What do you know about getting enough sleep?

Posted March 2nd, 2015 by

That’s what the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) is asking during Sleep Awareness Week to help everyone better understand why sleep matters. And what you know probably depends on your own experiences. Are you living with insomnia or a chronic condition that impacts your sleep? Or do you just have a restless night every once in a while?

Back in 2013, more than 5,000 PatientsLikeMe members participated in a survey about their sleeping habits, and we shared what the community helped to uncover (get it!?) in a series of infographics on the blog. Nearly a third of respondents never (5%) or rarely (25%) got a good night’s sleep, and almost half (44%) frequently woke up during the night. Poor sleep is the norm for people living with life-changing health conditions, and it affects everything from driving to relationships and sex – view the infographics here.

To help launch Sleep Awareness Week, the NSF released their “Sleep in America” poll results today, including the 2015 Sleep and Pain survey, which looked to find if stress and poor health were related to shorter sleep durations and lower quality sleep. The poll found that:

  • Greater stress was associated with less sleep and worse sleep quality
  • Pain was related to greater sleep debt – the gap between how much people say they need and the amount they’re actually getting1

For everyone living with these sleep issues, you can help raise awareness this week on social media through the #SleepWeek hashtag. And if you’d like to share any PatientsLikeMe infographics or results, please use the #areyousleeping hashtag.

If you’ve been struggling with sleep, read what PatientsLikeMe members Lori (living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis) and Marcia (living with multiple sclerosis) had to say about their insomnia. And don’t forget to reach out to the community in the Sleep Issues forum on PatientsLikeMe – over 40,000 members are sharing about everything related to their sleep.

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1 http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-polls-data/2015-sleep-and-pain


Day-by-day, hand-in-hand

Posted February 28th, 2015 by


All around the world, everyone impacted by a rare disease is taking everything day-by-day. But they can take each day hand-in-hand with the help and support of others. Today, on Rare Disease Day (RDD), EURORDIS (Rare Diseases Europe) and its global partners are calling on everyone to lend a hand to anyone affected by a rare disease.

RDD’s international theme is “Living with a rare disease” because every patient’s story and needs are different, and only by sharing our experiences and raising awareness can we all hope to improve the lives of those living with a rare disease. It’s also about the million of parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends that are impacted and who are living day-by-day, hand-in-hand with rare disease patients.1

Check out the official video below:

According to the Global Genes Project, there are 350 million people living with a rare disease around the globe. Just how many is that? If you gathered those people into one country, it would be the third most-populous country in the world. There are more than 7,000 identified rare diseases, from skin conditions to progressive neurological disorders, and more are being discovered every day.2 Here’s how you can get involved in spreading the word:

Rare diseases have a personal connection with PatientsLikeMe – our co-founders’ brother, Stephen, was diagnosed with ALS in 1998, and their family’s experiences with the condition led to the beginning of PatientsLikeMe. In 2012, we partnered with the Global Genes Project to create the RARE Open Registry Project to help those diagnosed find others like them in one of the over 400 rare disease communities on the site, and launched the first open registry for people with alkaptonuria (AKU) with the AKU Society in early 2013. We also accelerated our focus on enhancing the idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) community through a collaboration with Boehringer Ingelheim. And now, the IPF community on PatientsLikeMe is the largest open registry with more than 3,700 members …and counting.

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1 http://www.rarediseaseday.org/article/theme-of-the-year-living-with-a-rare-disease

2 http://globalgenes.org/rare-diseases-facts-statistics/


Patients as Partners: Hallucinations and Parkinson’s disease questionnaire results

Posted February 26th, 2015 by

It’s time for another Patients as Partners post, and today, we’re happy to share the results of the Hallucinations and Parkinson’s disease questionnaire.

In March 2014, more than 500 PatientsLikeMe members living with Parkinson’s disease (PD) took part in an Open Research Exchange (ORE) questionnaire about their condition. They worked with Dennis Chan and Ruth Wood from the University of Cambridge to understand a symptom called an extracampine hallucination, which is the sense of a presence beside or behind you even when there’s nothing or nobody there. So, unlike visual hallucinations, the presence can only be sensed or felt, not seen.

Everything the community shared will help researchers develop a new tool to better measure this type of hallucination and alert doctors and care teams to ask about this symptom earlier rather than later. Read the results here.

What’s ORE all about again? PatientsLikeMe’s ORE platform gives patients the chance to not only check an answer box, but also share their feedback on each question in a researcher’s health measure. They can tell our research partners what makes sense, what doesn’t, and how relevant the overall tool is to their condition. It’s all about collaborating with patients as partners to create the most effective tools for measuring disease.

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Seeing [MS]: The invisible symptoms – brain fog

Posted February 23rd, 2015 by

Australian Jessica Anderson has been living with multiple sclerosis since she was 12 years old, and she says brain fog is the scariest symptom she experiences, especially not being able to gather and make sense of her own thoughts. During her worst moments, she can barely focus on a thought for more than 30 seconds. Listen to Jessica speak about her symptoms below.

 

You are now seeing brain fog

Photographed by Sara Orme
Inspired by Jessica Anderson’s invisible symptoms

Jessica and New Zealand photographer Sara Orme worked together to visualize Jessica’s brain fog, and her video and picture are part of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Australia’s (MSA) Seeing [MS] campaign, which is all about recognizing the invisible symptoms of MS and raising awareness for the neurological condition. Check out the previous pictures and stay tuned for more Seeing [MS] posts.

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PatientsLikeMe Attends 4th Annual ALS TDI White Coat Affair

Posted February 19th, 2015 by

Back in November, a whole group from the PatientsLikeMe team came together for a great cause and attended the 4th annual A White Coat Affair gala benefiting the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI). ALS TDI, founded by PatientsLikeMe Co-Founder and Chairman Jamie Heywood in 1999, is the number one nonprofit biotechnology organization dedicated to developing effective treatments for ALS. All proceeds from the event directly fund the research being conducted at ALS TDI.

The charity gala was held right after ALS TDI’s 10th Annual Leadership Summit, which featured in-depth scientific presentations from researchers and “thought leaders” on scientific developments, the PALS’ perspective and advice from pharma and biotech leaders within the ALS community. For the past 10 years, the Leadership Summit has brought together members of the ALS community for an intimate gathering to connect on the state of ALS research and progress being made toward a treatment.

The PatientsLikeMe team and other attendees traveled to the Westin Copley Place Hotel in Boston for A White Coat Affair and a special evening complete with a cocktail hour, dinner and live music. While there were some lighthearted moments (such as a cocktail called the Mad Scientist) there were also some very emotional moments that reminded everyone why we were there – to raise funds and awareness for ALS research.

Highlights of the dinner program this year included a presentation from Lynne Nieto, husband of Augie Nieto. Augie is Chairman of the Board of ALS TDI and Chief Inspirational Officer for Augie’s Quest, which has raised more than $44 million to fund research at ALS TDI. Anthony Carbajal also gave a powerful speech. Anthony was recently diagnosed with familial ALS at 26 years old and takes care of his mother, who is living with ALS as well. Check out his story if you haven’t already, or visit KissMyALS.org.

570 guests and 20 PALS attended A White Coat Affair for a memorable night committed to raising funds toward ALS TDI’s efforts to develop effective treatments for ALS. To view more photos taken during the evening, visit the event’s Facebook page – and congratulations to ALS TDI on 16 years of cutting-edge ALS research and leadership!

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PatientsLikeMe adds information about patient experiences with medications to Walgreens Pharmacy website

Posted February 18th, 2015 by

               

Newly-enhanced health dashboard now includes access to patient-reported data on side effects for 5000+ medications

CAMBRIDGE, MA., February 18, 2015PatientsLikeMe is working with Walgreens to help make it easier for people to understand how the medications they take may affect them. Now, anyone researching a medication or filling a prescription on Walgreens.com can access a simple snapshot that shows how their prescribed medication has impacted other patients on the therapy, including medication side effects, as reported by PatientsLikeMe members.

PatientsLikeMe is a free, online network where patients living with chronic conditions can track their health, connect with others and contribute data for research. More than 300,000 individuals have joined PatientsLikeMe and shared their own experiences with various treatments. The PatientsLikeMe-sourced information is updated daily with new patient reports and covers many medications available at Walgreens pharmacies.

PatientsLikeMe is the first featured external contributor to the new Walgreens Health Dashboard, a secure and private personalized health information offering. Walgreens can access PatientsLikeMe content to share information that may be of interest to Walgreens patients based on individual medication needs.

 

This example shows patients’ experience with Gabapentin, a medication often used to treat pain in conditions like fibromyalgia.

 

“Leveraging patient perspectives and experiences through Walgreens Health Dashboard provides our patients with helpful insight into their medications and overall therapy management,” said Walgreens Divisional Vice President of Digital Health, Adam Pellegrini. “Our collaboration with PatientsLikeMe underscores the power of social support and shared experiences on a wellness journey.”

The agreement also marks the first time PatientsLikeMe has integrated its data on another company’s website.

“We want to help patients wherever they are, so they can be better informed about the treatments they’re taking and make more informed health decisions,” said PatientsLikeMe Executive Vice President of Marketing and Patient Advocacy Michael Evers. “We’re thrilled to be working with the nation’s largest drugstore chain. Our work with Walgreens will give their patients important insights from people taking both simple and complex medications. It can also help enrich our treatment data should Walgreens patients decide to join our community.”

To access patient-reported data on medication side effects, Walgreens patients can visit www.walgreens.com. Walgreens patients interested in connecting with other patients managing similar conditions and sharing their medication experiences through PatientsLikeMe can visit http://www.patientslikeme.com/join/walgreens.

About PatientsLikeMe
PatientsLikeMe® (www.patientslikeme.com) is a patient network that improves lives and a real-time research platform that advances medicine. Through the network, patients connect with others who have the same disease or condition and track and share their own experiences. In the process, they generate data about the real-world nature of disease that help researchers, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, providers, and nonprofits develop more effective products, services and care. With more than 300,000 members, PatientsLikeMe is a trusted source for real-world disease information and a clinically robust resource that has published more than 50 peer-reviewed research studies. Visit us at www.patientslikeme.com or follow us via our blog, Twitter or Facebook.

About Walgreens
Walgreens (www.walgreens.com), the nation’s largest drugstore chain, constitutes the Retail Pharmacy USA Division of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. (Nasdaq: WBA), the first global pharmacy-led, health and wellbeing enterprise. More than 8 million customers interact with Walgreens each day in communities across America, using the most convenient, multichannel access to consumer goods and services and trusted, cost-effective pharmacy, health and wellness services and advice. Walgreens operates 8,229 drugstores with a presence in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Walgreens digital business includes Walgreens.com, drugstore.com, Beauty.com, SkinStore.com and VisionDirect.com. Walgreens also manages more than 400 Healthcare Clinic and provider practice locations around the country.

Contacts
Margot Carlson Delogne
(781) 492-1039
mcdelogne@patientslikeme.com

Markeisha Marshall
(847) 315-2923
Markeisha.marshall@walgreens.com


Recognizing National Donor Day

Posted February 14th, 2015 by

It’s Valentine’s Day, and besides flowers and candy, there’s a special way you can show somebody love today – by registering as an organ donor to give the most precious Valentine of all: the promise of life.

February 14th is also National Donor Day, and it’s all about recognizing those who have donated in the past and celebrating the lives of people who have thrived after receiving a transplant. To help, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has organized an awareness campaign including educational videos, stories of survivors and ways to participate today. If you haven’t already, search your state for an organ and tissue registry and learn how to become a donor. And don’t forget to share on social media using the #NationalDonorDay hashtag.

If you’ve received an organ donation – or are waiting for one – you can reach out to the transplant community at PatientsLikeMe and connect with members who have received heartkidneyliverlung or pancreas transplants, among many other types. You can also check out the extensive PatientVoice report on what life is like after a transplant and read about how PatientsLikeMe member Lori survived her lung condition through a lung transplant.

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“You can get better” – PatientsLikeMe member jeffperry1134 shares about his journey with PTSD

Posted February 12th, 2015 by

Many veterans are a part of the PTSD community on PatientsLikeMe, and recently, jeffperry1134 spoke about his everyday life after returning home from military service. In his interview, he touched upon his deployment to Somalia in the early 1990s, and how his memories of Africa cause daily symptoms like anxiety, hallucinations and nightmares. But despite everything, Jeff remains upbeat and reminds us that there is always hope. Scroll down to read what he had to say.

Note: the account below is graphic, which may be triggering.

Can you tell us a little about your military service and your early experiences with PTSD?

I entered the military in the Army in July 1990 as a heavy wheeled mechanic. I went through basic training and AIT at Ft. Jackson, SC. I went to my first permanent duty station in December in Mannheim, Germany. I was assigned to a Chinook helicopter unit. My unit was very relaxed and we got along well. As soon as the war broke out we received our deployment orders. We returned home in July from deployment. My PTSD was early onset after returning from Desert Storm. I experienced nightmares, depression, alcohol abuse and drug abuse. At the time I was a 19 year old alone in Germany away from my family struggling with this mental illness. My supervisors were able to help me hide my problems well and it was not discovered at that time. I feared being singled out for having these problems. Three days before it was my time to PCS stateside our company was deployed again, this time we were going to Somalia. I was told I could leave but I felt guilty so I volunteered to stay and deploy with my teammates. We deployed in November 1992 and returned in June 1993. During my time in Somalia it was rough. During the deployment my job was perimeter guard duty and body remover. During the deployment I used local drugs of Khat and Opium Poppies to control the symptoms of my illness. After returning from Somalia not only did I have the symptoms that I had earlier but now I was hallucinating hearing voices, smelling smells and seeing flashes. I went stateside a week after we returned. I went to Ft. Leonard Wood, MO in an engineer unit that was strict. I made a huge impression with my skills as a mechanic and a soldier so when I was having problems my superiors hid it for me to keep me out of trouble. I did get in trouble once after a night of heavy drinking and smoking marijuana and was given an article-15 for being drunk on duty. Before that day I had still considered myself as a career soldier and I decided then that I was not going to re-enlist. I spent the rest of my military time waiting to get out and finally July 1994 came and I was out and had a job at a local car dealership as a mechanic. After working a while I got into a verbal confrontation that turned physical with the business owner and had to be removed by the police from the dealership. After that my thinking became bizarre and very hyper-vigilant. I took newspaper clippings and taped them to a door so it would motivate me to exercise harder and be ready if I were ever in a life or death situation. At the time I was working with a great therapist and she did wonders for me keeping me stable. She convinced me to take my medications and stop drinking daily.

What were your feelings after being officially diagnosed? 

I was blown away when I was diagnosed in 1995 after a suicide attempt that ended up with me being hospitalized on a psych unit for a week. My sister walked in on me at my apartment with a loaded gun in my mouth. I was resistant to treatment or even acknowledging that I had this illness. I was linked up with a therapist and psychiatrist before leaving the hospital.

What are some of the symptoms you experience on a daily basis?

On a daily basis I usually deal with a lot of anxiety, some depression, occasional hallucinations and nightmares. On a bad day I will have sensory hallucinations with me smelling dead bodies, burning flesh or cordite. Usually when that happens I get physically sick.

You recently completed the Mood Map Survey on your PatientsLikeMe profile – what have you learned about your PTSD from your tracking tools?

I learned that my PTSD is not as well managed as I would like it. It made me press my doctor to give me an antipsychotic medication and I have a new therapist at the VA that is working hard to help me identify when my symptoms are becoming worse.

By sharing your story, what do you hope to teach others about PTSD?

I just wanted to show that you can get better and that there is hope and that they can get through it.

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Getting to know our Team of Advisors: Karla

Posted February 9th, 2015 by

This past Monday on the blog, Emile shared about her fibromyalgia and what being a part of the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors means to her, including how she hopes to help doctors understand that patients need to be treated as individuals, rather than just disease names. Today, we’re featuring Karla. She’s also a member of the Team of Advisors living with fibromyalgia as well. Read below to learn Karla’s views on patient-centeredness, open communication and healthcare in a rural community.

About Karla
Karla refers to herself as a Southern Gram, who tries not to let her fibromyalgia get in the way of having fun with her grandkids. Karla served as president of a community college prior to retiring from full-time employment in 2010. She has led volunteer boards and fundraising groups, worked in public relations and advertising, and actively worked in a variety of roles in her church. She continues to work part-time as a grant writer, researcher, and owner of a chicken farm where she has a rooster named Handsome. :)

After spending a long time finding treatments that worked for her, Karla is passionate about helping others shorten the time between diagnosis and condition management, and she would like there to be better understanding that fibromyalgia is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ condition.

Karla’s view of patient-centeredness
She believes patient-centered healthcare involves open communication between healthcare providers and the patient: “it should be an active and ongoing process to evolve the patient’s care toward results to create a more productive and comfortable lifestyle. It is a two-way communication stream based on mutual respect.”

Karla on being part of the Team of Advisors
Being a part of the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors is very humbling but also refreshing to my soul. At times when my illness is at its worst, I have always hoped my affliction could at least somehow benefit someone else, somewhere, even in the future. That is actually happening with the opportunity to be on the Team of Advisors. Like me, each team member is willing to share freely and openly in hopes of making the future better for others. It is so humbling to represent patients from so many walks of life and bring hope for a brighter tomorrow. The work PatientsLikeMe and the advisors have been doing can truly change the way health care functions.

Karla’s experience seeking care for fibro in a rural community
A decade ago, fibromyalgia was a foreign term in my rural community, even to me. Doctors dismissed me as stressed, depressed and overweight. Employers openly joked that people with chronic fatigue syndrome, bipolar and other hidden illnesses were lazy. One doctor said I had a ‘bucket condition’ or unknown problem. After two hospital stays, XRAYS, MRIs, CAT scans and three or four doctors later, I confided in a nurse practitioner who knew me. She knew me before I had spiraled down into a life of pain and she knew I was not faking. She suggested a condition called fibromyalgia and advised seeing a rheumatologist in a regional area. There I received the diagnosis of fibromyalgia. I was devastated and utterly embarrassed. I didn’t want to suffer the ridicule from the uninformed public. When I was too sick to work, I would call in but if I had a doctor appointment, I would generally take vacation time so no one at work would know I was traveling to the rheumatologist.

I desperately wanted to learn about fibromyalgia to see if there was a cure or at least proven ways to manage the pain and fatigue. Eventually I had to give up my career and focus on my health. My family became educated about the condition and they understood my situation. So, then I began to own my situation and share my story. Amazingly, as word got out, many neighbors in my area contacted me to share similar frustrations. Healthcare in rural areas is in short supply, doctors are overloaded, hospitals are money-making machines and patients are deliberately kept uninformed. I firmly believe if not for the concern and care of one nurse practitioner who knew me personally, I might still be switching from prescription to prescription with no answers.

Unfortunately, ten years later, fibromyalgia is still very misunderstood. Based on my experience, I have learned to share about my fibromyalgia life, to advocate for hidden and chronic illness, to educate people about fibromyalgia and to encourage those on a personal journey to keep fibro from taking over their lives!

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“Not beyond us” – Recognizing World Cancer Day

Posted February 4th, 2015 by

The Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) has organized today, February 4th, as World Cancer Day. This year’s theme: “Not beyond us.” It’s about highlighting that solutions to cancer are within our reach. Awareness is not beyond us. Prevention is not beyond us. And a cure is not beyond us. The UICC is encouraging everyone to take a positive and proactive approach in the fight against cancer by working towards these four goals:

  • Choosing healthy lives
  • Delivering early detection
  • Achieving treatment for all
  • Maximizing quality of life

You can become part of the World Cancer Day effort and raise awareness about what needs to be done. Whether it’s at an individual, community, governmental or global level, you can help in the fight. Visit the World Cancer Day website to learn how to get involved.

What are PatientsLikeMe members sharing about their journeys with cancer?

PatientsLikeMe member Glow4life was diagnosed with lung cancer (adenocarcinoma) this past June, and her story is a testament to never losing hope. She recently shared her experiences in an interview, and she spared no details in describing her challenges. Despite her terminal diagnosis, four rounds of chemotherapy and the sudden loss of her husband, Glow4life has remained positive, and she’s learned to take every day as it comes and live in the moment. Learn about her journey and how she shares love and hope whenever she can.

“Hope won’t make it happen” is Phil’s (PhillyH) personal motto in life. She’s a PatientsLikeMe member who hails from Northampton in the United Kingdom and was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2012. Ever since then, she’s been learning to live with the ups and downs of her condition. She recently shared her experiences in an interview with us, everything from the reaction she had after her blunt diagnosis to her treatment decisions and son’s new tattoo. Phil also shared her thoughts on what every person who has just been diagnosed with lung cancer should know. As she says, “If you don’t know, you can’t do” – read about her lung cancer journey.

Meet Vickie, a PatientsLikeMe member who has survived cancer not once, but twice. She’s sharing her story, from diagnosis to survivorship, during Lung Cancer Awareness Month. She spoke about her reaction to getting diagnosed, the anxiety filled months leading up to surgery and what recovery was like post-operation. Learn about her journey.

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Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Emilie

Posted February 2nd, 2015 by

If you’ve been following the blog, you’ve already met three members of the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors – Dana who is living with bipolar II, Lisa who is living with Parkinson’s and Becky who is living with epilepsy. Now, we’d like to introduce Emilie, a social worker and therapist who is living with Sjogren’s Syndrome and fibromyalgia.

About Emilie (aka Memmie)
Emilie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) who works with children living with chronic illnesses and their families. She’s also been a therapist for both children and adults with chronic illness and in her work has developed a pediatric diabetes pain management program. Emilie herself has an autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia — and recently had to resign from this work that she loves due to the pain, fatigue, and subsequent emotional strain. She hopes to return to doing similar work once her medical issues are more manageable.

Emilie on patient centeredness
Emilie believes the question should be asked, “what are the ways your health care provider(s) could be more helpful to you?” to better our understanding of patient centeredness. She believes that doctors need to listen to and respect that their patients know their bodies best.

Emilie on being part of the Team of Advisors
It was really special to be chosen, I didn’t ever in a million years think I would be chosen. When I got to the interview part I thought there’s no way they’ll pick me. When I found out I was chosen I was really excited because I felt like I had been to enough doctors in my life that I had something to share. I hoped that we could help researchers study the things that would be relevant to us — the collective us — instead of just the things they wanted to know and they wanted to study.

Being part of the Team of Advisors makes me feel like I’m more in control, like an expert about my own body. When you go to the doctor, they think they know exactly what’s happening — they’re going to treat it they way they treat everyone else with fibromyalgia or Sjogren’s or arthritis. It’s great to be able to have input to help doctors understand that we need to be treated as individuals and not like a disease name. Just because I have migraines, does not mean my migraines are the same as someone who just walked out of the exam room with migraines.

Others members on the site have contacted me because I’m on the Team of Advisors, and they’ve seen my picture or seen my name and have said “I’ve seen what you’re all doing, and I went to your page and I see you have some of the same things I do and I found you and I thought you could be a good resource for me.” So sometimes I’ve been able to help out and that has been nice.

Emilie on tracking on PLM
One of the things tracking my health on PatientsLikeMe has helped me recognize is that sometimes I think I’ve been feeling lousy forever — I think that’s easy for people with chronic pain to do — but when I look back at my InstantMe chart, I realize there are more days than I thought where I felt good. It gives me hope that things aren’t bad all of the time and that things can get better. When I go to my doctor and they ask me how things have been, I can tell them that things have been up and down, and sometimes there have been more good days than bad days.

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“The human spirit is more resilient than we think” – PatientsLikeMe member mmsan66 shares her journey with ALS

Posted January 29th, 2015 by

PatientsLikeMe member mmsan66 was diagnosed with ALS back in 2008, but she’s been fortunate to experience an unusually slow progression, which currently affects only her legs. As a college professor, financial planner and ALS advocate, she raises awareness through her work with the Massachusetts Chapter of the ALS Association. She even finds time to visit places like the Grand Canyon, and she shared all about her life in a PatientsLikeMe interview. Read below to learn about her personal journey. 

What was your diagnosis experience like? What were some of your initial symptoms?

I was diagnosed in 2008 at the age of 66 but, looking back, had definitely exhibited symptoms in 2007 or earlier. I had retired a few years prior, after a long career in Human Resource Management that included positions in the fields of health care, the Federal government, higher education (Northeastern University), and high technology (the former Digital Equipment Corporation).  But, rather than slow down and enjoy retirement, I started a second career in tax and financial planning. I became an IRS Enrolled Agent (EA), earned a Certificate in Financial Planning, and obtained my securities and insurance licenses.  I started my own business as a tax and financial advisor (Ames Hill Tax Services) and also began teaching undergraduate courses in Finance, Accounting, and Investments as an Adjunct Instructor at several local colleges and universities.

I definitely noticed a change in 2007, when I experienced a number of falls (for no apparent reason), culminating in a fall while on vacation in Florida in which I fractured my left wrist. Upon returning home, I scheduled appointments with several specialists to have my legs checked out and, after a series of neurological tests, received a diagnosis of ALS at the Lahey Clinic in July of 2008. I wasn’t completely stunned, as I had done a lot of internet research on diseases with symptoms similar to mine, but had gradually eliminated them one-by-one as each test result came back negative. However, like all PALS, I was hoping against hope that my suspicions would prove false. The one thing that kept going through my mind in the days following my diagnosis was that my life—— as I knew it—– would soon be over.

How has your ALS progressed over the past few years? 

In 2009, after learning that the average life span of a PALS was 3-5 years after diagnosis, my husband and I decided to sell our home of 36 years rather than modify it. Fortunately, they were in the process of building a luxury apartment complex on a hill in town, and we were able to move into a brand new handicapped-accessible apartment, complete with roll-in shower, and overlooking a pond complete with wildlife.

By 2010 I was no longer able to walk at all, and had to rely solely on a power/ manual wheelchair, as well as a scooter. Although confined to a wheelchair, I still maintain my active tax practice, preparing individual, corporate, and trust tax returns as well as representing my clients at IRS audits. When I realized it would be too difficult to travel to and from the various campuses at which I taught, I applied and was hired as an online instructor by the University of Phoenix, where I’ve been teaching Personal Financial Planning since 2010. At this point in time, after living with the disease for 8 years, still only my legs are affected. Thankfully, I still maintain my upper body strength, and my ability to speak, swallow, breathe, etc. remains completely normal. Somehow, I can’t help but feel that this slow progression might be due in part to the upbeat, positive outlook I continually strive to maintain, and the fact that I keep very busy with my family, clients, students, attending online CPE seminars (to maintain my professional licenses), and participating in ALS fundraising walks.

We read you like to travel – what are some things you’ve done to make traveling easier?

We’ve done some travelling since I’ve been unable to walk, but nothing extensive in the last couple of years. Our last long-distance trip was to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and several other National Parks such as Bryce and Zion. At the time, however, I was still able to transfer with my arms from my wheelchair into the passenger seat of our van. Now, since my legs are completely useless, a handicapped van is a necessity.  We will be going to Austin, Texas in October for a niece’s wedding. We’ve found travelling is a lot easier if you call ahead to lay everything on with the airlines. Reserving a wheelchair or a power chair at each destination makes things a lot easier. And, it’s of the utmost importance when making hotel reservations to specify a “wheelchair accessible” room, not just one that’s “handicapped accessible” (a motel that has a roll-in shower is the best!).  Also, contacting local ALS organizations in the areas you plan to visit well in advance can be very beneficial. They can direct you to rental agencies or, better yet, lend you the mobility equipment you will need while you’re there.

Can you tell us a little about your work and advocacy with the Massachusetts Chapter of the ALS Association?

A few years ago, I decided to become involved in ALS Advocacy with the Massachusetts Chapter of the ALS Association. I was invited to speak to groups of scientists at Biogen Idec in Cambridge, MA on the topic of living with ALS, and was interviewed by the Boston Globe and WBUR radio when Biogen discontinued the Dexpramipexole trials. I also attended the NEALS Consortium’s first Clinical Research Learning Institute held in Clearwater, FL in October 2011. There I was fortunate to personally meet many fellow PALS from around the US, as well as prominent researchers and clinicians engaged in the fight against ALS. (I also had the pleasure of meeting Emma Willey from PatientsLikeMe.)

In addition, I have spoken to groups at various other fundraising events sponsored by organizations such as ALSA, the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALSTDI), etc. and have represented these organizations at ALS Awareness events at Fenway Park. Because of my visibility as a PALS, I was elected to the Board of Directors of the ALS Association’s Mass chapter, and currently serve in the capacity of Secretary. 

What have you learned about yourself that has surprised you and/or your loved ones? 

I think the first and foremost thing I learned, is that the human spirit is more resilient than we think. I would never have imagined that I could be diagnosed with such a terminal disease, and still continue on with my life as best I could, finding pleasure in simple daily activities. We had travelled extensively around the world in the early years of our 47-year marriage (lived in Hong Kong for 2 years) and planned to travel internationally once again once we retired and our daughter embarked on a career of her own. Now, I appreciate just being able to get into our handicapped van and take local day trips with my husband. Never mind viewing the Taj Mahal by moonlight, now an excursion to the grocery store or taking in a local college hockey game is a welcome diversion and takes some planning.

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“Strength will come, somehow, from somewhere” – PatientsLikeMe member Glow4life shares her journey with lung cancer

Posted January 26th, 2015 by

PatientsLikeMe member Glow4life was diagnosed with lung cancer (adenocarcinoma) this past June, and her story is a testament to never losing hope. She recently shared her experiences in an interview, and she spared no details in describing her challenges. Despite her terminal diagnosis, four rounds of chemotherapy and the sudden loss of her husband, Glow4life has remained positive, and she’s learned to take every day as it comes and live in the moment. Learn about her journey below and how she shares love and hope whenever she can.

How did you react after getting diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013? What was the diagnosis process like?

I had a routine X-ray in February 2013, after attending A & E with chest pains (which turned out to be nothing). A few days later I received a letter asking me to return in 6 weeks for a follow up X-ray, as there was a suspect area, probably scarring from a previous chest infection but best to check. My general practitioner reassured me it was unlikely to be sinister, if cancer was suspected I’d be looked into immediately. I thought no more about it and returned for the repeat X-ray as scheduled. The following day my GP rang me to tell me there was a tumor on my left lung that required further investigation, and gave me the number to ring for a scan, which took place within a couple of weeks. I asked if this was likely to be cancer, and he told me it almost certainly was. The scan did, in fact, reveal a cancerous tumor, and I was referred for a PET scan and bronchoscopy. On the 27th of June, I was seen by the specialist who gave me the news that adenocarcinoma was confirmed, and had spread to the other lung, and right adrenal gland, and was given an appointment with an oncologist, who would assess appropriate chemotherapy. It’s impossible to describe how this feels, but you know that your life has changed forever. I saw the oncologist on the 7th of July and was offered a course of cisplatin/premetrexed, a course of 4 to 6 treatments, every three weeks, in an attempt to shrink the tumors and prolong life.

I was told my prognosis was terminal, and that with successful chemo, 20 percent of patients survive a maximum of 12 months. If we were shocked before, nothing compared with this, it was like being hit by a wrecking ball. I started my chemo on the 23rd of July and had the fourth session in October, which was followed by a CT scan. This showed that the tumors had shrunk and no further chemo was necessary. A maintenance course of premetrexed was available but not recommended, as the chemo had made me very ill. Since then I have been on watch and wait, every three months, last time extended to four. I go for X-ray and blood tests before my appointment with Dr. Brown, my oncologist. My cancer is stable, though not cured, and my general health is good, as is my quality of life. I do tire very quickly, but then I’m getting on a bit!

You’ve received treatment for your tumors – what’s it like being on a “watch and wait” plan?

Being on ‘watch and wait’ is like having the sword of Damocles hanging over your head, you never know when it might drop. But I try not to dwell on that, it would be wasting the extra time I have been given in pointless worry and speculation. I try to forget about it between visits, and for the most part I do, though I must admit to a certain amount of anxiety in the couple of weeks prior to the next appointment.

How has your day-to-day life changed since being diagnosed and treated for lung cancer? 

Well, I thought the worst possible thing had happened to me and things couldn’t possibly get worse. But I was about to find out different. It’s hard for me to answer this objectively, as 3 months after the diagnosis, and while I was in hospital having my 2nd chemo, my husband Tim was found dead at home, having suffered a cerebral occlusion. Tim was 11 years younger than me, and in perfect health, so the shock was profound, for all of us. I passed the next few months in a fog of chemo and grief, it was the hardest time imaginable, but the days passed and I got through it.

My life has changed beyond all description and I can say with all honesty that living without Tim is much harder than living with cancer. Loneliness is my biggest issue now, and wishing he was here to help me through this, which I know he would wish he was here to do. One thing I did learn was that having a terminal illness doesn’t make us closer to death than anyone else, and that life can be taken from any of us, at any time. So it’s important to take each day as it comes, and make each one count. When I die, nothing will be left unsaid, no actions regretted or opportunities missed.

I fear death much less than I did, while still embracing what life is left to me. We all have a time to leave this world and move on to whatever adventure lies beyond, and I know that the time is coming when Tim and I will be reunited in spirit. I will be sad to leave my beautiful family, but happy that I’ve been given this time in which we’ve all been able to prepare, and make the very most of the chance to let them know how much I love them. And we all have to leave sometime!

What have you learned from using the InstantMe feature on PatientsLikeMe?

What I’ve learned from PatientsLikeMe is that I’m not alone in this, so many of us are dealing with similar issues, and that while cancer is different to each individual, what is the same is that most of us are devastated by the effect it has on our loved ones. It’s so hard to see their sorrow, and know you are the cause and can do nothing to stop it. I’ve also learned that many people are much worse off than I am, having succumbed so much faster, while I am still here and comparatively well. Each time I go for a scan/bloods/chemo, or to oncology I see the waiting room full, and think, so many of us, all with similar fears and trepidation of what is coming our way.

We read that your motto is “Never give up, never give in” – along with that, what else would you say to someone who has been recently diagnosed with lung cancer?

What I would say to anyone recently diagnosed is this: You will wonder how you are ever going to find the strength to cope, how do people do it? But be assured that the strength will come, somehow, from somewhere, and you’ll find your way through. Take one day at a time, and make each one count. Prepare for every eventuality, but never lose hope. Follow good advice, not fads. Try not to look too far ahead and live in the day, or even the moment. Don’t think of yourself as dying from cancer, but as living with it. One of Tim’s favorite sayings, when the times were tough, was “Head up, son” I say that to myself every day.

And don’t Google! You’ll frighten yourself with out-of-date misinformation and meaningless statistics. Listen to the experts.

Finally, share love and hope wherever you can, while you can.

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PatientsLikeMe member Tam builds first-ever ‘by patients, for patients’ health measure on the Open Research Exchange

Posted January 21st, 2015 by

Back in March last year, we shared on the blog about a new grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that would help support two patient-led projects on our Open Research Exchange (ORE) , a platform that brings patients and researchers together to develop the most effective tools for measuring disease. We were overwhelmed by the response from the community, and we’re excited to share that one of those projects is very close to being completed.

Tam is living with multiple sclerosis (MS), and she’s been a PatientsLikeMe member for more than 4 years. After her diagnosis and experiences with her doctors not “getting” what pain means to her, Tam decided to create a new tool for anyone who might be experiencing chronic pain. Her idea is to build a measure that can help doctors better understand and communicate with patients about pain.

Watch her video above to learn about her journey and listen to her explain her inspiration behind the new ORE project.

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