Living with cancer blog

Create a living legacy after cancer diagnosis

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. January 28, 2012

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:

  • Write your personal life story for your family. This can be simple or complex, however you would like to present the information. Tell about the important events in your life and the values that are most important to you.
  • Reflect on your family history and how it shaped your life.
  • Write about your hopes for the future (for example family traditions that you'd love to see continue).
  • Thank the people who influenced you in positive ways.
  • Create a photo book to go along with some of your favorite memories.
  • Share any wishes that you have for your family members and friends. List who you would like to receive cherished personal items.

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.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Jan. 28, 2012