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Plan Ahead with Advance Care Directives

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No one plans on having a medical emergency.

Just ask Elaine Walters-Case, who was two months from her wedding day when she got a life-changing call. At the age of 37, Elaine found out she had breast cancer. Her doctors wanted her to begin treatment immediately, but she asked to wait. "Much to the chagrin of my oncologist, we postponed chemotherapy because I wanted to have hair at my wedding," she says.

Elaine had the wedding of her dreams, then began a more than 10-year journey with cancer. What started in her breast spread throughout her body. Recently, she created an advance directive, also called a living will.

An advance directive outlines a plan for medical care. It tells your doctor and your family what medical decisions to make on your behalf, if you are unable to speak for yourself.

Elaine says no morbid thoughts came with her decision. "For some reason, people think this kind of planning might hasten their passing, but I never thought of it in those terms." She adds, "It's a nice weight off your shoulders to just sit down and get it done."

Elaine's husband also has an advance directive, even though he's not facing a terminal disease. "It's much less scary to do it when you're healthy than when you're having a health crisis, when everyone's in a panic," says Elaine.

Saundra Buys, MD, a medical oncologist at Huntsman Cancer Institute, compares advance directives to fire insurance for your home. "You're probably not going to need it," she says. "But if you need it and don't have it that can be a big deal." Dr. Buys points out that speaking to loved ones about your medical wishes can strengthen your relationship by opening important discussions with people you care about.

Even if you're young and healthy, you can't predict the future. But you can prepare for possible events with an advance directive.

The forms for advance directives vary from state to state, but most follow the same basic format. For more information, visit huntsmancancer.org/ad.

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) is a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, which means it meets the highest standards for cancer research and receives support for its scientific endeavors. HCI is located on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and is a part of the University of Utah Health Care system. HCI treats patients with all forms of cancer and operates several high-risk clinics that focus on melanoma and breast, colon, and pancreas cancers, among others. HCI also provides academic and clinical training for future physicians and researchers. For more information about HCI, please visit www.huntsmancancer.org.

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