'A sense of control': Ken with his wife Dale who passed away in 2019.

'A sense of control': Ken with his wife Dale who passed away in 2019.

Six things cancer taught me about advance care planning

Six things cancer taught me about advance care planning


Losing his wife Dale to cancer was a heartbreaking journey for Ken but something that made it bearable was an advance care directive she had put in place three years before she died. Ken tells us how his wife's careful planning allowed her to squeeze a lot of living into her last weeks.


In April 2019, Ken lost his wife Dale to cancer. It was a heartbreaking journey, but made more bearable because Dale developed an advance care directive before she died. This ensured that others knew her preferences for care, should she no longer be able to speak for herself.

It meant Dale's last weeks were spent enjoying what time she had left. During every step of Dale's journey, her husband Ken was by her side. We asked Ken to share six things he learned about advance care planning through the experience.

It's a personal statement

Dale was always super organised. I had heard about advance care planning and when I raised it with Dale she agreed it would be a good idea.

As her cancer progressed I think Dale recognised advance care planning as an opportunity to be clear about what she wanted. She was always sure about what was important to her and this guided her decisions through her cancer journey, giving her a sense of control.

It's okay to have questions

For Dale, advance care planning triggered a lot of questions about the likely progression of her cancer and the different scenarios. They were tough conversations but her doctors handled this so respectfully. It helped Dale knowing that she had all the facts to help her make informed decisions.

It's about family

We're a close knit family, so advance care planning was a chance to get the family involved. Dale was comfortable discussing her values and at what point she would opt for less aggressive treatment with me and our daughter, Lisa.

Dale appointed me as her substitute decision-maker so she had peace-of-mind that I could step in, should her health deteriorate quickly.

It helps others know how to care for you

In Dale's final weeks she was admitted to a palliative care unit. The hospital staff seemed almost relieved when we arrived with Dale's advance care directive. They commented on how much easier it was to provide appropriate care when these things had been resolved ahead of time.

It can inspire others

For us, advance care planning meant that Dale's final weeks were relatively calm and filled with the things that were important to her - her children, friends and grandkids. Her pain and other symptoms were managed, making it easier for all of us to be there and say our goodbyes.

While I'm in relative good health myself, I have written my own advance care directive and have encouraged others to do the same.

Through friends I have seen what can go wrong when there is no plan - the disagreements, the stress, the uncertainty- it really is no way to die. At a time when everyone should be pulling together, I've seen families pulled apart as everyone tries to guess what their loved one would want. Advance care planning puts a stop to all the guessing.

It doesn't mean giving up hope

I think for some people with cancer, they feel that advance care planning is what you do when your treatment stops. But it's just not true. Dale wrote her advance care directive while still having cancer treatment. She continued to plan holidays and adventures which she enjoyed all the more because she knew that if anything happened that she had her plan in place.

Get involved in National Advance Care Planning Week

National Advance Care Planning Week is an initiative that encourages Australians to plan their future care and will be held 22 - 26 March. For more information visit our website to find awareness-raising events Australia-wide or to access a free email starter pack.

For free personalised advice call the National Advance Care Planning Advisory Service on 1300 208 582, 9am - 5pm (AEST) Monday to Friday or submit your enquiry online .

Advance Care Planning Australia is supported by funding from the Australian Government.

This is sponsored content for Advance Care Planning Australia.