11 posts from January, 2016

“I had no idea that my thyroid controls so much” — PatientsLikeMe member Barbara shares her experience for Thyroid Awareness Month

Posted January 29th, 2016 by

January is Thyroid Awareness Month. So, how much do you know about the small, butterfly-shaped gland that influences the way your heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin function? To help spread #thyroidawareness, we asked member Barbara to tell us about living with thyroid cancer and hypothyroidism, a condition that affects over 6,000 PatientsLikeMe members.

Barbara shares how her thyroid issues have taken an emotional toll on her, as well as some advice on being your own advocate: “Fight for your right to feel normal again.”

Tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies and passions?

I really love photography and a new passion is gemstones. I have been taking photos since I was a kid.  I love landscapes and different and interesting people. I still have several film cameras but I love the freedom of digital. I enjoy video and web design as well. I have gotten the opportunity to study gemstones and it has opened up a big new world. I am currently studying how to identify gemstones. It is like being a detective.  There are so many different types. Learning their origins has been fascinating. I also love watching Kung Fu movies with my husband.

When you were diagnosed, what went through your mind?

Barbara took this picture on her trip to Holland.

My diagnosis was a little odd.

I went in for a regular Pap appointment and the doctor felt my glands and made an offhand remark, “Oh, you’ve had that checked,” and then continued on. I sat there stunned. I did not like this doctor so I didn’t say anything about it. When I got home I immediately called and scheduled a physical. It was during the physical that they examined the lump on my thyroid. They sent me to an endocrinologist who did a biopsy after joking that he could do it blindfolded. I did not like that doctor either. The results were abnormal but inconclusive. I was told that I needed surgery and that there was only a 20% chance it was cancer and a 20% chance that I would need thyroid medication.

I thought that I might die. I know that was an overreaction but I was scared.

I didn’t get a real diagnosis until after the surgery.  It was cancer, and within two weeks I knew I needed medication even though I still have half my thyroid.

How has your life changed after having thyroid surgery?  

I have become intimately familiar with exhaustion. I was told by doctors and friends and co-workers that managing my thyroid would be no big deal. Only one person gave me a real glimpse of what was to come. That was a professor that had a friend with extreme exhaustion due to his thyroid issues.

I have been tired, exhausted, angry, unreasonable, irrational and a nightmare to live with. The worst was the first year but it took many years before I started to feel close to normal again. The surgery was nothing compared to my symptoms afterwards especially since I didn’t have any to start with. They have no idea why I got cancer. There is some in my family and I have been told that there can be a link with melanoma, which does run in the family. That is something I am still learning about.

I can empathize much more with people dealing with mental illness because looking back it seems like I was crazy. I know I was not in my right mind.

Barbara took this picture on a trip to Holland.

I have learned to be very sensitive to my emotions.  If I realize that I am not feeling “right,” then I can take precautions. If it is a really bad day I may call in sick to work because it can affect my job performance. I seem to be more prone to migraines when I am off. It can be really hard to tell if I am hypo- or hyper- from my medication. The symptoms can overlap or be very similar. I have charted all of my lab results and read a lot of different research so that I can be my own best advocate. Learning more and paying close attention along with an alarm set for my medication helps a lot. I never ever miss a dose. Depending on my blood work I may adjust my dose by half a pill a week or every other week. I have found that I am very sensitive to dosages. I miss Levothroid — it worked better than the Levothroxine I take now.

In honor of Thyroid Awareness Month, what’s one thing you think people should know about living with and recovering from thyroid cancer?

There are many different ways each person may be affected. If they push you away, please be patient. I did not realize how horrible I was until I came out of the fog. I didn’t feel that sick at the time but looking back, wow. There is help; once I switched doctors the new one listened a lot closer to what I told him and he believed me. Fight for your right to feel normal again. I had no idea that my thyroid controls so much.

In your profile, you mention your doctor: “He doesn’t seem to really understand what I am feeling because by now I should be ‘fine.’” How have you dealt with this? Do you have any advice for someone in a similar situation?

Doctors have been frustrating at times. I have tried to restate things in a different way and if that didn’t work I would request a different doctor. I have also seen a chiropractor that does muscle testing and she helped me a lot even though it seemed an odd way to see what could help. We found that a vitamin and mineral supplements helps me a lot.  We went through a few other supplements to get here but I felt better with each step and she was excited to see me improve. She started with a supplement that helped my liver. I would think that everyone may be a little different. She said that I improved about twice as fast as she thought I would so we were both very happy with the results. Now I have the energy to go out and take some photos.

What has it been like connecting with other PatientsLikeMe members with your condition?

It has been very helpful to see what other people try and what they feel works for them.  It has given me hope. I love the thought of all of our data helping others so they will have a faster, easier time with whatever their ailment is. If I don’t feel well I can see that someone else is doing much worse so I better be happy for what I do have.

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Food for thought: healthy eating in 2016

Posted January 27th, 2016 by

A lot of people talk about smartening up their diets at the start of a new year. Over the past month, many PatientsLikeMe members have shared eating habits they’re going to keep and the new ones they’d like to start in 2016 — everything from cutting down on salt to going vegan. Take a look at what some people said below:

“I’m not changing my eating patterns. I eat anything I want, just in moderation. I shy away from processed food, limit my salt intake and eat lots of fruits and vegies. I try and snack healthy, although this is hard.”

-MS member  

“I am going to be taking a complete overall look at my diet, as I don’t look after myself anymore, and I am going to try and get back on track!”

-Fibromyalgia member

“My diet excludes all animal products. That means no dairy, no eggs, and no meat or fish. I eat a wide variety of grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit. I avoid processed sugars and use coconut sugar or agave, for example. I made these changes approximately three years ago. I am healthier because of my vegan diet.”

-Major Depressive Disorder member

“I’ve been gluten free since Sept. 2015. I have felt better. I have also added gradually, vitamins and supplements. The most important one being D3. I now am day 3 of 5000iu D3 daily. I also take Omega 3/fish oil daily. Added calcium, C Complex, magnesium, Acetyl L Carnitine, CoQ-10, and B, Glucosamine & Chondroitin. I’m better than I was, more energy, less pain, and IBS is way better. I’m saying this works for me. Consult your doctor before going this route. Looking forward to my best year in a very long time.”

-Fibromyalgia member 

“Since I found out I have MS and cut down on inflammation, I eat very little red meat and pork. Have also cut down on processed food and salt. Feeling better!”

-MS member

Do you have any goals for eating healthy in 2016? Share them with the community!

If you missed our other Food for Thought posts, check out the previous editions here.

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CHSG founder Chris Hannah shares how he tracks cluster headaches on PatientsLikeMe

Posted January 25th, 2016 by

In an interview last June, Chris Hannah, the founder of Cluster Headache Support Group (CHSG), discussed his experience with and thoughts on cluster headaches, clinical trials and more. We recently caught up with Chris to learn how he uses PatientsLikeMe to manage his condition, and the advice he gives to others living with cluster headaches.

1. Chris – we’re so happy to have you as a member of the PatientsLikeMe community. How did you first hear about PatientsLikeMe, and what prompted you to join?

One of our board members, Anita, actually met a PatientsLikeMe representative at a pharma event in Philadelphia. At the time, we were working on a collaborative effort to establish a new patient registry for Cluster Headaches. Frankly, we try to avoid involvement in product development and especially support as that is not our primary function as a non-profit patient-centered organization. Anita raised PatientsLikeMe as a possible better path for that purpose and also for ongoing data collection which was another key objective for us. We set up a meeting right away and found immediately a willingness to work together utilizing the great platform PatientsLikeMe had already developed. The fit was not 100%, but it was close enough and we have been able to easily work around any gaps that did not fit our original requirements. The PatientsLikeMe team has been awesome! We meet regularly and it has become a truly collaborative partnership. We are meeting our needs without the pain of software development and maintenance, and in fact, enjoy the benefits of having an excellent partner in the industry. The PatientsLikeMe platform is robust, flexible, and well-supported. It was a great directional change for CHSG.

2. You’ve told us you use PatientsLikeMe to track your cluster headaches. Can you tell us more about how the site helps you manage your condition?

When we first looked at PatientsLikeMe for managing cluster headaches, it seemed to not match some of the ways we track headaches, such as multiple headache types with multiple incidences per day to track, both good and bad. There is a daily reminder asking how you feel today, and that was a huge benefit…a daily reminder to log our headaches. However, daily is just not frequent enough. Many said it won’t work for headache tracking at first, but what we realized pretty quickly is that there is no limit on the number of entries that can be made in a day. Simply by using the PatientsLikeMe tool, we could quickly – with one or two clicks – log every single incident and also track when we were feeling better. Both are important. We did a test with a small group of cluster headache sufferers to try it out. What they all found was that it worked very well to log each and every headache, pain free times, and even medications taken. The graphs were very telling and some even began to see specific patterns in their day they were not previously aware of. It helped them to adjust their medication timing and actually improve their overall condition.

3. How does the Doctor Visit Sheet (DVS) help keep your doctor up-to-date with what’s been happening in between your visits?

The Doctor Visit Sheet has proven to be a highly valuable tool and is very well received by neurologists at what are typically infrequent visits. They can see the entire history over the prior months including pain tracking, symptom changes, medications, etc. This is a critical component in ongoing treatment plan adjustment for cluster headache and migraine which still do not have effective preventive medications. Medications are often adjusted, new medications tried off-label, etc. With the Dr. Visit Sheet, it is a more informed decision process, and honestly, a better dialog between patient and doctor.

4. What advice would you give others who are living with cluster headaches and are looking for ways to better manage their condition, and connect with others living with cluster headaches?

First and foremost, don’t go it alone. We have great resources and patients just like you to bounce things off of, rant, cry, or shout about being pain free. No one else truly understands your pain or the life you live, but other sufferers truly get it. Join us at chsg.org and PatientsLikeMe! Information, discussion, support, and new research initiatives are all available to you, and you WILL find ways to better cope and reduce the impact of this debilitating condition on your life.

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“I try my best to make the most of each new day”– An interview with ALS member Brian

Posted January 22nd, 2016 by

Brian (Dunric) is a former game developer and has been living with ALS since 1998. Unable to find a local ALS support group where he lives in Lodi, CA, he discovered PatientsLikeMe in 2012.

In a recent interview, Brian opened up about dealing with the uncertainty of his condition the best way he knows how — with a sense of humor. Here’s what he had to say …

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m your average nerd who refuses to grow old, despite being 41 years old now. Diagnosed so many years ago and not having close family ties was rather trying on me. I’ve had my share of nursing home nightmares and some caregivers that made me feel like family.

Some of kids I’ve known and helped raise over the years now have children of their own. It seems like the world changes but I do not. I try my best to make the most of each new day, and it feels the proper way to accept life with ALS.

2. In your profile you write, “Many trials and tribulations of ALS have pushed me to limits that I have never thought of before.” Can you describe some of these experiences, and how your life has changed since your diagnosis? 

I have gone through some situations that doctors never thought I’d survive but the worst of it all was accepting the fact that ALS would be part of my future. Not really knowing just what was going to happen or expect. It’s that uncertainty that can drive anyone absolutely mad. Having once the illusion of absolute control and then having that revealed to me that control is an illusion was a very hard thing to accept.

There was a moment when I had my first PEG placed that the doctors (prefessionals as I call them) that I had informed them of feeling a “pop” sensation when PT wanted to have me sit up on the side of my hospital bed. Later that evening a licensed nurse had started a feeding session without checking patency. Hours later I had already had the beginning symptoms of Acute Peritonitis, all from the formula being introduced and me feeling a burning sensation.

The following afternoon I was put into a CT scanner and shuttled up for emergency exploratory surgery. The surgeons never thought I would make it after a pulse of over 180 and my body in writhing pain. After several months I had recovered but had to have my tube surgically placed along with relocation of my stomach to prevent a recurrence of such a catastrophic disaster.

3. Your sense of humor shines through in many of your posts. What advice do you have for others on keeping a positive outlook?

In my past I have had major anger issues and learned (on my own) how to channel and let go of such negative energy. I used to hop in my car and just go for a drive to unwind. Being no longer an option, the best way I have of releasing anger, fear, and such discomfort has been through humor or making light of some of the worst situations I’ve been in (in a tasteful manner of course).

Such an example was during the long hospital stay I had was the wonderful view out my window of a cemetery. I asked my doctor “If I’m not going to make it, at least it’s a short trip next door don’t you think?” It was kind of a morbid view when recovering in your second month of madness. Best to make the most of it since it was all I had at the time.

4. What has your experience been like with PatientsLikeMe? What keeps you coming back to the site?

I discovered PatientsLikeMe when trying to find an ALS support group of which this town has nothing of the sort. So an idea came up. Google has all the answers. (Siri on my phone came up with more odd results … let’s just say not G -rated support groups.)

Having no close family really makes ALS quite a challenge and I wanted to meet others in some way to compare notes, tips, tricks, and the occasional rant once in a while as ALS is such a trial on me to face alone. Having no car, nobody to help comfort my pain and frustrations. People here listen and I was surprised just how many lives I touched and look forward to reading my next update.

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Meet Jeff from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 20th, 2016 by

Say hello to Jeff, another member of your 2015-2016 PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors. Since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) 20 years ago, Jeff does his best to stay active—in both exercise and advocacy.

Keeping up with his two teenage daughters is challenging enough, but when he’s up to it, Jeff also golfs, plays tennis and practices Tae Kwon Do (he’s a 3rd Degree Black Belt). And as an advocate for PD education, he’s participated in a panel discussion sponsored by Beth Israel and Deaconess Hospitals and given a presentation at Harvard Medical School.

Here, Jeff opens up about his biggest frustrations and encourages other patients to stay active and engaged.

What gives you the greatest joy and puts a smile on your face?

I have always enjoyed living life day by day and not taking myself too seriously. I believe that there many things that can be serious (i.e., health conditions, living conditions, world economics are a few), but people’s basic construct should be less serious. For example, watching my two daughters enjoy daily life at home puts a smile on my face.

What has been your greatest obstacle living with your condition, and what societal shifts do you think need to happen so that we’re more compassionate or understanding of these challenges?

A corollary to my not taking myself too seriously is my belief that the vast majority of people in a 1 to 1 relationship are compassionate and willing to learn about the day to day challenges of living with a disability. The challenge is keeping that compassion as we move from the individual to groups of people, larger organizations, etc. As groups grow in size, the compassion shrinks almost to nothing.

The one thing that I have the greatest frustration with is the frequent difficulty I have communicating with other people. My speaking ability can be so poor that I perceive my audience questions my mental faculties.

How has your condition impacted your social or family life?

My world in some ways has become smaller. My wife and I don’t go out as frequently as we once did, nor do we entertain at home as much. In either case, going out or entertaining at home has become a bigger responsibility for my wife. One of my PD off-periods can occur at any time and more occurrences happen during the evening than during the day causing additional work load for my wife.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition, what would it be?

The voyage of Life continues. It is better to be an active participant than a sideline observer.  Get engaged, exercise, do things. Don’t sit at home feeling sorry for yourself.  Always take the extra step.

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Meet Craig from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 13th, 2016 by

We recently sat down with Craig, one of your 2015-2016 PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors. Craig is living with fibromyalgia and severe degenerative disc disease, the result of a serious car accident in 1978.

Craig is active on PatientsLikeMe and other online communities, where he adds his voice to discussions about chronic pain, healthy living and LGBTQ issues. He’s also written essays to raise awareness about life with fibromyalgia, a “hidden disability” he feels is commonly misunderstood.

In this interview, Craig shares how important it is to have a community he can turn to for support and to remind him he’s not alone.

What gives you the greatest joy and puts a smile on your face?

It’s a mixture of both smiles and sadness when I think of my greatest joys. I tragically lost my mother in a traffic accident when I was 19 years old. We had started a conversation the week before where I was trying to “come out” to her (that I was gay). I procrastinated and when she asked if I was, I said I wasn’t sure, that I was working on that answer, and that I’d tell her more next week. Well that conversation never happened, but each time in my adult life that I see or hear about a gay person sharing an important life moment with their mom, like introducing a new partner, or a mom marching with their child in a gay pride parade, I’m overwhelmed with happiness, and sadness, wishing MY mom was there with me to share those moments.

What has been your greatest obstacle living with your condition, and what societal shifts do you think need to happen so that we’re more compassionate or understanding of these challenges?

Having a “hidden disability” is hard to live with. We worry about being judged because we outwardly seem “able-bodied”. But if a person could try to walk a mile, not even, walk a BLOCK in our shoes they’d understand what a hidden disability is. I wrote an essay about hidden disabilities entitled “Global Masked Hero Sightings Expected”. It discusses the phenomena that we all know too well — that people with disabilities are “INVISIBLE.” I liken it to having a “superpower,” albeit one that we don’t necessarily wish we had. Here’s a link to it on PLM.

How would you describe your condition to someone who isn’t living with it and doesn’t understand what it’s like?

Imagine that you’ve just worked one of the hardest days of your life. You are so tired that you can hardly walk. Just changing your clothes is almost more effort than you can handle. Every muscle in your body is aching and tired, and the slightest movement of some of them sends them into a tight painful spasm. Your huge, warm, bed calls out to you seductively, and all you want to do is limp over and slip clumsily between the sheets and let the comfort of painless sleep welcome you. When finally sleep overcomes the pain you welcome it as the only comfort you’ve had all day. All too soon you wake up to a new day, and sitting up in bed, you realize that your body still feels as bad or worse than it did the day before — that each time you wake up you NEVER feel rested, or refreshed, and that this will likely go on for the rest of your life.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition, what would it be?

Learn EVERYTHING you can about your condition! YOU should be the most knowledgeable person you know about what your condition involves. Research it. Google it. Read about Clinical Trials. Learn about the medications that might be used to treat your condition. Become a walking/rolling Wikipedia about your condition, then USE that information to make the best of living with that condition. When you know and understand almost everything about something, it holds NO power over you.

How important has it been to you to find other people with your condition who understand what you’re going through?

When I was first realizing through first hand experience, the symptoms of my illness, before my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, I felt overwhelmed and alone in the world. I didn’t understand how a condition could affect SO MANY different parts of my body and life. I could understand the mechanics of my neck and spinal damage, but I didn’t understand how it could manifest in so many different and distant ways. When I joined PLM and found that there were thousands of others with my condition I felt such RELIEF that I was not alone. I felt validated and somehow comforted that others knew what I was going through without being judged as lazy, or malingering, or attention seeking.

Recount a time when you’ve had to advocate for yourself with your provider, caregiver, insurer, or someone else.

I advocate for myself and for others on a daily basis. I’m active on PLM helping others understand more about their conditions. I write essays on many different social media, community, and news sites, helping the mundane world at large see the world through our eyes, and by seeing through our eyes, become better, more compassionate, more loving people.

Can you think of any positive changes that have happened in your life because of your condition(s)?

I believe there is a great balance in the universe for every person’s path in life. That for anything “taken away” by extreme loss or illness there is something “given” that re-balances your journey. There isn’t a year in my life that I would ask to do over again. I have learned SO MUCH from my walk through this world that has made me a better person. By seeing the world without the filters that life wants us to see through we are more able to see the world through the eyes of LOVE. It is BECAUSE of the adversity in my life that I grow closer to seeing the world with unconditional love. This ability to see the world without filters is the ability to see enlightenment. To transcend this earthly existence where we can become anything we desire or imagine.

 

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“It is definitely a daily challenge” – An interview with PTS member Holden

Posted January 11th, 2016 by

Holden Montgomery (holdenmonty), an administration support technician for the Air Force Space Command, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 and later diagnosed with PTS, depression, and anxiety. He joined PatientslikeMe in March 2015, where he’s been connecting with other vets and sharing how he copes with his conditions.

We recently caught up with Holden, and here’s what he had to say…

Tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies and passions? 

So I must admit that when I started with this journey after my deployment and home break-in/vandalism I didn’t really have any hobbies or passions. Since my only focus while I was deployed was to live until the next day, that is the mindset that I came back with and still struggle with, but I will touch on that later.

So the biggest thing that saved me when I was struggling the first several months before my first son was born was photography. I have a Nikon D5100 DSLR and I would go exploring in nature and take photos of whatever I thought looked awesome or beautiful. I have thought about doing that again here in Colorado Springs but when you wake up to Pikes Peak every day and it’s always there you tend to take the beauty that is around you for granted. I must admit though just about every sunrise and sunset is breathtakingly beautiful.

But lately, after I attended my first Soldier Ride with the Wounded Warrior Project towards the end of June of 2015, I really got into bicycling and that has become my main hobby and passion. It’s also kind of amazing how you change because I have started to notice that one of my passions is wellness. I know I need to work on my own personal wellness but I have started to be more passionate about wellness in general.

In your profile, you mention dealing with anxiety and depression in addition to PTS. What are the challenges of managing three conditions?

So even though I was initially diagnosed with PTS in 2011 and anxiety in 2014 it wasn’t until I spent a week at a behavioral health clinic in the middle of June of 2015 that I was diagnosed with all three. But being diagnosed with all three gave me some peace of mind. Well as much as you can with mental health conditions.

For me it seems like the cause of my PTS was several things that combined together. Between multiple different things from my deployment and then a couple months after I got back my home I was living in at the time was broken into twice in the same week. It seems to be very similar with PTS from what I have seen that people that have PTS tend to have anxiety and/or depression as well. It seems like what led to my diagnoses of PTS was kind of a snowball effect of different things, and it seems like PTS tends to be a combination of different conditions. For me it’s anxiety, and depression. That is what people tend to see of my PTS. My therapist that I have here in Colorado Springs told me that she sees me as having anxiety with no other symptoms which was rather aggravating because I knew there was other stuff. It is definitely a daily challenge.

I heard an analogy one time and I really liked it and I hope it doesn’t offend somebody but if it does I’m sorry but it has helped me with my PTS and stuff. PTS is like cancer, you treat it and work to get ride of it and once it is gone there is a lot of relief and you try to move on with your life the best that you can but in all actuality it seems like there is no 100% cure and that it is always in remission. There can be any number of different things that can happen and it comes back. Sometimes it comes back but is very minor and is easily managed and sometimes it seems like it comes back with a vengeance and tries to kill you.

What has your experience been like tracking your moods, quality of life, and PTS symptoms on PatientsLikeMe?

I have really enjoyed tracking my mood and quality of life when I make sure to update it regularly. It may sound kind of weird but when I put how I’m feeling that day or in the moment with a small description of what is going on then somehow I’m not able to lie, or make it sound not as bad. I’m blunt and sometimes brutally honest. Which is really nice and refreshing since I tend to lie to myself about how I’m feeling.

I know there is a way that you can print out how you have been doing to bring to your therapist but I haven’t actually done that yet. I guess I am still trying to tell myself and the world that everything is ok and that there is nothing going on with me until I can’t stuff my emotions anymore and I explode. I guess I’m still afraid of that stereotype that society has drilled into me that if you have mental health issues then you can’t be trusted around “normal” people.

 You mentioned journaling as a way of handling your anxiety. Do you have any other coping strategies for people with PTS, depression, or anxiety?

I really enjoy journaling. It’s kind of like another way of the whole mood tracking and quality of life tracking. I can’t really lie when I’m writing it down.

I did run into a little bit of a big question. I filled up one small notebook that I used. It’s small enough that it can fit in my back pocket so I keep it always with me. But then there is the thought about what if somebody gets a hold of it and uses what I wrote against me or reads it, what would I do? So I thought about burning it or shredding it so nobody would ever be able to read it. I talked about it with my therapist and I wrote a small disclaimer in the front cover that basically states whatever is in here was how I felt at the time and I have addressed how I was feeling have resolved it to the best of my ability.

But anyway bicycling has been my biggest go-to besides journaling. I have created a coping card that is small enough to fit in my pocket which would help if I actually kept it on me and looked at it constantly. But some of the things on it are talking with trusted individuals which unfortunately seems to be growing smaller and smaller. But anyway walking, deep breathing/quiet time, looking up inspiring quotes, reading my Bible, listening to music, taking pictures of nature, take a shower, use my stress ball, and getting to my safe place, and thinking, which might seem weird but tends to be in a tree. I don’t climb the tree but I find a pine tree that is full enough that if I walk far enough into it nobody will be able to tell that I’m there. I guess you could say hiding from the world and thinking.

What has it been like connecting with other vets on PatientsLikeMe? 

I have really enjoyed connecting with other vets on PatientsLikeMe. But I must admit more importantly than connecting with other vets is connecting with other individuals with PTS/anxiety/depression because even though everybody has their own story, you can end up in a darker place if you start comparing stories.

For instance when I was deployed I wasn’t allowed off base because I was an IT guy and kept the network for my squadron running and computers running. But with an accumulation of events while deployed and after my deployment I have been diagnosed with PTS but one of my best friends that I met here through the Wounded Warrior Project has a spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and PTS from being blown up when he was out on a convoy in Afghanistan. He is worse off than me and I used to tell myself that he is the kind of person that deserves the help that I receive because he has seen and been through some much worse stuff than I have.

I don’t have a spinal cord injury, or a traumatic brain injury. But we help each other, I share with him some thoughts that I have that I must admit I tend to be ashamed of because they aren’t the kind of thoughts that I would normally have had before everything and more times than not depending on the situation he has had the same thoughts or if he was in my situation would have the same thought, and we challenge it together. Just sharing how you feel with another individual that might be feeling the same way or something similar no matter how different your stories are is a really powerful thing. So really the biggest thing is just the fact that you are connecting with somebody that has a similar diagnosis. Really, diagnosis doesn’t even really matter— just somebody feeling similar to you. Somebody that you can relate with.

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#CervicalHealthMonth: Member Laurie opens up about living with cervical cancer

Posted January 8th, 2016 by

Every year, more than 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer. And every January, the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) kicks off Cervical Health Awareness Month. In honor of #CervicalHealthMonth, we asked Laurie (lroz57), who joined PatientsLikeMe in 2012, to tell her story.

Laurie was given a 50/50 chance of survival when she was diagnosed back in 2003, and endured a difficult treatment experience. Here’s how she describes it:

I was diagnosed on 12/18/2003 with Stage 3B cervical cancer. The tumor was as big as a tennis ball, and in the vaginal wall. I had 28 ext. radiations, 2 int. radiations and 3 low-dose chemo treatments. Talk about burns! Now I have more radiation damage than I thought possible. But as I tell people, ‘I’m alive!’”

Throughout it all, Laurie has committed to staying positive and active — bicycling, exercising at the YMCA and volunteering for the National Patient Advocate Foundation.

As for her experience on PatientsLikeMe, she shares, “I love connecting with others in my position. You never know what you might learn.”

If you’re living with cervical cancer, the NCCC has lots of ways to get involved, including a #CervicalHealthMonth twitter chat on January 12. And if you want to reach out to Laurie, or connect to the other 214 PatientsLikeMe members with this condition, strike up a conversation in the forum!

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Meet John from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 6th, 2016 by

We’d like to introduce you to John, another member of your 2015-2016 PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors. Shortly after being diagnosed with ALS in January 2014, John decided to retire from his 37-year career in IT. His new focus? Learning everything he possibly can about his condition — and plenty of fishing.

Fueled by what he calls his “zeal for knowledge” about ALS, John has been proactive in researching programs and clinical trials that might benefit him. He’s already participated in studies at Massachusetts General Hospital, the ALS Therapy Development Institute, and Bronx VA Medical Center.

Here, John talks about the importance of being his own advocate and shares some advice for newly diagnosed patients: Keep asking questions!

What gives you the greatest joy and puts a smile on your face?
I have a passion for fishing and then cooking dinner for my family and friends who like seafood. 2 hours from catching to dinner table is what I call fresh fish. Dinner usually starts with a glass of wine and fishing tales of the whopper that got away.

What has been your greatest obstacle living with your condition, and what societal shifts do you think need to happen so that we’re more compassionate or understanding of these challenges?
The obstacles that life has placed in front of me have given me relentless energies to not give up. I push myself and sometimes too much and others need to understand that while I appreciate their assistance there are times that I just want to do it myself.

How would you describe your condition to someone who isn’t living with it and doesn’t understand what it’s like?
ALS is a neuromuscular disease where I experience progressive muscle weakness and frequent fatigue.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition, what would it be?
Research the disease, the treatments being offered need to be in your best interests. Ask questions because doctors do not have all the answers, and if you don’t like the answers ask and see another doctor.

How important has it been to you to find other people with your condition who understand what you’re going through?
The understanding of what you are going through is paramount to understanding what’s happening to you.

Recount a time when you’ve had to advocate for yourself.
A clinical trial in Japan showed a treatment that showed promise for ALS patients and corroborated by some local doctors. Since the FDA did not yet approve it my doctor was too conservative to recommend it. I went to another doctor and am glad I did.

How has PatientsLikeMe (or other members of the PatientsLikeMe community) impacted how you cope with your condition?
PatientsLikeMe is a valuable resource to see what others are experiencing and what treatments they are trying. Additionally, the tracking of lab results and tests is a great tool to see progression and if treatments are having an effect.

How can PatientsLikeMe be more valuable to the patient community?
PatientsLikeMe can be more valuable by awareness, not all medical professionals are aware of this valuable tool to patients. The more data we have the better the product.

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“Do not give up, find a reason to keep going.” – An interview with ALS member Lee

Posted January 4th, 2016 by

Humor and a passel of grandchildren keep Lee (slicky) going. He’s been living with ALS for nearly three decades and refuses to let his condition get the best of him. Now retired, he delights in his family and is very active in our forums – welcoming new members, doling out information and sharing his positive attitude with others.

We recently had the chance to catch up with him. Here’s what we learned…

1. Tell us a little about your life. You’re retired – what are you most passionate and interested about right now?

I have been fighting this disease for 27 years, it has been a rough road, but I am so grateful for the time I have been given. I worked up till 10 years ago, then I retired because I could not do my job anymore. My passion in life right now is to enjoy my family, and to live long enough to see a cure. I like watching TV, playing video games, do as much Tai Chi as I can.

2. You say in your profile, “If you think you’re going to die, you will so I keep going.” You’ve maintained a very positive attitude. What helps you do this?

I have always felt that a patient must try to keep as positive as possible, otherwise depression sets in and that is not good mentally or physically for the body. It is hard to do that with what we go through but once you get over the shock and fear of the diagnosis, you will start trying everything to slow down the progression and to find ways to cope. I use humor to keep going, even though the pain is horrible I refuse to give up.

3. You also mention your grandchildren. What’s your favorite thing about being a grandpa?

I have 8 grandchildren ranging from 2-14: 4 girls, 4 boys, my oldest grandson had stage 4 brain cancer a couple years ago went through 56 weeks of chemo, he is now in remission. I figured if he could beat it, I can beat mine. They are the world to me and the reason I keep fighting, I want to live long enough for them all to be old enough to remember their papa. I have an 11-year-old granddaughter who has been able to flush my feeding tube since she was 7, she is my mini nurse, I call her little bit. I am blessed to have them all living in a 20-mile radius of me so I see them frequently. I think my favorite thing about being a papa is making them laugh and watching them play and grow.

4. You’re quite active in the forum. What does it mean to you to be able to connect with other PALS?

I really enjoy PatientsLikeMe, I welcome every new patient that joins, I try to help and answer any questions and questions they may have, and I ask them questions. I have talked to patients all over the world, every patient is different, we have lost a lot of the ones who were on this site for a long time and it is always sad to see another one pass, I do not know most personally but feel they are part of my family because we have been in contact for so long.

5. What would your advice be for someone newly diagnosed?

My advice for newly diagnosed patients would be just because the doctor gives us 2-5 years to live does not mean we have to die in that time frame. I have known patients that get the diagnoses of ALS then they go home and give up, those patients do not last long. Stay as active as possible, exercise but not so much it hurts or tires you out, keep your weight up, seems to help slow down the progression, if you’re going to get a feeding tube do it before you need it and before you get to weak in your breathing, it will be an easier operation if you are healthier. I have found that if you start on a bipap breathing machine if only a hour a day before you really need it, it will give your lungs a bit of a rest, and could prolong your life. Get into a stem trial or drug trial if possible, and most important do not give up, find a reason to keep going, set goals for yourself, when you reach those goals make more, we all have to have a reason to keep going. I take lots of vitamins, do they work I do not know for sure but I am still here after 27 years so it is not hurting me, one of the main ones is CoQ10, and coconut oil I hear is very good for patients.

 

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“You may not like it, but make the MOST of it.” – An interview with IPF member Nikki

Posted January 1st, 2016 by

When Nikki (Nimiha) was diagnosed with IPF in 2010, she was already a survivor of both ovarian cancer and a heart attack. Staying positive and up-to-date on new information is now this retired RN’s best defense – and she’s been sharing it with her IPF family on PatientsLikeMe since March.

We had the chance to connect with her recently, and here’s what we learned …

1. Tell us about your life. What are your hobbies and interests? How do you most enjoy spending your time?

I was born 71 years ago in a town named Escondido, in Ca. My mother had been a Wave in the Navy in Washington, D.C. where she met my father, a career Marine. It was war time and he was transferred to Camp Pendleton Marine base in Oceanside, where he was immediately sent overseas to fight. I was an only child with no family living close by so my Mother and I were very close. My father went up through the ranks and was up for Brigadier General, and was honored to take over training the 7th Marines at Camp Pendleton in 1962. Two weeks later he died of a heart attack and my mother and I were forced to change our lives as well as our homes and lifestyle. She moved us to a town ten miles from where I was born. I went to college at PALOMAR Jr. College where I majored in boys. I married my husband, George, in August of 1963, and became a mother June 1964. You know the plan to wait a few years just didn’t work for us. You remember I said I majored in boys. Seems I didn’t know how to count and messed up the birth control pills ‍‍. I became a stay at home mom and our son was born four years later. Amazing how quickly you learn to count when needed. As my children grew, I became restless and went back to school. I discovered I wanted to become a nurse and take care of others so that was what I did. The kids were growing up and we were all going to school. I graduated with my R.N. in 1979 and became an oncology nurse specialist. That progressed to orthopedic nurse, home care nurse, then a MDS coordinator. I retired in 1996 after my son became ill with testicular cancer. He healed, my father-in-law died, I had ovarian cancer and one Thanksgiving night after everyone went home I suffered a heart attack at 53. During the next year I had seven stents that failed, had a triple bypass and did really well until last year. Then I caught the lingering cold everyone was catching, but mine wouldn’t go away. On my birthday I finally went to the doctor after four weeks. I was placed on ABT’s inhalers, and steroids. One week later I returned unable to breathe. It was at that time I was told they heard crackles and the X-ray showed IPF scarring. I had purchased a cruise to Hawaii for our Christmas present, but was unable to go. I was on oxygen and not feeling better. The 13th of Jan. I was in the hospital with pneumonia. My life of playing bingo, gaming at the casino’s and cruising was over as I knew it. I was still able to read, enjoy my backyard, and the glorious sunsets and the multitude of hummingbirds I feed. My life was changed but not over. I was able to enjoy the little things that made me happy. I was lucky to have my husband of 52 years with me, my daughter and my ten-year-old grandson as well. They are all my daily blessings and sources of enjoyment. Don’t get me wrong, it is not always sunny, but we are managing, one hour at a time. I have my moments full of tears, but, also joy in the little things. I try to deal with what cards I have been dealt with grace. Some days are better than others.

2. You’re very supportive to others in the forum. In a recent post, you said to another member, “We care, we know, we too are frightened by our diagnosis. Don’t feel alone, that no one cares. We may not be there physically to hold you in our arms, but you have many arms around you that DO CARE.” How have you, in turn, felt supported on the site?

I try to visit the site on a daily basis and interact with my family here. If they don’t post for a while I fret and worry. They fill my need to help others to help myself. This place is my safe place. I truly believe we are family and here to help each other. I am free to tell those who understand how miserable it is on some days. They understand and perk me up with their prayers and responses. I love that we are free to share everything or nothing. This is another part of home!

3. As a former RN, how do you think your past experience informs the advice you give to others?

Most often I have to censor myself because of my prejudices toward the medical profession today. I feel I know enough to give good information and resources if needed. I am not afraid to tell it like it is. We are not here for the fairytale version of what is happening to us. We are here for truth and knowledge that what we feel is normal or not. I listen to everyone and what they say to learn for myself. I hope they can feel the love that is offered even though there is such little hope at this time. I think the main thing I give is knowledge and comfort. At least I hope so.

4. Tell us about your diagnosis. What did you do/feel in the moments following it?

Like I said, it was very sudden when it finally showed up. A few years before before I was symptomatic, it was mentioned and I recall ignoring it, saying we would worry about it when we needed to. I was breathing and living a normal life and was truly not interested in it since it was incurable and not affecting me at the time. I think I knew last year when I was diagnosed my easy time was gone. I never wondered why me, never got mad. Why not me! I think what has affected me most is I promised my grandson to take him to see the glaciers in Alaska. I cannot afford the medical supplies that includes any longer and I hate that I didn’t take him sooner. I would love to book a cruise right now, but can’t afford to lose all that money if I get worse. I investigated it earlier last month and renting the portable concentrators that go high enough and the extra batteries and the scooter make it seem so much like a dream. I think the day I realized my dream to see my grandson’s face when he saw Glacier Bay and the calving was over was the day I felt the worst. I felt my dream die and even now it brings tears to my eyes and pain to my heart. My advice to my friends and family here is do what you need to do while you still can. Don’t let this disease kill your dreams if you can still do them. DO THEM IF YOU STILL CAN.

5. How would you best describe the feeling of living with IPF to someone who doesn’t have it?

I find it can be overwhelming depending on the day and what you want to get done. I am no longer independent and able to plan ahead. I need help with shopping because the cart won’t hold my oxygen and the weeks worth of groceries. I spend several days visiting different doctors every week between me and my husband, rather than going out to do what I want. I look good, feel pretty good for all that is wrong with me, I just can’t breath good. I tend to tire more easily than before and sometimes it is hard for people to understand. Like I say, I look well just sitting there with the cannula and oxygen tank or 50′ of tubing I walk around the house with. I have a love hate relationship with the oxygen. I am grateful for it making my like livable, but hate the way it looks, the constant noise and the dry nose and mouth.

Most people don’t know anything about IPF. I TELL THEM IT IS A TERMINAL DISEASE WHERE YOUR LUNGS QUIT EXPANDING AND COMPRESSING. They have two new medicines that may help prolong life with a better quality. Nothing out there to my knowledge will cure it. A lung transplant is a possibility for some but not me. I have already had my chest cracked when I had my bypass. I am too old and too fluffy to get one. So I live each day the best I can.

6. What advice would you give to a newly diagnosed person?

TALK, JOIN, DISCOVER ALL YOU CAN. THIS IS YOUR LIFE, KEEP UP WITH NEW INFORMATION. MOST OF ALL LOVE YOURSELF AND BE HAPPY YOU CAN CHANGE THINGS TO MAKE THEM BETTER with your attitude! You may not like it, but make the MOST of it.

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