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Advance care planning: 6 steps for planning your future

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advanced care planning CW final.JPGBy Stephen Collazo, Department of Social Work

Today is National Healthcare Decisions Day.

Whether you're a patient or caregiver, having conversations about future care should be an essential part of your cancer treatment planning process at every stage. It should start at the time of diagnosis.

By preparing for your future, you can ensure your choices are given the utmost respect.

Here are some steps for implementing the advance care planning process in your specific medical situation. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it serves as a good starting point for patients and families.

1. Evaluate quality of life.
Begin to think about what quality of life means to you. Ask yourself how you want to live. What things are important to you to be able to continue doing throughout your treatment or if you were to become seriously ill?

2. Have a conversation with your loved ones.
Discuss your thoughts with the people who would be involved in making decisions for you if you aren't able to make them yourself. This will ensure that care choices are made to support your quality of life in the way you'd like.

3. Identify a loved one who can make decisions.

Which person in your life do you trust to understand what quality of life means to you? Will this person be able to make these decisions if you aren't able to make them yourself? 

Make sure this person is willing to take the responsibility of making decisions for you if need be and that he or she knows what's important to you in your care choices. Don't assume anything.

4.  Talk with your Healthcare Provider.
Once you have defined your own terms for quality of life and identified someone you trust who would carry out your wishes if needed, discuss all of this with your healthcare provider.  Your physician will be able to provide the medical perspective of your situation and your wishes. 

Additionally, discussing this with your doctor allows them to be informed about what treatment options you would or wouldn't want down the road.

5. Complete the paperwork.
Once you have made these important decisions and discussed these things with your loved ones and health care provider, it's important to complete the appropriate legal documents stating your wishes. 

The Medical Power of Attorney and the Living Will are legally binding documents that state your wishes about who will make decisions for you, and what types of decisions will be made, in scenarios when you can't make them for yourself.

6. Adjust as the medical condition changes.
Just because you make these important decisions at the beginning of your disease doesn't mean you can't change your mind later.

Often, patients have to make the difficult decision between continuing with very rigorous treatment and stopping active treatment in favor of options that manage symptoms and provide quality of life. Re-evaluate periodically when you experience any major changes in your condition and in what's important to you in terms of quality of life. 

To learn more about advance directives, the advance care planning process or to speak with someone about your end-of-life concerns, contact the Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195, or ask your nurse or doctor to speak with a social work counselor.

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