Advance Care Planning: Let’s learn from “When Breath Becomes Air”

Posted by Bob Lee

Advance Care Planning: Let’s learn from “When Breath Becomes Air”

Advance Care Planning was the focus of JourneyCare’s Life is a Journey education event that took place on April 17. This cause was a passion of mine even before I headed out on my first 'Ride for 3 Reasons' in 2001. After I completed three solo cross-country bike rides, I passed the torch to my fellow Barrington resident 17-year-old Jan Gierlach last year. The trip we had in common took us more than 3,200 miles from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida to raise awareness and funds to benefit three causes dear to our hearts. One of these is hospice. Part of the proceeds has benefitted JourneyCare and is helping to fund the very special 'Life is a Journey' event this month.

As I rode my bike across the country, I saw many memorials along the side of the road almost every day. I realized those people went to work that morning or went out that evening and thought they had the rest of their life to live. Then something unexpected happened. I know that it is possible that after their accidents some might have lived for a minute, a week, a month, or possibly years in a state of health they may not have wanted. I wonder if they or their loved ones were prepared for difficult decisions, such as whether to choose life support even if doctors said recovery was impossible. This reinforced my passion for Advance Care Planning  ̶̶̶  telling our loved ones about our healthcare wishes in case an unexpected crisis leaves us unable to communicate for ourselves.

Life is a Journey featured a talk by Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, widow of author Dr. Paul Kalanithi who wrote the #1 New York Times bestseller “When Breath Becomes Air.” The book documents Paul’s diagnosis with terminal cancer while in his 30s and the couple’s choice to make the most of each of his days. The book greatly impacted me because it was written by such a gifted, intelligent man whose life turns on a dime and robs him of his future plans. Since this can happen to any of us, Advance Care Planning should be done while we are strong, healthy and of a sound mind. Like the title of the book says, since all our breath will turn to air at some point, we want that transition period to be peaceful and of our own planning, not the choice of someone else. At the end of my own mother’s life, hospice workers were the angels who helped me understand the dying process and put my mother and me at peace. If we learn to die in peace, we will learn to live in peace. They go hand in hand.

Advance Care Plans should be made for everyone involved with both our living and dying  ̶  our families, our medical team who tries to give us the best of care, and our faith advisors. Because I feel so strongly about Advance Care Planning, I am a strong advocate of utilizing “Five Wishes,” a booklet that is written in simple language (and is legally recognized in Illinois and 41 other States) to help lay out your healthcare wishes in the event of an unexpected healthcare crisis. “Five Wishes” allows us to outline what quality of life looks like for us personally and helps us talk about this with our loved ones in order to take any burden of choice off of them.

We all think about wills and our worldly possessions – about what will happen to them after we are gone. We need to also spend time thinking about end of life and let our loved ones know our wishes.

For more information on Advance Care Planning or how you can obtain a copy of “Five Wishes, visit

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