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This week, I thought it might be interesting to talk about creating an ethical will, or living legacy. A diagnosis of cancer can be the turning point in your life that brings forward many thoughts and emotions about your personal life experience.
You may want to consider creating a document (letter, video or journal) that reflects your personal story and wishes so that your family and friends can understand your life purpose and your current (and future) wishes and desires. It's an ancient tradition of passing one's story, values and beliefs on to future generations.
An ethical will is something that reflects your principles and values and expresses the things that are important to you and will be there to guide your family when you're no longer with them.
You may have items of personal or sentimental value that you want to give to specific family members or friends. These items may not be included in your legal will, but still have important value, so documenting who you would like to have these things will help your family honor your wishes.
A few things to consider when creating your ethical will:
Remember that future generations will want to know who you were ... that connection is so important. I'd love to hear from those of you who have created an ethical will. Share your experiences with each other.
Follow me on Twitter @SherylNess1. Join the discussion at #livingwithcancer.
Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.
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i think it is a nice idea for all who know are gonna die soon, though i wonder why it is a good idea for cancer patients, most of them will survive!!! it's good to be aware that one of the consequences of cancer can be death however it is only one of the consequences and not the only one
@ Barbara - Thank you for your comment "I have found that everyone is different in the way they handle cancer and I appreciate ideas and no longer get discouraged if they don't work for me." Indeed, we do all find our own paths. Good words.
It seems so many of us live as if we will never die, pretending that ignoring our mortality will somehow make death less likely. This project idea focuses more on living well, with love and purpose than some weakening focus on living with blinders.
I love this idea. My grandfather left a video that my kids have loved. My mother, who lived 12 years following her breast cancer diagnosis did something much like this too. Such a gift she shared! Her grandchildren have all viewed it, and one day her great grandhildren will get a hint of who she was. We all have a "closeness" with our roots because of their bravery. Our younger generations can hear about the effort and values. Bellhops, gardners, shopkeepers, seamstress... it would be so sad to see these stories lost because someone thinks coming to terms with the normalcy of death is somehow giving up on life. Hope for the best, but don't fail to plan for the worst. I'd say that is really living!
Gor some reason the first part of my entry did not get picked up so I will try to remember to connect the two comments...I believe I was saying that an ethical will is the same to me as Watachful waiting. I spend a lot of effort to block the negative thoughts or even thinking of the fact Ihave cancer so to write everyday about it would be a downer for me.
watchful waiting" It is my hope tht my actions nd verbalizatiooons will be there for my family and friends and they can choose the memories they would like to remember. I would like to pass some hope along though. This is my third time around but tht is over fifteen years. So when I thught all was bleak the first and second time and now the third I feel pretty lucky even though I have had some inconveniences. So hang in there it is not over yet. Lots of research going on to help us.
My father passed away 4 days back.The surprising thing is that though he was diagnosed with leukemia,he didn't die of it.Instead,he died of a sudden cardiac arrest.As he didn't have the time to leave an ethical will-what he spoke,what he did and whatever diaries of his daily life he has left behind serve as an ethical will.
Regarding Ethical Wills, there is an organization called LifeChronicles (www.lifechronicles.org) that provides video recording services for people in a health crisis to leave what they call "Loving Wills" for their loved ones. It is a charity funded by donations. Although donations are appreciated, video recipients are never charged for this service. They service people all over the U.S. and have also created videos in a few foreign countries as well.
Dear No Name....
Love your husband and reminisce with him... and write it down for him.
This way, you can spend as much time together as possible... and save the memories for yourself and your family. I pray that everyone involved has the benefit of a human oncologist and an internal medicine doctor who can prescribe pain relief instead of chemo to the end. God bless you as you navigate these most painful and consuming waters.
I'm in remission from stage four colon cancer, mets to the liver ... and I believe it's only a matter of time. I have always been very goal oriented with a sense that my life is not long enough for all of my relationships and accomplishments. The Cancer diagnosis just reminded me that we all will die and I was given a warning bell. Writing my legacy for my children is top priority--beginning with writing my mother's life story which gives me a structure for our conversations instead of dread and sadness. She's 85 and I'm not sure I wil outlive her--but we will write our family legacy together. I have been given a gift of remission of unknown length, so it's time to get busy... I'm armed with my MacBook Pro, 'My PUblisher" and notes upon notes from phone conversations and old letters. Meanwhile, I just have to get my high school sophomore through her SAT and college applications.. and then I can let go, knowing my story has been told.
I have recently been diagnosed the second time with breast cancer. Mets to the bones this time around. I am struggling with everything. This diagnosis cannot compare with the first diagnosis. While creating a living legacy sounds like a great idea, It makes me feel like I am giving up and dying. It will take some time for me to come to terms with what my future holds and how to make the best of the time I have left.
Isn’t it interesting how we all perceive things so differently? This is something that’s been on my mind for years, long before I was diagnosed with cancer. It actually began when I started to realize how completely different I am from my three sisters and how we each view the world. They all think they know me so well, as do my children; but they really don’t. This past Christmas marked 47 years since our mother passed away at the young age of 50. I was only 22 years old and still hadn’t arrived at the point where I recognized (as we all eventually do) that she was a very wise woman. As I was remembering her, I was struck by how little I knew about her likes and dislikes; her dreams and ambitions. She was still raising children (I was the oldest) and had only begun to live her life. I would love to have a living “legacy” of her, in her own words. We are not defined by our cancer but by our personal beliefs, our principles and values; and our dreams. It’s good to know that our loved ones had the strength to endure difficult times but “who” they are/were and how they evolved into that person enlightens and guides us so that, one day, we may be able to embrace that same strength and perseverance.
I'm not a cancer survivor,however, my life was touched by cancer; tonight's the one year anniversary of my mother's passing from pancreatic cancer. A few days after our mother's passing I found a voicemail she had left for me several months prior, it said, "Hello, it's Mom, I'm just calling, just checking in on you. Love you, Mom". I recorded that on my cell and sent it to both my brothers, sister and dad. We can hear her voice whenever we want, that's the best advice I can give anyone, allow your loved ones to be able to still hear you. We made the best of the time we had left with her, taking funny pictures in the hospital, pictures at home, joking laughing and so much more. The pictures and videos taken on the phones are the best, she's always with me. Last week I learned a very close friend has lung cancer, today she found out it's stage four. She began her bucket list, traveling is most on her list, boy will we have fun! Blessing to everyone!
Thanks for this outline of writing one's legacy. I agree with all of you that this is too close to an admission of death and, in some ways, is terribly difficult to write. I could not face the pain of a journal either. However, I have been wanting to leave letters to family and friends. I also wanted to leave my life's story behind as well, even before cancer. I have filled out some delightful Grandma books that allowed me to answer questions. I am grateful for the time I have been given to put my life in order and to enjoy every day I have been granted. Multiple Myeloma survivor. Be blessed all.
It is distressing at best to face cancer and death, but faith, perseverance, character and hope come from walking through the fear in the cancer patient and caregiver experience.
My girlfriend left a video for her 10 year old son, putting much energy and love into sharing her heart as his mom. I am writing my story of hope and faith in the pits and valleys of life.
Dear No Name Given, Love him like there is no tomorrow! Our prayers and love are being sent to you and him.
What do YOU do when your husband of 52 years is diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and it's too late for ANY treatment? I have to pretend every thing is OK, but I know something is eating him from the inside and there's no way to stop it? Writing a book doesn't help me and I now he won't do it.
Most of us know our parents and grandparents but why must it end there? I want to leave pearls of wisdom for my grandchildren and their children. Most of all, I want to die thinking that I will be remembered. I want them all to know that I was strong, loving, brave and that I tried to never take myself too seriously. Bad things, even cancer can have a positive impact on your life if you let it.
I agree that this is important for everyone, especially as we age. There are so many things that took me 50 years to figure out - I am writing some of those down for my children and grandchildren. We never know when it might be our last day; accidents happen. I want to share my 'legacy' while I can. And I want my grandchildren to have a glimpse of the world of my childhood, a place so distantly removed from the world in which they live. All I have to leave them is a part of myself, but I think that is worthwhile.
Thanks for your continued comments everyone. I realize that this idea may not be for everyone, however, the topic was discussed at our patient conference recently and received much attention and positive feedback. Some have asked if I am a cancer survivor. While I am not, I have been personally touched by cancer in my family (mother, grandmother and other close friends and family). My grandmother died from breast cancer the same year I was born. I would have loved it if she had created a legacy document for her children and future generations. I only know her from photos and a few memories that my mother has shared with me. I will continue to do my best to provide good topics for discussion on this blog!
My friend game me a journal which I tried to start when I was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago. It was too painful to record at the time. Another friend suggested recording all of the positive experiences (support from friends, strangers, health personnel) and I did that and it did help. I have now been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and the idea of a journal as a legacy to my family sounds like a good idea, but it seems so final--that I am preparing to die soon, and I'm not sure that I am ready to accept that. I will need to pray about that. I have found that everyone is different in the way they handle cancer and I appreciate ideas and no longer get discouraged if they don't work for me.
I think it is a GREAT IDEA!!!! I didn't start a will but I did start a journal the day I was diagnosed. It helped me tremoundously work through the whole cancer thing. Also my intention was to leave it to my 16 year old daughter so she would always have "memories" of her mother. I also started a photogragh book of people and encouragers that have helped me along the way. I have pictures of my oncologist, his nurses, radiation techs, radiation oncologist, surgeon,GYN doc,family, work friends, church friends, anyone that encouraged and helped me along the way. I even have pictures of when the pink fire truck surprised me at work with a visit!!! This book serves a huge encouragement tool to me on the days the chemo makes me so sick that I had rather be dead. I look to my encouragement book and see everyones smiling face and it gives me the strength and courage to continue on along. It's all good and positive.
My Daughter is living her life why go down memory lane, we all on borrowed time.
It is a great idea to put your thoughts on paper .The problem is htis will would be feelingless to the reader and painfull to the writer .Iknow because i was diagnosed with cancer and still living .
Thank you for your idea and the helpful ideas to write this personal story and wishes. I have wanted to do this and had no real idea of how to get it started.
As a 21 1/2 brain tumor (twice) and 8 1/2 year breast cancer (twice)survivor, I have to say this is a pretty good idea.
Before each surgery, I had to sign all sorts of papers at the hospital/clinic - including the 'living will'. I remember going to our broker's office and consolidate our accounts. So why not an ethical will?
When I discovered the recurrence, I thought that was a death sentence and ready to write my 'last letter' to my family overseas... Luckily my husband found another oncologist (mine was out of town attending conference)who explained to us that it's a local-regional recurrence and will be treated as if it were a newly found cancer.
Our later pastor, when informed of his skin cancer diagnosis, replied to his doctor with a chuckle: "Everyone's terminal!"
Perhaps we should start a movement for everyone - cancer patient or not - to write an ethical will at each stage of our life.
Well-intentioned article I'm sure, but it feels rather condescending. Rather like... thinking of something that will make those cancer patients feel better. I'm guessing the writer does not have cancer.
This is a very good idea and I am starting on this. It is not all depressing. Having lived with cancer for six years you help is much needed.
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