NBC Former Anchor Tom Brokaw Plans Ahead

Former NBC news anchor
Tom Brokaw
Jennifer Brokaw made sure her father went through advance care planning, well in advance of a medical crisis. Her father is former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw. Jennifer is an emergency care physician and patient advocate in San Francisco. In 2012, she conducted an advance care planning discussion with her father at a TEDx talk at Stanford University.2 “People who have prepared some sort of statement leave their families in much better shape, emotionally and financially, than those who haven’t,” said Dr. Brokaw. Her father agreed that advance care planning is important. “There’s a fixed certainty we’re all going to have to deal at some point in our lives sooner or later with
Dr. Jennifer Brokaw and Tom Brokaw
at a Stanford TEDx talk
a lingering illness or certainly with death,” he said. During their on-stage discussion, Tom Brokaw made it clear he didn’t want his life prolonged at all costs. “I want to be conscious and I want to be able to talk and communicated with the people I care about,” he said, “I think a lot about severe spinal cord injuries and if I’m confined in some way at this point in my life, I don’t want heroic efforts just to keep me alive on a resuscitator.”

Two years after their TEDx talk, the unexpected happened. Tom Brokaw was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of bone cancer that attacks the spine. After the initial shock wore off, Brokaw worked with his doctors on a treatment plan to manage the disease. He opted against a stem cell transplant operation because of his age, the risks involved, and the long and difficult recuperation period.3 His daughter Jennifer says that advance care planning gave him important guidance and psychological preparation for the critical decisions he needed to make. “He was able to think about this cancer in a less scary and more organized way,” she said.

A recent study at a major palliative care symposium shows that having end-of-life conversations with patients can reduce their stress and anxieties.4 Tom Brokaw was fortunate to have a doctor in his family as his patient advocate. The vast majority of Americans do not have conversations about end-of-life care with their doctors,5 particularly people who are younger, poorer, minority, and less educated.6 Death is an uncomfortable topic for most people. Dr. Jennifer Brokaw says many doctors tend to shy away from delivering bad news.

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