid if you cannot speak for yourself. Interventions such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), artificial life support and feeding tubes are a few examples of what might be included in a living will.
- Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST): This is a new, more detailed form for patients with a terminal illness that includes decisions about CPR and life support and is completed with a physician.
For more information about advance care planning, please ask any member of your health care team. Clinical oncology social workers are available to assist with your care.
Links to helpful websites: