“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.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word for MS and chronic pain.


What do you know about cervical cancer?

Posted January 20th, 2015 by

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, but it’s not just a month to learn more about cervical cancer, it’s about learning how to prevent it. Since the 1950s, there’s been in increased effort to raise awareness for prevention screening, and from 1955 to 1992, the cervical cancer incidence and death rates declined by 60 percent.1

But there’s still work to be done, as the NIH estimates that over 12,000 women will still be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2015.1

Our own Priya Raja spoke about cervical cancer awareness on the blog about a year ago, and she stressed the importance of Pap smears and making them available to all women around the world. During January, the awareness focus will be on preventative screening as well as cervical cancer itself, because as Priya said, “being screened just once can reduce the likelihood of having cancer.”

You can learn more by checking out the National Cervical Cancer Coalition’s website and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s infographic on cervical cancer (featured to the right). And if you’ve been recently diagnosed with either HPV or cervical cancer, reach out to others like you in the PatientsLikeMe community.

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1 http://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/viewfactsheet.aspx?csid=76


Seeing [MS]: The invisible symptoms – fatigue

Posted January 15th, 2015 by

“It’s like I’m deflated. I don’t feel like doing anything.”

That’s how Darcy McCann says he feels on most days. He’s a young Australian who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis [MS] at the age of 10, and his most debilitating symptom is fatigue, which comes and goes as a result of his nerves being constantly under siege.

 

You are now seeing fatigue

Photographed by Juliet Taylor
Inspired by Darcy McCann’s invisible symptoms

Darcy worked with award-winning photographer Juliet Taylor to capture how he feels when enduring bouts of fatigue. His 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 members to be highlighted in patient empowerment webinar

Posted January 13th, 2015 by

Many PatientsLikeMe members talk openly about the reasons why they donate their health data and why they believe patient-centered healthcare means better healthcare for all. And just a week from now, two of them will be sharing their stories with everyone in a live webinar.

On Tuesday, January 20th, at 2:00pm EST, the Partnership to Improve Patient Care (PIPC) is hosting their first “Patient Empowerment Webinar,” an online event focusing on the importance of patient engagement in their own healthcare and in health policy. Two PatientsLikeMe members, Ms. Laura Roix and Ms. Letitia Brown-James, will be participating in the discussion, and their experiences will be a part of the webinar. Here’s a little bit about Laura and Letitia, and more ways they’re already empowering others:

Laura is a member of the idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) community on PatientsLikeMe, and she recently traveled to Maryland to speak at the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Patient-Focused Drug Development Public Meeting on IPF.  Laura went with our very own Sally Okun RN, VP of Advocacy, Policy and Patient Safety and spoke about her journey and what it’s like to live with IPF. (She recapped her experiences in an October blog interview.) But that’s not all Laura shares – she’s a 3-star member on PatientsLikeMe, which means she is a super health data donor and always keeps her information up to date so others can learn from her.

Letitia has been living with epilepsy since she was little, but after connecting with the PatientsLikeMe epilepsy community she learned about new treatment options available to her, like surgery. She shared about her experiences in a video, and after receiving her surgery, she’s been living seizure-free for years. Letitia is also a part of the first-ever PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors, a patient-only panel that gives feedback on research initiatives and creates new standards to help all researchers understand how to better engage patients.

The PIPC webinar is open to everyone, so if you’d like to join, please RSVP to the event coordinator via email. Hope to see you there!

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word for IPF, epilepsy and patient-centered healthcare.


The Patient Voice- MS member Jackie shares her story

Posted January 12th, 2015 by

 

When Jackie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis after a long, exhausting process, she struggled with a fear of the unknown and had no idea what she would be facing. But then she connected with the thousands of MS members on PatientsLikeMe. Jackie shared with the community about how she felt her current medication was making matters worse instead of better, and others responded with how they had the same experience. They told her about a new medication that seemed to be working for some of them. Jackie’s doctor prescribed it after she mentioned what others had shared, and she’s been having good luck with it ever since. Watch the video to see more of her journey.

 

 

Share this post on Twitter and help spread data for good. And don’t forget to check out previous data for good member videos.


“I continue to be inspired by those who share this fight with me” – PatientsLikeMe member Doug shares his journey with HP

Posted January 9th, 2015 by

Meet Doug. He’s part of the pulmonary fibrosis (PF) community on PatientsLikeMe and is living with a condition specifically known as chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP). It’s similar to other types of PF, but also has its differences. We caught up with Doug for an interview to help spread the knowledge about these two conditions, but learned so much more. He shared what it’s like to live with HP, how he uses PatientsLikeMe to learn more about his own health and how the community has helped him to stay inspired in his fight.

Can you share a bit about your chronic HP? Can you explain to our blog followers how it’s different than IPF?

I believe the major difference is that with hypersensitivity pneumonitis there is a cause. If I’m correct there are three forms: acute, subacute and chronic. All are caused by exposure to an antigen that may or may not be identified. In my case, I have chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP). My specialists have determined that it’s not necessary to identify the antigen since my condition is chronic and cannot be reversed.1

What was your diagnosis process like, and how was it different than what you’ve heard about getting diagnosed with IPF?

Of course I can’t compare how it ”feels” to have HP vs. IPF, and I’m no expert, but I will give you my version of the difference between HP and IPF. First, both are forms of pulmonary fibrosis. With HP, the fibrosis forms primarily higher up in the lungs, and IPF forms in the lower part of the lungs. Air trapping occurs in cHP but not in IPF. I have no idea how this impacts me as a patient, but I’ve included a comparison from Dr. Jeff Swigris.

Apparently another difference is that HP fibrosis is caused by inflammation, whereas IPF is caused by different forms of pro-fibrotic influences. Generally speaking, specialists recommend an anti-inflammatory drug (prednisone) and/or an immunosuppressive such as azathioprine, mycophenolate, cyclosporine, or cyclophosophamide. In my case, my doctor and I agreed on a course of mycophenolate. Initially, it had significant side effects, such as severe fatigue, poor sleep, weight gain and depression. I switched to Myfortic, which is a different brand of mycophenolate, and now the side effects are minimal. I have much more drive and I feel much better! It’s still too early to tell if it will help. My concern is that my pulmonary function test (PFT) results have dropped in the last four months, so I’m concerned that I’m deteriorating. At the moment, I function almost normally. I have a walking routine that includes a 7.5 K walk, which I can complete in an hour. I now require supplemental oxygen for long flights, but I still consider myself lucky!2

You frequently use the InstantMe and Quality of Life tools on PatientsLikeMe – why do you like to use these to donate your data?

I find it’s good to have a record of your health pattern. This can include how you feel daily as well as a record of the medications I’m on. I print out portions of this for my doctors’ appointments and it helps me be well prepared.

How have others in the HP and IPF communities on PatientsLikeMe helped support you on your journey?

My biggest concern is that HP is the “poor cousin” in the PF family! There are very few of us online and therefore it’s difficult to learn as much as I’d like to! Nevertheless, I have learned a lot about shared aspects of PF such as patient care, oxygen therapy and lifestyle issues. I continue to be inspired by those who share this fight with me and I’m always grateful when I’m able to learn something that will help me.

I’ve always told my wife I plan to die of old age! One of my strengths is that I have a great attitude. Participating in platforms like PatientsLikeMe helps me not only learn more, but it fortifies my attitude!

Many people may not know about rare conditions like HP and IPF. If there was one thing you thought someone who doesn’t have a clue should know about HP, what would it be?

That’s a tough question because there is so much more I need to learn before I feel I can address this question. I suppose the key with HP is that if you have developed acute or subacute forms of the disease you may be able to arrest the fibrosis before it progresses too far.

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1 http://nationaljewish.org/Participation-Program-for-Pulmonary-Fibrosis/Community/Blog/Participation-Program-for-Pulmonary-Fibrosis/November-2013/What-is-Chronic-Hypersensitivity-Pneumonitis

2 http://nationaljewish.org/Participation-Program-for-Pulmonary-Fibrosis/Community/Blog/Participation-Program-for-Pulmonary-Fibrosis/November-2013/Some-of-the-nuance-about-cHP


Open funding for open science to accelerate ALS research: An interview with Prize4Life CEO Shay Rishoni

Posted January 6th, 2015 by

Just about a year ago, we teamed up with Sage Bionetworks and TED Fellow Dr. Max Little for an ongoing Parkinson’s disease (PD) project called the Patient Voice Analysis (PVA).

 

The big idea: combine data from two sources – phone-based voice recordings and patient reported data from PatientsLikeMe’s Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (PDRS). Then, make the de-identified data sets available to the broader research community on Sage Bionetworks’ cloud-based computational research platform (http://www.synapse.org) to develop new tools to track PD disease progression.

We were overwhelmed by the response from the PatientsLikeMe PD community. More than 650 members provided 851 voice samples, and 779 of those were matched to the PDRS symptom data entered.

 

What’s next for open science?

Sage Bionetworks is working with the distributed DREAM community and ALS non-profit Prize4Life on another open science challenge alongside called the ALS Stratification DREAM Challenge. How does it all fit together?

The “Fund the Prize” campaign is the first of its kind effort to make the path for accelerating drug development completely open – the patient data is open access, the research is open, global and collaborative, and the funding is crowd-based.

The ALS Stratification Challenge, opening in Spring 2015, will be a worldwide cloud-based competition designed to spur the development of quantitative solutions that can identify which ALS patients’ disease will progress rapidly and which will progress more slowly. Prize4Life provides the largest ALS clinical trials database in the world. Sage Bionetworks and DREAM have created a synergistic competition concept and cloud-based computing platform that includes forums, webinars and a “leaderboard” that shows whose model is working best.

The individual or team with the best solution wins the prize – a $37,000 donation that the Challenge is asking everyone to help raise through the INDIEGOGO “Fund The Prize” campaign. The prize will help incentivize innovators from around the world to take part, and 100% of every donation goes towards the prize.

Helping spread the word

Prize4Life CEO Shay Rishoni is a 48 year-old dad of two boys and was an Ironman triathlete before being diagnosed with ALS in August 2011. Within three months he saw his ability to use his arms weaken considerably while no other body parts were affected. Less than two years later he was completely paralyzed and breathing with a ventilator. We caught up with him to help spread the word and learn more about the Challenge, why he thinks the prize is so important and why he works so hard.

Can you tell us a little about your own journey with ALS?

I was diagnosed with ALS 3.5 years ago, when I was 45 years old, a CEO of a company, an Ironman, a pilot, a military colonel (in res.) and a family man with two young sons. Given all of that, receiving a diagnosis of ALS was of course not what I had planned! But I knew that like everything else in life, I will make sure to stay true to myself and my values nonetheless- to stay positive, active and entrepreneurial. That meant in my public life to fight for the development of treatments- and a cure!- for ALS, for current patients like me, but mostly for future patients. In my private life, as a husband, as a friend and as a father to fight to feel and know that Life is Good, and winning is a way of life. Although by now I am fully paralyzed, I believe that as long as I dream up plans and then work to make them happen, I am invincible.

You can see more of me explaining it in this video of my TED talk.

How did you become involved with Prize4Life and the ALS Stratification Dream Challenge?

I first learned about Prize4Life from its founder, Avi Kremer, who is also an ALS patient. Avi was diagnosed with ALS 10 years ago, as a 29 years old Harvard Business school student striving to make finding a cure for ALS a viable business. He was the recipient of the 2011 Israeli Prime minister award for innovation and entrepreneurship in the non-profit sector. I was inspired by his strength, courage and sophistication, and with Prize4Life model and important work and I knew that this is a framework with which I will do important meaningful things for ALS research, and I become the CEO in 2013.

One such important thing is the ALS Stratification Dream challenge. I think it’s a unique and highly innovative initiative. From a patient perspective it addresses a critical question- How can patients with a rare disease create meaningful solutions for their own illness? And the answer is by engaging as many stakeholders as possible. The “Fund the Prize” campaign is the first of its kind effort to make the path for accelerating drug development completely open- the patient data is open access, the research is open, global and collaborative, and the funding is crowd-based. It builds on Prize4Life’s database of ALS patients- the largest ALS clinical trials database in the world. Sage Bionetworks and DREAM, our collaborators, have created a synergistic competition concept and cloud-based computing platform to allow a planetary republic to use the data. Together we will get computational solutions that will tell us why patients are so diverse- from Lou Gehrig’s succumbing to the disease within two years to Stephen Hawking’s 50 years odyssey with ALS. The Challenge, opening in Spring, 2015, will be a worldwide cloud-based competition designed to spur the development of computer algorithms that effectively predict which ALS patients will experience rapid disease progression and which patients will live longer.

Why do you think the prize model is so important?

Prize4Life’s prize model is inspired by similar programs such as X-prize for space travel, demonstrated to foster meaningful research. These programs allow bringing awareness and new minds into a field and generate measurable results for well-defined goals. Prize4Life wants to bring all these benefits to ALS- awareness, new minds and measurable, highly needed, results.

Prize4Life aspires to span broad fields of innovation for their importance for ALS: we gave a $1M prize for a medical device that serves as a biomarker for ALS, another prize for developing algorithms that can predict disease progression and we are running a prize for a druggable cure. We believe that biologists, chemists, engineers, clinicians, software developers and all citizen scientists can bring a meaningful change in ALS.

Prize4Life and DREAM have already demonstrated the power of open Challenges to advance ALS disease research. The first ALS Challenge, conducted in 2012 when Prize4Life’s open ALS patient database contained data from about 1,000 patients, leveraged insights from over 1,000 solvers from 63 countries to identify novel methods that have the potential to reduce the costs of ALS drug development by millions of dollars. The winning approaches are now being used in the development of several ALS treatments, and are described in a recent article in Nature Biotechnology (here is coverage by Science news).

Why do you work so hard?

Because I have a lot to accomplish. (“If not me than who? If not now than when?”) ALS is still an orphan disease, still is relatively unknown, and we still see tremendous potential to realize- computer scientists can create solutions for better treatments and care, engineers can create better assistive technology, biologists can create better drugs… I believe everyone can be part of the victory over ALS.

What’s one thing about ALS that you think everyone should know?

That we, the ALS patients, even when we can no longer speak, still have a voice. That we still have big dreams and still work to make them happen, and if enough people will work together, we will win the fight over ALS.

…and that ALS patients can love and be loved.

How do you see open science evolving in the future?

I think open science will only become more important in fostering innovative research ideas from diverse communities. It will allow everyone to be part of the solutions, and that means many more solutions!

Where can someone make a donation to help fund the prize?

“Fund the Prize- Solving ALS Together” is a crowdfunding campaign (running now on Indiegogo.com) and intended to provide the prize money for the Challenge and thereby to bring together renowned scientists worldwide and drive innovation. The crowdfunding will run until January 22, 2015.

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2014 recap – part II

Posted December 30th, 2014 by

2014 was full of new partnerships, research initiatives and PatientsLikeMe milestones (we just celebrated our 10th anniversary last week!), and in 2015 we’ll continue to put the patient first in everything we do.

At PatientsLikeMe
Everything we do starts with the community that shares their health data and experiences, which enables innovation and change in healthcare, for good. Here’s just some of what everyone helped accomplish in 2014:

  • We formed our first-ever, patient-only Team of Advisors to give feedback on research initiatives and create new standards that will help all researchers understand how to better engage with patients.
  • Three new advisors were named to the Scientific Advisory Board for the Open Research Exchange (ORE), a platform where researchers design, test and share new measures for diseases and health issues. The board was formed in 2013 to lend scientific, academic, industry, and patient expertise to ORE
  • The community celebrated the sixth anniversary of PatientsLikeMeInMotion™.
  • We worked with Tam, a PatientsLikeMe MS member, to develop the first-ever patient led health measure for chronic pain on the Open Research Exchange. She’s going to start testing the measure in January and it will be available in the ORE library in 2015.
  • Data for Good launched in March topromote the value of sharing health information to advance research and underscore the power of donating health data to improve one’s own condition.
  • We followed that up with 24 Days of Giving in November, a month-long campaign to encourage patients to rethink how they donate health data. Garth Callaghan, a PatientsLikeMe member, kidney cancer fighter and author of Napkin Notes, shared his inspiration along the way.

Partnerships
We’re partnering up with even more people who believe in patient-centered healthcare.Here are some of the new friends we met in 2014 and are excited to be working with:

  • One Mind to help the millions of people worldwide who are experiencing post-traumatic stress (PTS) or traumatic brain injury (TBI), or both.
  • Actelion to create a new patient-reported outcomes tool for the rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma called MF-CTCL.
  • Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Eastern Regional Medical Center (Eastern) to help ease patients’ transitions from cancer treatment to survivorship.
  • LUNGevity Foundation, to help people diagnosed with lung cancer. LUNGevity will become the first nonprofit to integrate and display dynamic data from PatientsLikeMe on its own website.
  • USF Health to improve health outcomes for multiple myeloma patients. The partnership is PatientsLikeMe’s first with an academic health center.
  • Scwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare to better understand patients’ perceptions of compassionate care and strengthen the relationship between patients and their healthcare providers.
  • Sage Bionetworks on a new crowdsourced study to develop voice analysis tools that both researchers and people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) can use to track PD disease progression.
  • Genentech (a member of the Roche Group) to explore use of PatientsLikeMe’s Global Network Access, a new service for pharmaceutical companies that delivers a range of data, research and tools to help researchers develop innovative ways of researching patients’ real-world experience with disease and treatment.

Out of the office
We’re always looking for ways to get out into the community and get involved out of the office, whether speaking to the FDA or simply helping out at a volunteer event. Here’s some of where we were in in 2014:

In the news
And here are some of the highlights from PatientsLikeMe in the media in 2014:

For more PatientsLikeMe media coverage, visit our Newsroom.

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“…about 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day…” – An interview with Dr. Sarika Aggarwal

Posted December 29th, 2014 by

Sarika Aggarwal, M.D. is Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Fallon Health, and it’s her job to make sure all plan members get appropriate, effective and high-quality care. We caught up with Dr. Aggarwal for an interview, and she talks about how she came to spend the last 26 years practicing medicine in Massachusetts, what the new partnership between Fallon Health and PatientsLikeMe means for members, and a bit about her work—especially her focus on helping seniors stay and get care in their own homes whenever possible.

A bit of background: Dr. Aggarwal graduated from Grant Medical College at Bombay University and then completed her residency at UMass Memorial in Worcester, Massachusetts. Before joining Fallon Health in 2012 as Vice President of NaviCare Clinical Programs, Dr. Aggarwal was Medical Director in the Office of Clinical Integration at UMass Memorial Medical Care and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at UMass Medical School.

Dr. Aggarwal, we know a little bit about your background in India. What made you decide to come to the United States?

My husband had been studying in the U.S. for about six years and went back to India to visit his parents. [That’s when we met, and] … I came to the United States three days after we got married. I finished my fourth year medical school clerkships here before starting my residency program.

What drew you to Fallon Health? How have things been going since you took over the role of Chief Medical Officer?

I was Medical Director of Clinical Integration of an academic health system on the provider side during my last job. I realized with the advent of the accountable care organizations (ACOs) that the providers needed to learn to manage risk and develop health plan capabilities, such as utilization management and population health management capabilities—things that the health plans had mastered for many years.

As Medical Director, I was working closely with Fallon on one of its programs for seniors called NaviCare. When I learned of a position to lead the program, it was the opportunity I was waiting for.

The role of Chief Medical Officer has been challenging but exhilarating. It is a work in progress, building new programs to improve member heath, looking for opportunities to reduce waste in the system, and building a culture of continuous process improvement.

How are you bringing your experience with nursing home alternatives for seniors to your new role?

NaviCare was a good training ground for learning about taking care of seniors with multiple chronic diseases. Since about 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day, and a large number of them have more than one chronic disease, we spend a lot of time working on ways to give this population the best care, in the right place, at the right time. A lot of my work in NaviCare involved transition of care models to keep the patients independent at home, and out of the hospitals and nursing homes. We are now using some of these successful care management best practices with our other populations.

What’s your favorite success story during your time at Fallon?

In 2013 we started a pilot with a government provider-payer program. This program involves helping the providers with care coordination for the members we share together, efficient sharing of data and successful embedding of case managers and navigators in the provider sites. We have grown membership in this program, and our care team now participates in the provider team office meetings. We have had a lot of member success stories in this program, which shows what collaboration between the different healthcare entities can achieve.

We’re very excited to be partnering with you and bringing PatientsLikeMe to Fallon members as a free online resource. How do you think your members will benefit from an online community and health-tracking site like PatientsLikeMe?

I think when patients are diagnosed with a new medical condition, whether it is rare or common, they need more than clinical care from their provider. In this complex medical environment, they need support and knowledge from a reliable source. PatientsLikeMe is a great tool that can provide a family of support beyond your own family – a family of support that “gets it.”

Even as a provider, it is hard for me to completely understand all the ramifications of an illness in a patient’s life, since I myself do not live with this illness. PatientsLikeMe is a group of people, a forum where you can meet people to talk to, who understand you and who are just like you. In addition, you can track your progress and learn more about your condition from a reliable source, all in partnership with your providers. It is a win-win situation for all in the healthcare system.


2014 recap – a year of sharing in the PatientsLikeMe community

Posted December 23rd, 2014 by

Another year has come and gone here at PatientsLikeMe, and as we started to look back at who’s shared their experiences, we were quite simply amazed. More than 30 members living with 9 different conditions opened up for a blog interview in 2014. But that’s just the start. Others have shared about their health journeys in short videos and even posted about their favorite food recipes.

A heartfelt thanks to everyone who shared their experiences this year – the PatientsLikeMe community is continuing to change healthcare for good, and together, we can help each other live better as we move into 2015.

Team of Advisors
In September, we announced the first-ever PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors, a group of 14 members that will work with us this year on research-related initiatives. They’ve been giving regular feedback about how PatientsLikeMe research can be even more helpful, including creating a “guide” that highlights new standards for researchers to better engage with patients. We introduced everyone to three so far, and look forward to highlighting the rest of team in 2015.

  • Meet Becky – Becky is a former family nurse practitioner, and she’s a medically retired flight nurse who is living with epilepsy and three years out of treatment for breast cancer.
  • Meet Lisa – Lisa was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in 2008, and just recently stopped working as a full-time executive due to non-motor PD symptoms like loss of function, mental fatigue and daytime insomnolence. Her daughter was just married in June.
  • Meet Dana – Dana is a poet and screenplay writer living in New Jersey and a very active member of the mental health and behavior forum. She’s living with bipolar II, and she’s very passionate about fighting the stigma of mental illness.

The Patient Voice
Five members shared about their health journeys in short video vignettes.

  • Garth – After Garth was diagnosed with cancer, he made a promise to his daughter Emma: he would write 826 napkin notes so she had one each day in her lunch until she graduated high school.
  • Letitia – has been experiencing seizures since she was ten years old, and she turned to others living with epilepsy on PatientsLikeMe.
  • Bryan – Bryan passed away earlier in 2014, but his memory lives on through the data he shared about idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He was also an inaugural member of the Team of Advisors.
  • Becca – Becca shared her experiences with fibromyalgia and how she appreciates her support on PatientsLikeMe.
  • Ed – Ed spoke about his experiences with Parkinson’s disease and why he thinks it’s all a group effort.

Patient interviews
More than 30 members living with 9 different conditions shared their stories in blog interviews.

Members living with PTSD:

  • David Jurado spoke in a Veteran’s podcast about returning home and life after serving
  • Lucas shared about recurring nightmares, insomnia and quitting alcohol
  • Jess talked about living with TBI and her invisible symptoms
  • Jennifer shared about coping with triggers and leaning on her PatientsLikeMe community

Member living with Bipolar:

  • Eleanor wrote a three-part series about her life with Bipolar II – part 1, part 2, part 3

Members living with MS:

  • Fred takes you on a visual journey through his daily life with MS
  • Anna shared about the benefits of a motorized scooter, and a personal poem
  • Ajcoia, Special1, and CKBeagle shared how they raise awareness through PatientsLikeMeInMotion™
  • Nola and Gary spoke in a Podcast on how a PatientsLikeMe connection led to a new bathroom
  • Tam takes you into a day with the private, invisible pain of MS
  • Debbie shared what it’s like to be a mom and blogger living with MS
  • Shep spoke about keeping his sense of humor through his journey with MS
  • Kim shared about her fundraising efforts through PatientsLikeMeInMotion™
  • Jazz1982 shared how she eliminates the stigma surrounding MS
  • Starla talked about MS awareness and the simple pleasure of riding a motorcycle

Members living with Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis:

Members living with Parkinson’s disease:

  • Dropsies shared about her frustrating Parkinson’s diagnosis experience and how diabetes might impact her future eating habits

Members living with ALS:

  • Steve shared the story behind his film, “My Motor Neuron Disease Made Easier”
  • Steven shared how technology allows him to participate in many events
  • Steve shared about creating the Steve Saling ALS residence and dealing with paramedics
  • Steve told why he participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge
  • Dee revealed her tough decision to insert a feeding tube
  • John shared about his cross-country road trip with his dog, Molly

Members living with lung cancer:

  • Vickie shared about her reaction to getting diagnosed, the anxiety-filled months leading up to surgery and what recovery was like post-operation
  • Phil shared the reaction she had after her blunt diagnosis, her treatment options and her son’s new tattoo

Members living with multiple myeloma:

  • AbeSapien shared about his diagnosis experience with myeloma, the economic effects of his condition and his passion for horseback riding

Caregiver for a son living with AKU:

  • Alycia and Nate shared Alycia’s role and philosophy as caregiver to young Nate, who is living with AKU

Food for Thought
Many members shared their recipes and diet-related advice on the forums in 2014.

  • April – first edition, and what you’re making for dinner
  • May – nutrition questions and the primal blueprint
  • June – getting sleepy after steak and managing diet
  • July – chocolate edition
  • August – losing weight and subbing carbs
  • September – fall weather and autumn recipes
  • Dropsies – shared her special diabetes recipes for Diabetes Awareness Month

Patients as Partners
More than 6,000 members answered questions about their health and gave feedback on the PatientsLikeMe Open Research Exchange (ORE) platform. ORE gives patients the chance to not only check an answer box, but also share their opinion about each question in a researcher’s health measure. It’s all about collaborating with patients as partners to create the most effective tools for measuring disease.

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The Patient Voice: Garth shares his cancer story for 24 Days of Giving

Posted December 12th, 2014 by

After Garth was diagnosed with cancer, he made a promise to his daughter Emma: he would write 826 napkin notes so she had one each day in her lunch until she graduated high school.

“In the beginning they never had a deep meaning. They were generally just notes of reminders. ‘I love you’ or ‘Have a good day.’ The notes took on a little different of a meaning after I was diagnosed with cancer. I recognized that I was looking at my legacy.”

Garth’s napkins are his personal legacy, but he also has a medical legacy – the health data he donates on PatientsLikeMe. This month, join Garth in 24 Days of Giving, a campaign centered around patients, driving medicine forward and making good things happen, together. Every piece of health data that is shared will contribute towards a $20,000 donation to Make-A-Wish® Massachusetts and Rhode Island to help fund life-affirming wishes for seriously ill children.

If you’re already a member, add your data to 24 Days of Giving. If not, join PatientsLikeMe and see how your data can make a difference.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread data for good. And don’t forget to check out previous data for good member videos.


PatientsLikeMe and the Schwartz Center join forces to better understand patients’ perceptions of compassionate care

Posted December 9th, 2014 by

                            

Collaborators Commit to Sharing Information and Educating Patients

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—December 9, 2014—PatientsLikeMe and the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare today announced that they will work together to better understand patients’ perceptions of compassionate care. The collaboration’s goal is to strengthen the relationship between patients and their healthcare providers, which has been associated with better health outcomes, lower costs and increased satisfaction.

Among their work together, the two organizations will survey PatientsLikeMe members to gather their feedback on a proposed Schwartz Center Compassionate Care Scale™, which the Center hopes healthcare organizations will use to measure and reward the compassionate care doctors, nurses and other caregivers provide to patients and families. They will also jointly develop and distribute content to educate patients about compassionate care and what patients can do to elicit compassion from their caregivers.

“Our research shows that while patients believe compassionate care is critically important to successful medical treatment and can even make a life-or-death difference, only about half of patients believe the U.S. healthcare system is a compassionate one,” said Julie Rosen, executive director of the Schwartz Center. “As in other areas of healthcare, we believe measurement can play an important role in improving patients’ care experiences, and we are thrilled to have a collaborator that can help us ensure that we’re measuring what is most important to patients in language they can understand.”

The Schwartz Center has been working on a multi-question scale that rates patients’ perceptions of the compassionate care they receive from clinicians and other caregivers. To further this work, the collaborators will elicit feedback from patients on how relevant this scale is to their experiences by utilizing the Open Research Exchange (ORE), a PatientsLikeMe platform where researchers design, test and share new measures for diseases and health issues.

“What the Schwartz Center is doing to better measure compassionate care is so inspiring,” said Michael Evers, executive vice president of marketing and patient advocacy at PatientsLikeMe. “This is the type of work that ORE is uniquely positioned to support, and this topic is definitely one about which people using our site will have great perspective.”

Added Rosen, “Our goal is to make compassionate care a healthcare priority and a public expectation. Ultimately, we would like to be able to correlate the compassionate care patients receive with the health outcomes they experience. This is the first step in getting us there.”

About the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Care
The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare is a patient-founded nonprofit dedicated to nurturing patient and caregiver relationships to strengthen the human connection at the heart of healthcare. Research shows that when caregivers are compassionate, patients do better and are more satisfied, and caregivers find greater meaning in their work and experience less stress and burnout. The Center believes that a strong patient-caregiver relationship characterized by effective communication and emotional support, mutual trust and respect, and the involvement of patients and families in healthcare decisions is fundamental to high-quality healthcare. Visit us at www.theschwartzcenter.org or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

About PatientsLikeMe
PatientsLikeMe® 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.

Contacts
Amanda Dalia
adalia@theschwartzcenter.org
617-724-6763

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


Seeing [MS]: The invisible symptoms – dizziness

Posted December 8th, 2014 by

Lyn Petruccelli is living with multiple sclerosis, and she fights random waves of vertigo and dizziness that can strike her at any moment. Sometimes, the feelings are so strong, she can’t even get out of bed. As Lyn says, “I can’t see it coming, and that makes it hard to fight.”1

 

You are now seeing dizziness

Photographed by Louis Petruccelli
Inspired by Lyn Petruccelli’s invisible symptoms

Lyn’s husband Louis is an accomplished photographer, and they worked together to visually portray what it’s like to live with the possibility of dizziness every day. Their photograph is 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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1 http://www.seeingms.com.au/ms-stories