Well, for starters, I was completely blindsided by my diagnosis. I never saw it coming. But, that’s life—you never know what curveballs will be thrown at you and when. It’s important to be prepared for anything. After all, life is what you make it.
Back when I was diagnosed, ACP was still a really new concept. End-of-life and palliative care was something I had experience with through my work and exposure to some really amazing healthcare professionals.
I spent over 8 years working at the Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre. I remember going into the office of one of the palliative care doctors, Dr. Martin Chasen to talk to him about something, and saying to him: “you know, I think you must have one of the most challenging jobs here because you have to have all these tough conversations with patients about their own death.” Everyone adored Dr. Chasen, he had a special quality about him and people just felt really comfortable in his presence.
I’ll never forget how he responded. He said, it really wasn’t so bad because these conversations were very important so the patient would receive the best care possible and care that was aligned with their values, wishes, and beliefs. Starting these conversations was simply a matter of asking them to reflect and think; What’s important to me? What makes my day worth living and what brings me joy?”
That really resonated with me.
Another big inspiration was my uncle, Dr. Terry Gillespie, who sadly passed away a couple of years ago. During his career, he was well known for his work in the area of Cystic Fibrosis. He passionately believed in treating the whole person, not just the disease.
He would not only treat the symptoms but incorporate diet, conversations with family, and conversations with the patient into their treatment. He was even awarded the Order of Canada because his patients lived longer than most due to his care and holistic approach in treating the whole patient.
Knowing these great doctors, plus having my own personal experience, made it abundantly clear that future healthcare planning needs shouldn’t ever be an afterthought. Because you never know what’s going to happen.
In September of 2019, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to join CHPCA as Director of Advance Care Planning in Canada, so I obviously jumped at the chance at having a larger impact on people’s lives through ACP at a national level.