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Plan your death to live a full life
Debbie Dickson-Coe knows exactly where she wants to die and how she wishes to be cared for as her life nears its end.
Importantly, these wishes are known by her family and medical professionals, as she has discussed and recorded it all.
Arrangements for her funeral are under way, her financial affairs are in order, and her relatives, including sons, 29-year-old James and 26-year-old Chris, have all been informed.
Debbie, of Baildon, was a nurse for 33 years until illness forced her early retirement. The 52-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2010. She underwent treatment, but last September when she lost some movement in her arm and leg she went back for more tests and found out the cancer had spread to her brain.
“I am being treated at the moment and I am doing well on chemotherapy, but there is no getting away from the fact that it is secondary and you don’t get rid of them,” she said. “The prognosis is terminal, but we don’t know how long – how long is a piece of string?”
For Debbie the diagnosis was, she says, “a relief”. “I said ‘right, I know what I am dealing with now’.”
“I went from being the most unorganised person to, in a matter of weeks, getting my affairs sorted out – my will, priorities of care, power of attorney and other legal stuff.
“It is all done now and that feels wonderful. It is put away and I can get on with living.”
Debbie is encouraging others to talk to friends, family and loved ones about their wishes for the end of their lives during Dying Matters Awareness Week, which runs until Sunday.
The campaign is being run by the Dying Matters Coalition, set up by the National Council for Palliative Care, to raise awareness of death, dying and bereavement and to provide the support and information needed to have these conversations with loved ones.
It aims to help make dying well a natural part of a good life and through this help change attitudes and behaviours towards end-of-life issues and improve and raise the profile of end-of-life care.
Research released to coincide with Dying Matters Awareness Week reveals that 81 per cent of people have not written down any preferences around their own death and only a quarter of men and just over one in three women have told anyone about the funeral arrangements they would like.
Despite 63 per cent of people saying that they would like to die at home, currently 53 per cent die in hospital and nearly two thirds of people have not written a will.
Eve Richardson, chief executive of the Dying Matters Coalition and the National Council for Palliative Care, said: “Every minute someone in England dies, but many people including GPs still feel uncomfortable discussing end-of-life issues. Talking about dying is in everyone’s interests. That’s why we want as many people as possible to discuss their end-of-life wishes and to take small actions, such as registering to become an organ donor, writing a will or making an effort to speak to anyone they know who is nearing the end of their life or who has been bereaved.”
Debbie says that all her family have listened to her wishes, particularly around her priorities of care. “I was very clear about what I want, being a nurse for so long,” she said. “I saw relatives agonising over what their loved one would want and it was quite distressing. I thought ‘I want to make those decisions and I want to write that down’.
“But this is a message for everyone: there are two things certain in life – being born and dying – we should all prepare for that, as difficult as it is.
“Talk to people – talk about dying. People are frightened of dying, but if you get sorted it eases that fright. Don’t put it off because you just don’t know what is going to happen.”
To help people in Bradford and Airedale have these discussions, staff from the district’s NHS end-of-life care team are holding two information stalls – one in the Kirkgate Shopping Centre, Bradford, between 1am and 4pm tomorrow, and at the Airedale Shopping Centre in Keighley, from 11am to 4pm on Friday. For more information, visit dyingmatters.org.