Over the past few months I had the pleasure of traveling to a few different conferences to share the work I had done with CHPCA and the BC Cancer Agency on resources for cancer patients, families, and professionals for advance care planning.

Through these meetings, wisdom was shared about important topics including the care and education of those touched by cancer, and about death and dying. A lot of lessons were learned. But the lesson that touched me most hit closer to home.

Last month on the way back from the CHPCA conference in Ottawa, I arranged for a brief 2-day stopover to visit family in Saskatchewan, including with my grandmothers. The timing of this quick visit fell almost perfectly, with my one grandmother’s birthday having been just a few days prior, and my other grandmother’s 90th birthday taking place during the visit. I was so happy that I could celebrate with both of them.

On the first day, my grandma and I had a bit of a treacherous drive from the city to her town, a small farming community an hour away. An early-season snow storm had hit, so we made our way slowly down the dark highway. It took us awhile, but we arrived back safely. That evening I showed her the work I had done on the advance care planning booklets. I finally felt brave enough to tell her that the quote inside from an anonymous family member, which read “I wish we had made a plan earlier. Things happened really fast, and by the time he was on a ventilator, it was difficult to know what he would have wanted.” was really my quote. I was talking about Grandpa, her husband, who had passed away less than 2 years ago. That moment paved the way into talking about not only what he would have wanted, but what she would want if that time would come for her. Though not all the questions have been answered, the door to that conversation was opened.

On the second day, I travelled with my dad to see his parents, who live in another small farming community down the road. It was my grandma’s 90th birthday that day; I felt so lucky that I could be there to share it with her. We celebrated with a nice, quiet dinner at their home. After telling my family about the CHPCA conference I’d been to, there was some conversation about what their advance care planning wishes would be.

Two days after my visit, my dad called to tell me that my 90 year old grandmother had fallen and broken her hip. Just the other day I had worried when this day would come; I had never expected it would be this soon. As time passed we waited for news on her condition. We learned that she would be able to have surgery, and in the end the procedure went well. She has now since transferred back to her community hospital for rehabilitation. She is in good spirits, and is slowly recovering.

How do we really know what loved ones would want if a time comes they couldn’t speak for themselves? There is only one way to know, before the point comes, we have to have that conversation. It seems hard to talk about, but just open the door a little and you’ll find it’s ok. We need to do it, for them, and for ourselves.

Angela Bedard is the Program Facilitator for the Provincial Survivorship Program of the BC Cancer Agency.