Cancer Journey

Advance Directives: Preparation and Peace of Mind

By Mia James

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According to Chip Gordon, MDiv, Director of Pastoral Care at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) in Newnan, Georgia, many people have a misconception about advance directives. He says that individuals often consider these written statements, which explain how you want medical decisions made if you can no longer make them yourself, as a sign of “giving up.”

In fact, Pastor Gordon says, it’s just the opposite: “I liken an advance directive to getting insurance for a new car,” he explains. “You’re not expecting an accident; but you’re prepared, just in case.”

Still, Pastor Gordon says that advance directives are a sensitive topic, especially among younger people. Ironically, though, when you’re young and healthy is exactly when he recommends creating this important document. And he speaks from experience: “One day I realized that I didn’t even have one,” he says. Now in his late forties and in good health, Gordon has since taken care of his own advance directive.

“We never know what might happen,” Pastor Gordon says. “It’s just planning ahead, not a sign of death or major illness.” He adds, “The hope is that you don’t have to use it for a long time.”

An advance directive can be as brief as just designating a “health care agent” (someone to make medical decisions for you if you’re unable; also known as Health Care Power Of Attorney) or as involved as specifying which treatments you want or don’t want and details regarding organ donation and burial or cremation. They can include a Living Will, which explains your wishes (whether or not you want death-delaying treatment if you have a terminal condition) and a DNR (do-not-resuscitate order), which states that you do not you want CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) if your heart and or breathing stops.

Even if you’ve discussed your wishes with loved ones, Pastor Gordon still recommends an advance directive, explaining that those close to you might be too upset or shocked to make those decisions when the time comes. “As a loved one, it’s so much easier knowing you’re making the decision that your family member or friend wants.” He notes, “What loved ones are going through is tough enough.” An advance directive can help them avoid stress, conflict and uncertainty.

An advance directive can be changed or revoked at any time. So you don’t need to worry about your wishes changing over the years—you can always make adjustments. Once created Pastor Gordon recommends having an electronic file of your directive as well as a hard copy. At CTCA® your directive also becomes part of your chart. If you’ve designated a health care agent, he or she should have a copy.