Legal Documents

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.

  • Advanced 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. 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 will help everyone respect and honor your wishes and not second guess what you might have wanted.
  • A durable power of attorney gives someone you trust the right to make medical decisions for you. This is one of the most important things you can do. 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. Select a person you trust to carry out your wishes and decisions and follow your instructions. 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.
  • 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.

It’s hard to talk about these issues. You are making hard choices for yourself and documenting them instead of leaving them to your loved ones. Make copies of your advance directives. Give them to the person selected as health care proxy, your health care team, and your hospital medical records department. This will ensure that everyone knows your decisions. It is extremely important these documents are available when the time comes to enact them.