In these days of social isolation and extended confinement at home with your family due to the coronavirus, you, like many of us, may be thinking about how to best use this time.
I have a suggestion for one vitally important thing you can do: find a way to talk with your family about your end-of-life priorities.
Do it now, while you have the time.
I know what I’m talking about.
Last March, while celebrating my 55th birthday drinking and dancing on a Mexican beach, I was blissfully unaware that one short week later I would be just hours away from dying.
Feeling sicker than I ever had in my life, my wife, Kati, rushed me to the hospital. My kidneys had shut down, my liver and thyroid were failing and I was anemic. Our world stopped when these words came from the doctor’s mouth: plasma cell leukemia. I learned PCL is an aggressive, rare, incurable blood cancer also known as multiple myeloma.
It is a terminal diagnosis. I am undergoing chemotherapy to hold back the cancer as much as possible. But I consider myself blessed to be having a comfortable chemo experience.
National Healthcare Decision Day was on April 16, and there’s never been a better time to talk about your end-of-life values and priorities.
The truth is, dying is not generally something we like to think about until we are forced to.
Since my diagnosis, I connected with the end-of-life care advocacy group, Compassion & Choices. They advocate for a range of compassionate end-of-life options, provide factual information and advice for making decisions.
On the organization’s website, there is a great tool – the End of Life Decision Guide Toolkit. They provide it in English and Spanish.
This is a simple tool to help discuss your wishes with your family, friends and health care providers. There is a section that can help create an advance directive, a document that clearly explains your wishes, so that your loved ones will not have to guess what you might have wanted when you cannot make decisions for yourself.
Creating an advance directive is something every person, not just those of us living with life-threatening diseases, should do. It can be a great source of solace to your family.
And there is – literally – no time like the present to do it.
My family and I have had these conversations, and we know and understand each other’s wishes, and most importantly we’ve documented them by creating advance directives.
Don’t feel sorry for me. I love my life, but I’m not attached to my time here. As long as I continue to feel good, I will continue with treatment. But when the chemo becomes a struggle, I will stop treatment.
Because of our conversations, my family is ready to support me if the time comes when I can’t speak for myself.
Don’t wait until it is too late. Let’s have those conversations – now.