Advance care planning
Planning for a person’s future medical care and discussing their treatment preferences and values with family, friends and the health care team is known as advance care planning. Ideally, this conversation occurs early, when cancer is first diagnosed or even before. It does not mean that the person has given up or will die soon – many people review their wishes from time to time.
Palliative Care Australia has developed a resource to help people talk about the issues – visit Dying to Talk Discussion Starter. Many people think of this process as part of “hoping for the best and preparing for the worst”.
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It is not unusual for a person’s wishes to change once they have been told the cancer is advanced. It is important that the person’s carer, close family members and health professionals understand how much treatment the person wants for the cancer, and what matters to them most when making treatment decisions. It is ideal if the advance care plan can be as detailed as possible so that their preferences are clear. Studies show that families of people who have done advance care planning feel less anxiety and stress when asked to make important health decisions for others.
It can be confronting as a carer if the person you are caring for decides they do not want any more active treatment for the cancer. On the other hand, you may worry about the impact on their quality of life if they decide to keep pursuing active treatment even if it may not be beneficial for them. You may find it helpful to talk to the palliative care team about how you are feeling. Palliative care teams are experienced at helping people through these difficult discussions about balancing the quality and length of life.
Advance care planning laws across Australia
Each state and territory has different laws related to advance care planning.
To find out more about what legal documents are needed where you live, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or see Getting your affairs in order.
If you have questions, you can also visit Advance Care Planning Australia.
When preparing legal documents, it is important to seek legal advice. Cancer Council’s Legal Referral Service can connect you with a lawyer and arrange free assistance for eligible clients.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr Laura Kirsten, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW; Mary Bairstow, Senior Social Worker, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Anne Booms, Nurse Practitioner – Supportive and Palliative Care, Icon Cancer Centre Midland, WA; Dr Erica Cameron-Taylor, Staff Specialist, Department of Palliative Care, Mercy Hospice, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Tracey Gardner, Senior Psychologist, Cancer Counselling Service, Cancer Council Queensland; Louise Good, Cancer Nurse Consultant, WA; Verity Jausnik, Senior Policy Officer, Carers Australia; David Larkin, Cancer Supportive Care Manager, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital and Health Service, ACT; Kate Martin, Consumer; John McMath, Consumer; Simone Noelker, Physiotherapist and Wellness Centre Coordinator, Ballarat Regional Integrated Cancer Centre, VIC; Tara Redemski, Senior Physiotherapist – Cancer Care, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Dean Rowe, Consumer; Chris Sibthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland.
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