All cancer is hard and brings along with it things that most young adults never even think about. My cancer experience started in October 2012 when I was first diagnosed. At the time I underwent my first cancer related surgery I was under the knife for 14 hours. I remember the hospital asking me at my intake if I had a living will. I had never even considered needing one, it was at that moment that I realized it was something I needed to do. Fast forward to my first recurrence in April 2014, I was hospitalized immediately and during my intake you can guess what they asked me. When they brought up the living will again I sheepishly told them no, I didn’t have one. Onward through treatment I never took the time to create one. When round three of cancer hit me in 2015 I was asked again, at this point I was well versed in making jokes about not having my living will taken care of. As many of you can understand, I didn’t want to think about dying. I didn’t want to think about the possibility that any of these cancer surgeries could have a freak accident and result in my never waking up. I didn’t want to think about it. I am young, invincible, and I shouldn’t have to think about what happens if I die (even if I have cancer).
Attending First Descents gave me many gifts, one of them was an outlook on the rest of my life. I realized one night while in West Virginia that having a living will didn’t mean I was going to die. It meant I could live more freely. It meant I didn’t have to worry about what would happen when I was gone. It was a weight lifted off of me, as an added bonus I didn’t have to be embarrassed anymore when the hospital or doctor asked if I had it taken care of.
Upon return from my FD1 experience one of the first things I did was talk to my husband about the fact that we needed to get this taken care of. He scheduled a meeting for me with an estate planner, I quickly named her my death lawyer. When I went to meet her we talked about all of the things that I felt like a young adult shouldn’t have to talk about. There were a lot of words thrown around like beneficiaries, estate trust, medical power of attorney, financial power of attorney, and even funeral planning. I thought it would be scary and depressing. I even told the lawyer that I had dubbed her the death lawyer. She told me that she liked to think of herself as a life lawyer, because she helps plan things for you so that you can live your life. That is what it is all about right? Being able to live our lives and be out living it!
So, have you taken the time to meet with an estate planner and organize your living will? I know that I felt like I didn’t have any assets when I walked in to meet with the lawyer. When she asked me if there was anything of any value that I wanted to leave to anyone specific literally the only thing I could think of was my white water kayak and gear. If you have been on white water you will totally understand this! It wasn’t until a week later that I realized I had many other things of value that I should leave to people, but hey the kayak was my first thought!
If you don’t have your living will yet, first, please take the time to find an estate planner to help you. After you find your planner, take a few minutes and consider the following:
1. What type of financial assets do you have? – Consider life insurance policies, bank accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, and any other type of financial assets. I completely forgot about a life insurance policy I have until months after I created my living will, by thinking about this before going you will have a better chance at thinking of all your assets.
2. Who do you want to be your beneficiary and financial power of attorney? – Think about which two people would you want to manage any financial assets. My first person was easy but I really had to think about who I would want to name as my second person in the chance that my first named person wasn’t available.
3. What physical assets do you have which you want to name to specific people? – Do you have any assets that you want to ensure go to a certain person? The living will is the place to let your wishes known. These physical assets don’t have to be big and expensive, they can be something sentimental that you want to ensure your best friend gets. My estate planner left a place in my binder where my will is located so I can add to this as I think of things I would want people to have.
4. Who do you want to have as your medical power of attorney? – Think about what you would want your end of life care to look like, then think about who you believe would actually follow through with those plans. – I opted for two people here too. My husband is one and a friend is the second. I felt that my family wouldn’t be able to actually follow my end of life wishes so I had a conversation with the friend to ensure that she knew exactly what I would want and where to find the documents if it ever came to it.
5. What do you want your services to look like when you die? – Do you want a funeral service, cremation, open casket, closed casket, celebration of life, big service, small service? What about flowers, music, donations? What do you want it to look like? All of these are pieces to consider when planning what you would like your services to look like. This is an ongoing discussion point for me. I know there are things that I absolutely want to happen and others I know I do not want to happen. I have even met with a funeral director to find out options.
So there you have it, some things to consider so you can be prepared when you go to plan your own living will. I hope that you have an amazing estate planner, death lawyer, or as I now refer to mine life lawyer. I hope that getting your living will together lifts a weight off of your shoulders. A weight you might not even realize is there. I hope that it helps to facilitate you in your goal of out living it!
Erica, Left Eye, is a 31 year old cervical cancer advocate who is out living cancer for the third time. When she isn’t advocating for cervical cancer and HPV awareness as a Cervivor Ambassador, she can be found roboting or heading up the STEM program at the school where she is an educator. Erica enjoys spending time with her husband and son in their Indianapolis neighborhood, as well as pursuing new and adventurous hobbies. She can most recently be found fawning over kayaks and daydreaming of returning to whitewater kayaking with FD, chatting it up with her FD Family, and spending weekly visits with the Hoosier Kayak Club. Follow Left Eye on her own blog,www.tealelfs.com