When many of us think about “preparing for the future”, we think about documents, such as a will, which give directions for dividing property and assets. Just as important, you should think about and talk with your loved ones about medical treatments you would or would not want if you were unable to communicate for yourself.

What is Advance Care Planning?

Advance Care Planning (ACP) is an ongoing process of learning about the choices you have for your future medical care. It helps you understand treatment options, provides you a voice in your care decisions, and assists your medical team in making decisions regarding your care in the event you become unable to make decisions for yourself. Making these important decisions now can allow you and your loved ones to focus on living well in the future.

What Does the Advance Care Planning Process Include?

Our specially trained social workers will help you define the activities, relationships, and healthcare goals that are important to you, and then complete advance directive documentation that matches your preferences for care. Throughout this process, you will do the following:

  • Take time to explore your thoughts and feelings about what is important to you to have a good quality of life
  • Learn about medical treatment options and communicating your goals for treatment outcomes
  • Discuss life­saving or life-sustaining treatments, and how you feel about these options
  • Choose a Healthcare Proxy or Surrogate Decision Maker— someone who is very familiar with your preferences and will speak for you when you are unable
  • Put your wishes into writing

Determining Your Values and Goals for Advance Care Planning

Before discussing with your RMCC social worker, you may find it helpful to first think about what your values and goals are for Advance Care Planning. Some questions your social worker might ask you are:

  • What is your understanding of your illness?
  • How much do you want to know about your illness? How would you like this information communicated with you? (i.e. verbal, handouts, electronic, with someone present with you)
  • What fears and worries do you have about your illness?
  • Do you feel that you have good support from family, friends, or others? How much do they know about your health and wishes?
  • If you have not already named a medical decision maker, who would make decisions for you if you were ever unconscious or confused?
  • For you to have a good quality of life, what is most important to you? What gives you joy?
  • What are your goals & priorities for the next few months?
  • Do you have any concerns or questions with the following areas?
    • Independence and ability to remain active
    • Nutrition
    • Sleep
    • Sexuality/intimacy
    • Spirituality and/or religion
    • Pain
    • Communication my physician and/or medical team
    • Relationship with family/loved ones/friends
    • Treatment and/or treatment plan

Having Conversations About End-of-Life

Regardless of your current health status, making sure that your loved ones and healthcare providers know about your wishes and values is the best way to make sure these choices are honored. The ongoing process of conversations and documentation of your wishes and values for medical care serve as both a gift and protection for you and your family.

Though it is difficult to think about your own mortality, it would be helpful for you and your family to consider the following questions when developing your personal Advance Care Plan:

  • What would your plan be if you were permanently too weak to get out of bed?
  • If you were ever at the end of life without the ability to get better, do you know if you would want to be placed on machines to keep you alive? Or, would you prefer to die as naturally as possible with an emphasis on your comfort and support to your family? Are there medical treatments that you would not want?
  • If you were dying, where would you choose to receive end-of-life care? i.e., at home, in the hospital, etc.?

Advance care planning is a standard part of every treatment plan, even if your cancer is highly treatable. You’ll have peace of mind knowing your care team is aware of the treatment options you choose, and that your loved ones will not have to make these important decisions for you.

Deciding to Create an Advance Care Plan: What Next?

Battling cancer may be one of the toughest challenges you and your loved ones will ever face. Thinking about and specifying the things that are important in your life can help guide your care team towards the care you want today and in the future. If you feel you're ready to take the next step in discussing your Advance Care Plan, reach out to your RMCC social worker or ask your oncologist to provide you with more information.

As part of the quality care we deliver, Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers is pleased to offer advance care planning services through The US Oncology Network My Choices, My Wishes® program. This comprehensive program helps you explore and document your healthcare preferences in a supportive environment. For peace of mind today and tomorrow, we encourage you and your family to participate.

Helpful Resources

Advance Care Planning

Advance Care Planning Blog

Dr. Jill Mitchell, oncology social worker and researcher at RMCC discusses Advance Care Planning and where to start.

The Conversation Project

The Conversation Project

The Conversation Project is dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for care through the end of life.