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British Columbians urged to find someone who will speak on their behalf in a medical emergency

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If you were in a medical emergency, would someone you trust be able to communicate your wishes if you couldn't speak for yourself?

That’s a decision Jas Cheema had to make when she was battling cancer eight years ago. She says choosing a person who would make her end-of-life health-care preferences known on her behalf was difficult.

“My (teenage) children weren't in a place where they could advocate for me, I didn't have a spouse, and so then you know, the next logical person would be my parents, but they don't speak English,” Cheema explained.

She ended up sharing her wishes with her sister, because she was someone who could make decisions in stressful situations.

And while talking about your palliative care plans with a friend or family member may seem awkward, Cheema told CTV News it gave her comfort.

“It was a lot of relief,” she said. “I can concentrate on what I needed to do which was healing and doing medical processes. I did not have to worry about children and what's going to happen to them next.”

Cheema is now cancer-free, and she helps others who are going through the same situation, particularly in the local South Asian community.

The process of reflecting on what your medical wishes are, designating a decision-maker and telling them about it is called advanced care planning. And Tuesday is “Advanced Care Planning Day” in Canada.

The BC Centre for Palliative Care is encouraging all British Columbians over the age of 19—especially those who drive, do extreme sports or live with a serious illness—to start the conversation.

This year’s theme is “If not you, who?” and asks people to reflect on who they would trust to speak on their behalf.

“We don't like to talk about when things go bad,” said Melody Jobse with the BCPC. But she says life happens, and beginning advanced care planning could be as simple as watching an accident on TV and saying “you know if that ever happened to me, this is what I would not want.”

Jobse said the questions to ask yourself include what activities bring joy to your life and what cultural or spiritual practices are important to you, as those might influence what kinds of treatment you’d refuse or consent to.

People should also ask themselves whether they value extra time or extra comfort when it comes to the end of their life, Jobse said.

She added non-medical information is important to share with your substitute decision maker, such as whether you have pets at home that someone needs to take care of if you’re in trouble.

“It's a gift that you give yourself by finding your voice advocating for yourself. It's a gift for the family member that you're talking to and you're going to share with them your values and your wishes. And it is a gift for your health-care provider,” she said.

Jobse explained that advanced care planning can ease the burden on families during an otherwise very tough and emotional decision. “(It) relieve(s) the guilt to be able to say, ‘We knew what his wishes were and we could honor them,'" she said.

If Cheema could go back, she would have had these conversations with loved ones while she was healthy, not after being diagnosed with an illness.

“I would say start today,” she said. “These are hard conversations to have, and it's also very freeing to know that your wishes will be adhered to, that you will be taken care of.” 

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