Sharing End-of-Life Preferences

Occasionally in my online lung cancer support group, a family member or caregiver wonders if they made the right treatment choices for their loved one. I can’t imagine the anguish felt by a spouse or partner wondering if they should have agreed to a radiation treatment or that last round of chemo, especially when it made the patient miserable without preventing their death.

Such personal stories emphasize to me the importance of open communication about illness and dying. Too often we are so busy fearing and avoiding death that we forget to ask each other what we’re really thinking and feeling.

I think both lung cancer patients and their family members need to let each other know it’s OK to talk about the possibility of dying sooner rather than later. After all, we are ALL going to die sometime. We need to let each other know under what conditions we would want our lives prolonged by cancer treatment, antibiotics, machines, or CPR. Most of us will face such choices towards the end of our lives, even if we simply grow old.

Preferably we would have such conversations when life is bright and happy, before an accident or illness makes the conversation urgent. However, we tend to avoid the subject, so the conversation is forced by circumstances, or ignored entirely until the opportunity is no longer available. We lung cancer patients and caregivers need to look for ways to encourage such discussions.

The Conversation Project” aims to promote such conversations about death and our end-of-life preferences. Their statistics: “60% of people say that making sure their family is not burdened by tough decisions is ‘extremely important,'” yet “56% have not communicated their end-of-life wishes.” The site offers videos, a starter kit and suggestions to get the discussion going.

Please let your spouse/partner and older children know you’re open to talking about death, and have thoughts you want to share. Don’t leave your family members wondering if they followed your wishes.