737 posts in the category “Conditions”

April is Sjogren’s Awareness Month

Posted April 21st, 2017 by

It’s April, which means it’s also Sjogren’s Awareness Month. Why do we need awareness? Around four million Americans have Sjogren’s, but less than half of those patients are diagnosed. Sjogren’s is often referred to as an invisible disease and despite patients’ severe discomfort, many don’t often see it as debilitating. This can be isolating for patients and one of the many reasons more awareness of this condition is needed. So, let’s talk facts.

Sjogren's syndrome statistics

Image courtesy of the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation

Sjogren’s is an autoimmune disease which affects the entire body, the vast majority of cases are seen in women (around 96%). The symptoms of the condition are scattered and, in many cases, not connected which means misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis is very common. Take a look at some of the Symptoms of Sjogren’s.

Sjogren's syndrome symptoms

Image courtesy of the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation

What can you do to help spread awareness? Share your experience with Sjogren’s on social media with the tag #ThisIsSjögrens, and join the conversation on PatientsLikeMe to learn how others are managing their symptoms.

Meet others with Sjogren's Sydnrome

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Member voices: I have IBS, here’s what I do…

Posted April 18th, 2017 by

If you’re living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) you’re not alone. In fact, IBS affects up to 1 in 7 Americans, so chances are you may know someone who is going through the same thing. Despite it being so common, many people living with IBS are unaware that their symptoms indicate a medically recognized disorder, which is why April has been named IBS Awareness Month, to increase recognition for this common condition.

In the PatientsLikeMe forum, members are talking about how IBS affects them and sharing how they manage their symptoms. Take a look at some of what they had to say…

Coping is hard because you have to rigidly stick to a bland diet which causes constipation, so I take a half dose of Miralax daily.

-PatientsLikeMe Member

I follow a bland diet most of the time. I like raw fruits and vegetables and cereal. Pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese is always a good choice. I NEVER eat spicy food and I stay away from raw onions. 

-PatientsLikeMe Member

Miralax works wonders for me. I take it every day and this keeps me regular.

-PatientsLikeMe Member

I personally don’t take any meds. I watch my diet very carefully. I do try to stay away from spicy food and corn. I don’t go completely without corn however I know if eaten it will cause a lot of issues. I also bounce between having the diarrhea and constipation. It is a very frustrating vicious cycle.

-PatientsLikeMe Member

The best thing that I have ever done for my IBS was high-dosage Xifaxan. I convinced my doctor to prescribe me this after reading a book entitled A New IBS Solution.

-PatientsLikeMe Member

I took Librax for years, until I discovered Bentyl (which they gave my mother IV in the ER when she had an emergency attack of IBS). It comes in pill form, too, and IT WORKS. It almost completely controlled my IBS issues.

-PatientsLikeMe Member

There are lots of different ways to manage IBS, from prescriptions to dietary changes and more. Did you know there are currently more than 5000 members on PatientsLikeMe living with IBS? They’re talking about their symptoms, finding support from others in the forums, sharing the treatments they’ve tried and tracking how those treatments are impacting them. Join the conversation on PatientsLikeMe.

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Worth a thousand words: A day in the life of Larry

Posted April 14th, 2017 by

As a child, Sarah Howell loved art. She got her first camera at 6 years old and realized, over time, that she had a way of connecting emotionally and expressing herself through photos. Now, she has her own studio. Her passion? Capturing genuine family moments. Sarah often stays overnight in the home of the family so she can spend the entire next day with them, from start to finish.

A day in the life of Larry Tyler

© Sarah E Studios  |  www.sarahestudios.com

© Sarah E Studios  |  www.sarahestudios.com

When Sarah’s friend, Teri, asked her to capture a day in the life of her father, Larry Tyler, she was both shocked and honored. Larry, living with ALS that required 24-hour care, wanted the photos released to raise awareness and funding for ALS.

Sarah was there with her camera, from Larry’s wake-up at 10:30am, until he went to bed that evening. What emerged was a series of 24 deeply moving photos that capture a day in the life of Larry and his family.

© Sarah E Studios  |  www.sarahestudios.com

© Sarah E Studios  |  www.sarahestudios.com

While she was prepared for sad moments with the family, she wasn’t prepared for the level of caregiver exhaustion she witnessed. For Sarah, the realization that ALS is a family disease was the hardest part of her visit.

 

© Sarah E Studios  |  www.sarahestudios.com

© Sarah E Studios  |  www.sarahestudios.com

Despite the hard moments of exhaustion, chaos and frustration, Sarah also witnessed how Larry and his family coped: with laughter and humor.

© Sarah E Studios  |  www.sarahestudios.com

© Sarah E Studios  |  www.sarahestudios.com

Reflections

After this time with Larry and his family, Sarah now wants to photograph a day in the life of one person living with ALS every year. Even though she doesn’t have a personal connection to ALS, she feels that this story could resonate with other caregivers. She shared her collection at a gallery and was moved by the reception.

Sarah hopes the collection will not only raise awareness for ALS, but also to increase awareness of the need for caregiver support and therapy. In the meantime, she hopes that her photos can do some good.

Check out the rest of Sarah’s 24 photo collection with Larry.

Find other ALS caregivers

Do any of Sarah’s photos resonate with you? Share in the comments.

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World Parkinson’s Day: Meet Eileen, a PatientsLikeMe researcher with a passion for PD

Posted April 11th, 2017 by

Researcher Interview on Parkinson's Disease

Today is World Parkinson’s Day, and 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the identification of Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Meet Eileen Mack Thorley, a research scientist with a passion for PD research. By day, she works on a variety of research projects at PatientsLikeMe. On her own time, you might find her doing FaceTime with her dad to help him practice his physical therapy exercises for living with Parkinson’s. He was diagnosed with PD more than 10 years ago.

Eileen said her father’s PD diagnosis inspired her to get involved with the Team Fox Foundation Young Professionals of Boston (part of the Michael J. Fox Foundation), and ultimately led her to venture into PD research as part of her day job.

Eileen has a master’s degree in public health and specializes in epidemiology, data analysis and public health research. She has been working in the field for 8 years, previously focusing on the areas of substance abuse and maternal and child health.

“Where I want to be now is focusing on Parkinson’s research and community health – living with the disease and bringing the patient experience into research,” Eileen said. In addition to a focus on traditional medical breakthroughs in Parkinson’s research, she has a personal interest in the area of complementary therapies for PD management – especially music and relaxation. “There’s a growing body of research on the benefits of relaxation.  How can we better understand and apply these benefits as part of disease management?”

Eileen attended the 4th World Parkinson Congress in Portland, Oregon, this past fall and wanted to share some highlights from the conference.

What was it like to attend the World Parkinson Congress as both a researcher and a family member of a person living with PD?

On a professional level, I was excited for the opportunity to attend this conference to expand my current understanding of the latest in research and medical advancements with the aim of applying new insights to our research. The conference brings together researchers, health care practitioners and patients living with Parkinson’s around the current state in Parkinson’s research, science and care.

Personally, it was also a meaningful experience to me to have exposure to this conference and community as I have a family connection. My dad has been living with a Parkinson’s for over 10 years.  Parkinson’s certainly has had a profound impact on our family and it’s difficult for me to adequately express how important improved care, treatment and any discoveries that improve daily life are to me.

Could you walk us through an overview and some highlights of the conference? Did the conference feel patient-centered? How so? 

Over 4,500 attendees from 67 countries were present, including over 2,000 patients living with Parkinson’s, their care partners, and family members. It was encouraging to reflect on how many people are working on different ways to make life better for those living with Parkinson’s with an ultimate eye toward a cure.

 

“Being in a huge convention space filled with physicians; care providers; non-profits; clinicians; scientists who dedicated their lives toward care, research and support in Parkinson’s – alongside others who experience this disease first-hand in daily life – was truly powerful and humbling.”
–Eileen on attending the 4th World Parkinson Congress

 

From my view as both a researcher and a family member, I appreciated that there was a combination of technical discussion on the latest in treatments and research along with a presence of the patient voice and experience. After a plenary discussion on the latest in deep brain stimulation (DBS), including ultrasound as a developing, non-surgical approach (albeit mainly for tremor, including other caveats), there was a presentation from a patient named Andy McDowell who went through DBS and he shared his story. Some of the other research themes included wearables and apps to track movements; immuno-therapeutic approaches and targeting alpha-synuclein (this was a particular focus in drug development as it could be helpful across a range of conditions including but not limited to Parkinson’s); and genetics research (primarily on the LRRK2 gene).

I appreciated that the conference highlighted non-drug and complimentary therapies in addition to medical care including a focus on exercise, relaxation and wellness services for patients; the conference included a “Wellness Way” section where patients could sign up for massage, reiki, yoga (‘yogadopa’), boxing (with Rock Steady Boxing), singing/vocal exercises, dance, breath-work and more.

 

“I sat in on one of the wellness sessions to observe with the aim of picking up any insight to share with my dad. An atmosphere of support among patients was palpable and touching.”
–Eileen on the wellness sessions at the WPC

 

All together, these elements helped set a nice tone for the conference – research and applied practice; clinical care and daily life once you are home and no longer in the doctor’s office.

What were some of your biggest takeaways from the conference? Can you apply anything you learned at the conference to your job at PatientsLikeMe? 

While the conference highlighted many of the advancements and the current work is promising, we know much more work is needed. There is a large community and network of efforts around care and research, and we all have a role to play. The conference underlined the importance of bringing the patient voice to technical research and these projects. There are so many unknowns. There’s so much we need to learn from your experience.

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World Health Day 2017: #LetsTalk about depression and mental health

Posted April 7th, 2017 by

World Health Day 2017

Today is World Health Day! This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) hopes to spark discussions about mental health with their campaign called “Depression: Let’s talk.”

Depression affects more than 300 million people of all ages, from all walks of life, in all countries – but less than half of people with depression (even less than 10 percent in many countries) receive treatment.

“The stigma surrounding mental illness, including depression, remains a barrier to people seeking help throughout the world,” according to WHO. “Talking about depression, whether with a family member, friend or medical professional; in larger groups, for example in schools, the workplace and social settings; or in the public domain, in the news media, blogs or social media, helps break down this stigma, ultimately leading to more people seeking help.”

In honor of World Health Day, WHO encourages you to use the hashtags #LetsTalk and #depression, as well their predesigned apps and graphics to spread awareness over social media today.

World Health Day 2017

Don’t go it alone

WHO suggests talking to someone you trust about your feelings. “Being emotionally mature and authentic to those who are close to you can be an absolute game changer,” says Matthew Johnstone, a writer/illustrator who produced this video for WHO called “I had a black dog, his name was depression.” “The most important thing to remember is that, no matter how bad it gets, if you take the right steps, talk to the right people, ‘black dog days’ will pass.”

So who are the “right people” to talk to? The University of Michigan Depression Center (UMDC) says it’s important to discuss your depression with your healthcare providers. “Emotional problems such as depression are not always evident to healthcare professionals focused on physical ailments,” they say. When you make a list of topics to raise with your doctor, include your depressive symptoms or mental health concerns, just as you would discuss any physical symptoms disrupting your life. Although doctors and the public rarely discuss it, depression can also go hand in hand with many other health conditions and it’s important to treat.

Beyond doctors, UMDC says whom you share with and how to do it is a personal choice. Their Depression Toolkit outlines some pros and cons of opening up and advice for choosing confidants. “Remember: quality is more important than quantity—even one confidant is a great asset.” Seeking support anonymously through online forums (like our Mental Health and Behavior community) is a good option, they say.

World Health Day 2017

Tips for talking

Heads Up Guys, an organization that’s raising awareness about depression in men, encourages you to think of someone who:

  • You’re comfortable with and trust
  • Is likely to understand
  • Will take your situation seriously

“Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be an intense conversation that you dread starting,” they say. “It’s helpful to keep things causal – go for a walk, grab a coffee or chat with someone while working.”

These candid conversations starters from Heads Up Guys might help:

  • “I’ve been having a really hard time lately. Getting really stressed out. Mind if I bounce some ideas off you?”
  • “I’ve been feeling off for a while now. Have you ever found yourself in a funk that was hard to get out of?”
  • “I made an appointment with my doctor the other day and he thinks I might be suffering from depression. I don’t really know much about depression – how about you?”
  • “I’m really falling behind on some chores. When are you getting groceries next? Maybe we can go together.”
  • “I want to get out more these days but I don’t have the energy. If you can think of something to do and plan it out, I’ll be more likely to get out of the house.”

If you’re feeling suicidal, talk with someone right away. Speak with a family member, friend or doctor, or dial 911 or one of these hotlines.

On PatientsLikeMe, nearly 39,000 patients have major depressive disorder (MDD). Of those, about 17,000 say MDD is their primary condition. Every day, members talk about symptoms, treatments and ideas for coping with depression in the Mental Health forum, so join the discussion today.

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Paul Wicks on the power of sharing data

Posted April 5th, 2017 by

Back in December, our VP of innovation, Paul Wicks, Ph.D., spoke at the annual International Symposium on ALS/MND in Dublin. The goal of the annual meeting is to share new understandings of ALS/MND as quickly as possible through collaboration between leading researchers around the world.

Now, we’re sharing a video of his presentation about what you and the ALS community has shared about living with ALS over the last 10 years.

Here’s what Paul had to say:

“We hope this presentation shows the power of patients sharing their data to help shed light on ALS. It’s a disease that can isolate people, rob them of their voice, and sap their strength to fight back, so we’re proud that we’ve been putting the data our members share to good use for over a decade now and we’re keen to share some highlights of what we’ve found.”

What do you think about Paul’s presentation? Share your thoughts in the forum.

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Teaming up with LupusChick to boost chronic condition awareness

Posted April 4th, 2017 by

PatientsLikeMe is excited to announce a new partnership with “LupusChick,” Marisa Zeppieri-Caruana. She’s an influential blogger, advocate and advisor for the lupus and chronic condition community – and an all-around cool gal. Marisa grew up with various health issues and suffered serious injuries in April 2001 when she was run over as a pedestrian by a truck, driven by a drunken driver. During her rehabilitation, she suffered a small stroke and was also diagnosed with lupus (which can be triggered by trauma, like accidents and injuries).

Marisa launched her LupusChick blog in 2008, and it’s now a popular destination for reflections on life with chronic illness, recipes (she’s a juicer and a foodie!), wellness tips and more. She’s been featured in U.S. News & World Report, The Huffington Post, The Mighty, Eating Well, Elle, Glamour, and many other publications as a voice for people with chronic illness. She raised even more awareness of lupus when she reigned as Mrs. New York USA Universal 2015. We recently caught up with her about her experiences with lupus, her award-winning blog and her hopes for this new partnership with PatientsLikeMe.

LupusChick Interview

What inspired you to launch LupusChick? Did you expect it would reach so many people and become your day job? 

Between 2005 to 2008, I met many lupus patients and their family members or spouses through support group and awareness events and was surprised at how many of these men and women still felt alone. I believed they were looking to find a solid connection with other patients. As social media and the internet was really beginning to take off, I created LupusChick as a safe space for patients dealing with any chronic illness. It started from a small blog, reaching a few hundred people a month, to today where it is a nonprofit and major autoimmune community that reaches about 700,000 people per month. I think of it as my day/night/weekend job, as people reach out from all across the globe at all hours. It is everything I hoped it would be and more!

Could you share some of your lupus diagnosis story with us? How did you come to terms with your diagnosis after already going through so much? 

I believe my story really started when I was young, as I had health issues since I was a baby. My symptoms came out full force, though, after being struck by a truck as a pedestrian. Some autoimmune symptoms are exposed through a trigger, and that incident seemed to be my trigger. I had to heal from that event as I had extensive injuries, and got sick on top of it. I can’t say it was my finest hour, but once I got through the frustration phase, I began to see that I was still here for a reason and I needed to transform all the “bad” into something good.

What do you like to do for fun? How has lupus affected these things? 
I love to travel, meet new people and just be spontaneous. Lupus has changed a lot of those things for me but it hasn’t broken my spirit. My travel is much more planned, and I have to strategize time for rest, but it doesn’t stop me from having new adventures in life.

Which lifestyle habits or changes have helped you the most in managing lupus? How do you help others find lifestyle tips and tweaks that might work for them? 

Changes I have made included learning how to say “no” and not overextending myself. At the end of the day, I am no good to anyone else if I have run myself ragged and put myself into a flare-up.

I’ve also made a variety of changes to my diet, as I deal with lupus and many allergy and food allergy issues. These changes have helped me manage some symptoms and have made an improvement in my energy level. I am always happy to share my tips with others, but I also recommend for people to find what works for them, especially when it comes to things like diet. One suggestion I do stress for chronic illness patients is journaling. Keeping track of my symptoms, food, stress, medicines, flares, activity levels and more provided incredible insight over time as to what causes my body to flare up.

Many people on PatientsLikeMe are managing invisible chronic conditions. What is the hardest part about managing a chronic illness that other people can’t see? 

The reality is many of us are almost putting on a show, attempting to seem healthy and “normal” in order not to be judged and critiqued by others who don’t understand our illness. That in itself can be exhausting. I think if some people had a glimpse of what our lives are like on a daily basis – the fatigue, pain, doctor visits, IV treatments, medicines, needing help – they might have a different perspective on chronic illness. It might foster more compassion and, in our community, that would be incredible.

LupusChick Interview

What does a tough day look like for you?

Tough days usually include fevers, pain, rashes, heart issues and severe fatigue. It can definitely get me down because I am a total Type A who has a million things I want to do. My mind never stops, but my body puts the brakes on many of my plans. There is a level of frustration that comes along with that. I try to keep in mind a new day is coming and remind myself that I have accomplished the things I have set my mind to, even if it has taken me longer than expected. That gives me hope for future goals.

What about a great day – what does that look like? 

A great day means a lot of energy, little medicine and no IV treatment. It might look like me, my husband and our rescue dog hiking in upstate New York or kayaking on Lake Ontario. Because so much of my life seems to be me stuck in bed, I love to get outdoors whenever possible!

What are you looking forward to most in this partnership with PatientsLikeMe?  

So many things, such as connecting with like-minded people, educating others about lupus (and various illnesses) and having the incredible resources of PatientsLikeMe at our fingertips to learn what has worked for other patients dealing with similar issues!

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3 energy-saving tips for people with lupus

Posted March 31st, 2017 by

lupus fatigue tips

Fatigue can be a big deal when you have lupus. About 43 percent of PatientsLikeMe members with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) who are tracking fatigue as a symptom say that it’s “severe.” A rough day can feel like “walking through knee-deep water,” notes one member.

Here’s a roundup of energy-saving tips from a few different sources (spoiler alert: routines and planning ahead can help):

  1. A PatientsLikeMe member’s advice: schedule, schedule, schedule. “You can’t schedule too much with lupus because one activity can knock you out,” she says. “I learned to say no in advance to over-scheduling social engagements or things that would keep me out too late or keep me from getting enough sleep.” She also sets alarms and reminders on her phone to keep her on track, including one at 9:30 every night that says, “Time to unwind” – put away electronics, take meds and go to bed.
  1. Hint from a writer with lupus: manage your mornings. Heather Glantz, who has been living with lupus for more than 20 years, says it took her several years to nail down a morning routine that preserves energy for the rest of the day.

lupus fatigue tips

“I try to stay in bed as much as possible before I start my day, so my curling iron, mirror, brush and makeup are all in a drawer next to my bed,” she writes. She has a bench in her shower and stays seated on her bed when she gets dressed. She also avoids clothes that need ironing or have lots of buttons, zippers and buckles – every little bit of energy counts.

  1. More scheduling pointers from the experts at the Lupus Foundation of America:  
    • Balance busy times with periods of rest throughout the day, if possible.
    • Prep meals in advance, whenever you have a bit more energy.
    • Plan ahead for big events like the holidays – shop for gifts throughout the year.
    • Establish good sleep patterns. (PatientsLikeMe bonus tip: iPhones have a new “Bedtime” feature that reminds you when it’s time to hit the hay based on how many hours of sleep you’d like to get – pretty cool.)

Is fatigue a symptom you’re living with? Make sure you’re tracking it so you can see how you’re doing over time. Do you have a routine that helps you manage fatigue? Add a comment on what works for you.

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“My experience as a patient and son helps me”: PatientsLikeMe software engineer Alex’s backstory

Posted March 24th, 2017 by

Meet Alex Bromley, a PatientsLikeMe software engineer who’s living with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and whose mother has fibromyalgia. He recently shared some insight on his and his mom’s conditions, his experiences as both a PatientsLikeMe employee and member and what he enjoys outside of work.

What first drew you to working at PatientsLikeMe? Can you describe what you do in your role here? 

A former employee and friend of mine, Joe, first introduced me to PatientsLikeMe in 2012. I decided to sign up as a patient and see what it was all about. When I saw that it included a robust fibromyalgia community, I was touched personally by the fact that someone like my mother, who has this mysterious condition, could talk and learn about it from other people.

In my current role as a software engineer, I provide technical leadership to the PatientsLikeMe client team. We focus on supporting outside partnerships and collaborations, especially when it comes to custom software development.

How does living with GERD affect you day to day? How do you use PatientsLikeMe as a patient?

For a while, GERD started to change my life. I was no longer able to drink coffee, eat anything with tomatoes and, in general, I was feeling a burning sensation in my esophagus on most days. It started to affect my concentration and my mood. On the plus side, I made some healthy improvements to my life – drinking a lot more water, exercising regularly and cutting down on one of my worst habits (eating late at night). But until I was prescribed Prilosec, it was definitely a frustrating challenge. At this point, the prescription has me feeling pretty much 100 percent, other than the fact that I’ve given up coffee for a strong breakfast tea every morning. I have a cup now and then but, all in all, coffee and my stomach do not get along.

I use PatientsLikeMe to track how I’m feeling and why – I try to leave comments along with my InstantMe. It helps me identify bad habits and external factors that exacerbate my condition. I also like to see how other patients with my condition are faring, what treatments are working, and, in general, it’s been eye opening to see how many other people have experienced the same things I have with GERD.

When was your mom diagnosed with fibromyalgia? Can you share how her diagnosis affected her and your family? 

My mother, Maria, was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, after several fits and starts, in 1997. For some time, we had no idea what was going on. Only after several second opinions, Fifth’s disease and Fibromyalgia were identified as potential culprits for her pain, inflammation, and total fatigue. It had a huge effect on our family as she was always the motor that kept us going. My father worked a lot but really wasn’t very active around the house with chores, cooking, homework and things like that. On top of that, my mother worked as his accountant full-time.

It shook us all for many reasons. I had never encountered a problem our healthcare system did not have some reasonable explanation for or plan to address, other than terminal illnesses. We’ve both taken strength from other people’s stories on PatientsLikeMe, like Team of Advisors member Craig’s inspiring post about fibromyalgia that led my mother to say, “That’s exactly what it feels like!”

How is your mom doing these days? 

My mother still struggles with fatigue and has given up some of her favorite things, like gardening, due to arthritis-like pain. She has to limit her driving time, which results in missing family events on occasion. Really, anytime we plan an event or trip together, it is generally constrained by managing her energy levels. We’re lucky to still be together as a family, but it is definitely something we have to always keep in mind with her. I would like to say that overall she’s doing fine and couldn’t be happier to spend time with my daughter – her granddaughter, Mariana – lately. She watches her two days a week, and I’m not sure it would be possible without PatientsLikeMe. I’m able to work from home on those days and give my mom a quick hand if she is in pain – just another reason we are so grateful to be part of the PatientsLikeMe family.

How does your and your mom’s experience shape your work here?

Typically, I am someone who takes great ideas from other PatientsLikeMe staffers and puts them into practice through software development. But I’d like to think my experience as a patient and son helps me view the website from that vantage point and make good suggestions, if I see anything we can improve.

And, of course, I couldn’t be happier to get up every morning and go to work somewhere that has a truly inspiring mission and has touched my family. It’s a real blessing!

What do you like to do for fun when you’re not at work? 

For the last six months, I’ve been focused on my stepson, Daniel, and his brand-new baby sister, Mariana. She never wants to stop – mostly demanding that I help her try to stand up and walk, walk, walk. Danny’s first language was Spanish, so we spend extra time reading and doing homework to catch up on some of his English skills while we reinforce his already great math skills. We also find plenty of time to play “Just Dance,” ride bicycles, go sledding and all the fun things. Personally, I really like to get outside and stay active – mountain biking, skiing, hiking. It’s a lifelong passion and it helps me stay in good health – something I know not to take for granted. In the evenings, I like to relax with a National Geographic or a good video game like “Tomb Raider.”

 

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Multiple myeloma community members form “forever friends” by taking it offline

Posted March 23rd, 2017 by

What started as a simple chat between friends in the forum evolved into something much bigger. Members from the multiple myeloma community on PatientsLikeMe decided to take their friendship out of the forums and into real life. Marcia (marcia_holman), Dennis (DennisIvan), Paul (paulatsea) and Lee (Dapylil), along with spouses and grandchildren, got together and discussed life with multiple myeloma, their “new normal” and shared the highs and lows of the journey together.

Read on to find out how they organized the meetup and what it’s like to catch up in person with friends you’ve made on PatientsLikeMe. Like Dennis suggests: “The journey between what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place.”

What led you to organizing these in person meet-ups?

paulatsea: Over time I noted that there were a number of us that were within about 40 miles of each other, thought it would be fun to meet so tossed out the idea and the others liked it too so we made it happen!

Marcia_holman: It was an idea thrown out by Paul to start with. Paul, Dennis and I are regulars on the thread, we and a few others who are from out of state chat there and have all become good friends. Of our group I believe Paul has been on PatientsLIkeMe the longest. Anyway, Dennis and I thought Paul’s idea was great. We arranged the date, time and place and put it out for other members. Only the three of us with spouses and guests came out. This time when I heard Lee was going to be out here visiting, Lee and I have gotten to know each other on PatientsLikeMe, he had mentioned he would like to meet the others from our group. So I contacted Paul and Dennis and they were really excited to meet Lee from Kentucky, too. I chose the date and it worked for everyone (I’m having surgery on February 28th so my time was limited). Then I asked Paul to find us a place. His choice of Polly’s Pies worked really well. I was really hoping since we have had so many newcomers and many from So Cal that we would get a good response. I announced it on the home page and on the thread but no takers.

What’s it been like connecting with other PatientsLikeMe members in person?

Dapylil: It was wonderful! I am already a member of a multiple myeloma support group in Louisville, KY, but these friends have been around longer, and I already felt a stronger bond. We had been in this fight together. A bonus to meeting with these folk is that we share a common “language.” We could speak shorthand about what we had experienced. There was/is a built in understanding of highs and lows of this journey “through the valley of the shadows.” They understood my pain without having to explain it.

DennisIvan: It seems actually like instant connectivity. There are no awkward meeting moments like when you are meeting someone new. You feel the warmth of an old friend and begin talking like old friends from the get go. I experienced this feeling at both meetings when meeting these folks even for the first time.

Marcia_holman: It has been a delight to get together and meet someone you have just been corresponding with on line. We can put a face to them. You get to know their personalities and they become “forever friends!”

When you all catch up, what do you talk about?

Paulatsea: We talk about our “new normal”, some of the things we can do, mourn some of the losses of things we struggle or just can’t do anymore.

Marcia_holman: Everything. We talk about how we are currently doing and of course our treatments and our myeloma journeys, but we also talk about our life before multiple myeloma and we talk about our new normal and how it has changed us, good and bad! We still have dreams we want to fulfill and hope! I brought my granddaughter, who is 13 years old, and she said she had fun talking with everyone about school and the new core curriculum. Everyone included her in the group.

Dapylil: I was interested in their stories: “Our stories disclose in a general way what we were like, what happened, and what we are like now.” I wasn’t so much curious about treatment. My focus is what had changed about them mentally and spiritually.

Are the meet-ups just for people living in your area? Or have they come from other places to join in?

Dapylil: I attended this one while visiting in California. I’m from Kentucky. I joined the already established group in Louisville first to hear what others were doing medically for their condition. I’ve stayed in that group for the same reason that I wanted to meet my California friends – Tell me a story!

Paulatsea: I came about 30 miles, open invite to anyone in the group, if they live in the area or visiting the area, all are welcome.

DennisIvan: We welcome multiple myeloma patients and or caregivers from anywhere who are willing to join us. This week we welcomed Lee who came all the way to Southern California from Kentucky. It was a delight to have Lee with his South Carolina (birth state) charm and his wicked sense of humor. My wife and I drove down to Cerritos from our home in Santa Clarita – a trip of about 50 miles and one hour. Traffic in California is lighter on Sunday’s so it is a good meeting day.

If there are other communities that like this idea, what advice would you give them to organize something like this?

 paulatsea: We chose a family type restaurant with a wide variety of foods – meat, fish, salads, vegetarian, – near freeways, make it easy for people to get to and find it. We picked a date and time approximately a month in advance.

Marcia_holman: The hardest part is getting more people to come. I always suggest they bring someone with them. I thought this would make them feel more comfortable meeting people they have only corresponded with online. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share about these meet-ups?

Dapylil: I sincerely encourage not only meeting people through websites similar to PatientsLikeMe and especially PatientsLikeMe! If possible, form your own group. Be open to sharing your experience, strength and hope that you have gained in your journey. Barbara De Angelis wrote: “The journey between what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place.” Come and find many dance partners.

DennisIvan: A disease like multiple myeloma makes it easy for a patient to become isolated through circumstances or perhaps their own choice. PatientsLikeMe helps patients seek out others through online contact. An in-person meeting carries it a step further and helps us step out of our inner turmoil to grab some rejuvenated socialization specifically targeted to our needs.

Marcia_holman: They really are a lot of fun. You form “forever” friends. You are very comfortable with each other. It’s like having known them all your life!

 

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March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Let’s learn more, together.

Posted March 21st, 2017 by

Brain injuries can happen to anyone, anywhere at any time. The important thing to know is that you’re not alone, which is the primary theme of Brain Injury Awareness Month organized by the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA).

At least 2.5 million children and adults sustain traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in the U.S. each year – on PatientsLikeMe alone there are 7000+ living with a traumatic brain injury. Take a look at the diverse community living with TBI on PatientsLikeMe:

Brain injury awareness gender spread

Brain injury awareness age groups

 

PatientsLikeMe members have spoken up about living with TBI, how they manage it and their initial thoughts after being diagnosed. Here’s what one member, Vicki, had to say about life after her diagnosis with TBI.

Want to get involved? There are a few different ways you can show your support during Brain Injury Awareness Month – you can share one of BIAA’s six promotional posters, better educate yourself and others about brain injuries with this fact sheet, or join the conversation on BIAA’s Facebook page.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a brain injury, join the more than 7,000 members on PatientsLikeMe who are living with traumatic brain injuries. Ask questions, track your experience and find a place in the community.

 

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“I thank my donor every day for this gift”: Member Laura shares her lung transplant story

Posted March 17th, 2017 by

Meet LaurCT, an active 2015-2016 Team of Advisors alum living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). She underwent a left lung transplant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston in January and recently shared her experience with us.

How are you feeling these days? 

I am feeling great. I’ve had a couple bumps in the road but nothing that the transplant team hasn’t seen before, and [they] handle it immediately. It was scary for me but the team is great in communicating that these [post-transplant] issues happen to some and not to worry. I like that communication because it sets my mind at ease.

How long had you been a candidate for a lung transplant? 

I was evaluated at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in January of 2014 and accepted into their transplant program. At the time, I was classified as too healthy to be listed, however I was being watched and met with them every four to six months. In October 2016, BWH suggested I be re-presented and get listed on UNOS (the United Network for Organ Sharing waiting list) for a transplant. After finishing some additional testing, I was listed in Boston Region 1 on December 16, 2016. I also finished the evaluation process at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia around the same time and about December 8, 2016, I was listed on their regional UNOS list for a transplant.

You shared in the forum about having a “dry run” in December 2016, when you were called in as a backup candidate for a transplant but the lungs went to another person. How did you feel when that first call fell through for you? 

As I said in the forum, my daughter and I went to NY Presbyterian with no expectations. While driving, we were calm and I think we both knew this would be a dry run. We didn’t even really call anyone to let them know we were heading there. It gave me comfort to know that the person who needed those lungs the most got them. Many times the lungs are not usable and these are now breathing in someone’s body, giving him or her the gift of life.

What was it like to get “THE CALL” again, leading up to your actual transplant? 

January 6 was a difficult day for me emotionally. We terminal patients have those days, accept them, then put on a happy face for our loved ones. My daughter made supper (not a usual thing – haha) and we were just about ready to sit down to eat. It was 5:30 p.m. My phone rang and without looking at it, we knew. My daughter got up and went upstairs to get ready as I was answering the phone.

I was a primary [candidate] for a left lung, and we knew in our hearts this was it. We headed to Boston immediately. I headed into surgery at 11 a.m. on January 7, 2017. While I was in surgery, my daughter received a call from NY Presbyterian saying they had a lung for me. That rarely happens, if ever. My journey was meant to begin on January 7 at BWH. That was the day there was a 25-car pile-up on the way to New York. I would have never made it in time [for the transplant there].

Can you share some more of your transplant surgery experience with us?

I know that when I woke up after surgery I did not have any pain – I still have not had any pain. They put me on .5 liter of oxygen after, and when I woke in ICU, I took it off. I was breathing on my own from the beginning. My surgery finished at 5 p.m. (ish) on January 7. I did everything they told me to and was released to go home on January 13. Six days after a left lung transplant. This was meant to be.

 

What has been the most difficult or surprising part of your recovery? 

I had a couple of bumps in the road but those were nothing. I need to stress that the most difficult part is the emotions for me and for my caregiver. We don’t stress the caregiver enough. As my daughter said, the prednisone has turned her 66-year-old mother into an adolescent child at times. That is difficult for any caregiver to handle. It’s a 24-hour job for them. We just need to recover, but we can’t do it without them. I’m blessed to have her and she says we will get through this because the alternative is not an option.

You’ve referred to transplant day as “Miracle Day.” What would you say to your organ donor? And to people considering organ donation? 

I wake in the morning and thank my donor and the donor family every day for this gift. I never thought about organ donation much until a friend of mine needed a kidney and then I needed a lung. Doctors perform miracles every day not only by transplanting an organ but using the right combination of drugs to keep our body from rejecting it. Giving the gift of life to someone else is the most selfless act someone can make, and those of us who need it will forever be grateful. I plan to honor that donor by doing my part in staying alive.

How will you use PatientsLikeMe now that you’ve had a lung transplant? 

I’ve been pretty vocal [asking] about the post-transplant experience when a few of the PatientsLikeMe folks had their transplant. It’s the only piece that we don’t seem to share. I get it – I’m about two months post-transplant and I’m trying to recover. I plan to keep giving back. I will begin posting/blogging again about my experience so others also will know that whatever is happening post-transplant, some others have the same issues. Sharing our experiences and our data is important, and it makes us feel less alone. People like John_R, who I talk to – he says he has had the same experience or experienced something else. It helps those of us who follow to get through it.

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The record on research: Catching up with TOA member Cris

Posted March 15th, 2017 by

Back in January we introduced Cris, a member of the 2016-2017 PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors living with ALS. She’s also a fierce patient advocate who’s participated in several clinical trials since her diagnosis. We recently caught up with her to learn about her experience with clinical trials and why access and awareness of clinical trials is so important.

Despite her shy personality, Cris got involved with patient advocacy with the encouragement of her ALS specialist, Dr. Richard Bedlack. Determined to overcome her shyness, Cris found motivation and purpose in advocating for future patients, family and friends and the belief that access to all trials should be easily available for a patient and not complicated to locate. In May, she attended the ALS Advocacy Day in Washington D.C., where she represented pALS from North Carolina and shared her own ALS journey with her state’s senators.

Cris believes that clinical trials are critical for survival, present and future, but physicians don’t know about, or take the time to discuss current trials with patients unless their facility is active in research. There are very few active ALS clinical trials and because of stringent trial protocols, many patients are not accepted due to progression of the disease. She believes that since ALS is fatal, drug companies are worried patients might succumb before end of trial.

Since her diagnosis in 2014, Cris has participated in several clinical trials:

  • Started a new trial but ultimately failed in the qualification process.
  • Started a “blind” (placebo vs drug dosage) – but couldn’t tolerate the side effects of the drug dosage and was advised not to continue.
  • Participated in a monitored daily physical activity study.
  • Currently enrolled in the year-long Lunasin Virtual Trial (completing at the end of March 2017). This trial is in partnership with Duke and PatientsLikeMe and all monthly input and results can be viewed by PatientsLikeMe patients.
  • Currently participating in a 6-month study through the Precision Medicine Program (ALSTDI), to compare movement data collected using accelerometers and overlay those data with an individual’s self-reported ALSFRS-R scores. Involves keeping track of progression with activity monitors for six days.

What is the goal of the Duke Lunasin Virtual Trial?

  • The primary hypothesis is that a supplement regimen containing Lunasin can decrease the rate of ALSFRS-S progression by 50% relative to matched historic controls.
  • While it might not be the most delicious drink, Cris makes it work by mixing the Lunasin with juices or smoothies. Cris, like many of her fellow pALS, is willing to go to any length for a treatment or cure.
  • Want to know more about the Duke trial? Check out what Dr. Bedlack had to say.

New to the ALS community? Cris has some words of advice:

Know that it’s okay and expected, when first diagnosed with this disease, to have the wide spectrum of emotions from sadness, madness, confusion, “why me” and fear (to name a few). I highly recommend putting aside all the negativity that goes with this journey as quickly as possible. Regroup, focus and be creative on establishing a new way of life to cope with various stages of disability. Contact your local ALS chapter, national or worldwide or other pALS – they’re great resources.”

On PatientsLikeMe:

Cris shared about Lunasin and being a part of the Duke trial. With 151 PatientsLikeMe members reporting that they’ve used Lunasin to treat their ALS, 140 treatment evaluations and almost 45,000 forum posts, Lunasin is a popular topic in the ALS community.

Want to learn more? Head to the forum to check what people are saying about Lunasin.

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The record on research: A chat with Duke’s Dr. Rick Bedlack

Posted March 7th, 2017 by

“This is the fastest enrolling trial in ALS history.”

 

A brightly-colored blazer and the determination to make a difference for ALS patients are two of Dr. Rick Bedlack’s defining characteristics. Dr. Bedlack is a tenured associate professor of Medicine/Neurology at Duke University. He’s also the director of the Duke ALS Clinic that’s partnering with PatientsLikeMe in the current Lunasin study. We recently spoke with him about his background with ALS and the ins and outs of the study.

He saw his first patient with ALS in the late 1990s during his residency at Duke.  He says, “I remember being amazed by the person’s history and neurological exam findings, intrigued by the mysteries of why this was happening, and horrified when I heard my attending physician say ‘you have 2-3 years. There is nothing we can do. Go and get your affairs in order.’” Driving home that day, he decided to build a program for people with ALS that would give them options for living the best possible life with the disease and for participating in research that would stimulate some hope.

Fast forward to March of 2016 when the Lunasin study started. What’s Lunasin and why does it matter to the ALS community? Lunasin is a peptide first extracted from soybeans, which has several potential mechanisms by which it could help a person with ALS. “I first heard about it in a video that my ALSUntangled team was asked to review. In this, a man named Mike McDuff reported that he had ALS, started taking a Lunasin-containing supplement regimen, and unexpectedly experienced dramatic improvements in his speech and swallowing,” says Rick.

He found Mike McDuff and validated his ALS reversal. “One possible explanation for his ALS reversal is that the Lunasin regimen really works,” he says. “Other possible explanations are that Mr. McDuff has an undiagnosed ALS-mimic syndrome, or that his body is somehow naturally ‘resistant’ to this disease. I am testing all these hypotheses in my ALS Reversals program.”

The Lunasin study is a clinical trial of the exact same Lunasin-containing regimen that Mike McDuff took when he experienced his ALS reversal. Because they’re looking for the largest signal ever in an ALS trial, they’ve been able to incorporate some unusual design features into this trial:

  • The inclusion criteria are very broad. There are no cutoffs related to disease duration or breathing function.
  • There are no placebos. All 50 people in the trial will get the real treatments.
  • There are very few in-person visits. Most of the visits are virtual, with participants logging into PatientsLikeMe to enter measurements we teach them to make.
  • The results of the study are available in real time. Anyone can go onto PatientsLikeMe and type in “Lunasin Duke Virtual Trial” and see what participants are saying is happening to them.

“I appreciate the frustration many people with ALS have expressed about the way most of our trials are designed and I wanted to do something different to help them,” says Dr. Bedlack. “It took longer than I expected to get the study open. Constipation is much more common on the Lunasin regimen than I expected, and drop outs have been higher than I hoped thus far.”

The IRB-approved protocol is published so that anyone who wants to try the Lunasin regimen outside the trial can do so using the exact same products and doses, and even record their same outcome measures on PatientsLikeMe.

So, what’s the end game of this study? Dr. Bedlack comments, “I hope to find a way to reverse ALS or at least slow it down. If that does not happen, then I hope I can at least show that this unusual design enrolls more quickly and retains study participants better than a more traditional ALS trial. This is the fastest enrolling trial in ALS history.”

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