16 posts tagged “2016-2017 Team of Advisors”

Women’s Health Week: Ginny reflects on motherhood and “the perfect storm” of epilepsy and mental health conditions

Posted May 19th, 2017 by

In honor of National Women’s Health Week, Team of Advisors member Ginny (Mrslinkgetter) shares what it’s like to live with multiple health conditions – including major depressive disorder (MDD), generalized anxiety disorder and epilepsy – as well as grief following the death of her son (who also had epilepsy and major depression). On PatientsLikeMe, hundreds of members report living with epilepsy along with depression and/or anxiety.

“I’ve had anxiety from my earliest memories,” she says. In her early 30s, she also began experiencing MDD. She was dealing with a move, very active children, and worsening migraines, pain and other symptoms.

“It was the perfect storm,” she says. Read on for more of her story, plus her tips for women dealing with multiple health conditions in their family.

My name is Ginny. I had 12 years of misdiagnosis, until I was appropriately diagnosed with epilepsy, psoriatic arthritis, major depression and anxiety.

In the middle of dealing with my own health issues, my son was diagnosed with epilepsy. I felt overwhelmed – extreme exhaustion beyond the norm for a mom and wife.

When I started Topamax, a seizure medication for my epilepsy, it raised my anxiety and I told my neurologist I had to have a depression/anxiety medication. While Topamax increased my anxiety, it also helped to lower my seizures and helped me regain my ability to think. Seizures were robbing my ability for complex thought. I still take Trokendi XR, a form of Topamax. Everyone’s response to these medications is unique, so talk with your doctor about how they affect you, especially if you have suicidal thoughts.

As a mom, I was unable to see how much my depression was impacting my parenting until I was on medication (Cymbalta) and started feeling less anxiety and depression. One month later I was traveling alone and I suddenly realized that I felt zero anxiety on the plane, elevator or city taxi – I felt freedom for the first time, ever!

“I realized my spouse and kids had a less than effective mother than they could have had during some of those years. I do not dwell on this since I cannot turn back the clock. I use this to tell other parents: I did the best that I could during those years – part of the time I did not even realize that I had depression and anxiety.”

Doctors and specialists were reluctant to diagnose me with depression. I was even placed on a depression medication at one time “to help with the migraines.” I was concerned because I did not want to be thought of as “crazy.” If my doctor had been more honest and said she felt I was depressed and I should try this medication, it would have been wiser. A doctor who can say, “sometimes depression also causes physical symptoms” – true fact – helps the patient to understand this and make informed health care decisions. 

“Being a mom when you have many physical and emotional issues is very challenging. I often put my children’s needs first. I got to the point when I knew I had to take care of my needs.”

When I did this, I knew I was doing the best for all of us. I could not take care of them if I was too depressed, too anxious or in too much physical pain. I teach this to other parents, at well.

My son’s anxiety was noticeable even at age 3. He was diagnosed with it formally at age 11, but not placed on medications for depression and anxiety until after his first two suicide attempts at age 15.

Sam’s mental health issues seemed intermingled with his epilepsy. They can be bi-directional, meaning they can occur before or after one another, according to Dr. Andres Kanner, who has studied how they’re related. Depression is the psychiatric disorder that occurs most frequently with epilepsy (affecting 20 to 50% of people with epilepsy, depending on epilepsy type). Learn more here. The suicide risk in people with epilepsy is more complicated. If you or someone you know expresses suicidal thoughts, please seek help through crisis resources like these.

Sam’s health issues taught me that we are so much more than a list of conditions. He taught me how to deal with – as well as how to advocate for – a person trying to cope with these life-and-death conditions. I learned how to speak to him and the importance of including people – a child, teen or adult – in decisions about their care.

I became an advocate at the national and state level so that our representatives could begin to understand what patients and families endure.

I found a program through the Epilepsy Foundation and asked if he wanted to apply to go to Washington D.C. to talk to senators and congressmen. He got in and we went. That began our lifetime odyssey.

People around the world learned about Sam’s life and death because others went on telling his story through the Epilepsy Foundation and the websites we went on. People had watched him grow from a little boy to a 20-year-old man. At 16, Sam used his artwork to help others with depression to find hope and help by creating Preventing Teen Tragedy.

I cope with my grief through continuing to help others. I had a non-profit for six years that worked with the Epilepsy Foundation. I was trained as a grief specialist. I use portions of Sam’s story with my clients at work as a Mobile Crisis family partner. I also talk to others online.

PatientsLikeMe has been a safe place for me to come and share, first while Sam was still alive. Now, having a safe place to come and read and talk has been such a great coping method for me. I cannot always share about my son fully in other places because people become uncomfortable. Sam died of suicide on his fourth attempt. 

“People forget that when a mother talks about her son, it is not about his death, it is about the fact that he lived. I have lost so many of my friends because they do not know what to say so they just stay away from me because they are not comfortable.”

Mental illness is not a weakness. Depression and anxiety are conditions of an organ in our body and should be treated as such. I can come to the website and know that others have answers to help me through the rough times. I do not need to weather this journey alone.

My tips for women and moms living with mental health conditions: 

  • Take care of yourself through a healthy diet. Depression may cause under- or over-eating. Do your best to work on changing how you eat.
  • Exercise, even when you don’t feel like doing it. I am 54 years old, work a 12.5-hour shift four days a week and do not feel like working out a lot of the time. I am adding in yoga, stretches, walking, and whatever else I can to keep moving. This helps all of my conditions.
  • Involve children in eating well and exercise. We used to kayak, play tag, walk and do what we could to stay active. When I felt moody around the kids I would tell them, “OK, it is time to walk the grump.” Before we would reach the end of the road, all of us would be in a better mood.

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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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Member Kimberly opens up about living with a rare disease

Posted February 28th, 2017 by

Today is Rare Disease Day 2017, and to raise awareness Kimberly (firefly84), a member of the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors, recently shared some of her experiences living with autonomic neuropathy, a rare disease: “Perhaps you’ve heard the saying ‘when you hear hoof beats, think of horses not zebras,’ but I am the zebra in that herd of horses.”

Kimberly touches on the impact of living with a rare disease, and also what she had to go through to get a diagnosis for her condition. Watch her video to hear what she has to say…

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Communicating drug risks/benefits so the message really gets through

Posted February 22nd, 2017 by

Last month, Jim, a member of the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors, was invited by Sally Okun, PatientsLikeMe’s VP Advocacy, Policy & Patient Safety, to present at the Drug Information Association (DIA) Pharmacovigilance Conference. He also led a lunch roundtable for drug risk/benefit communications experts.

Sally, who also participated on the roundtable panel, says requests for patients to participate in events and meetings such as this are increasing: “There’s a lot of interest from the pharmaceutical industry and regulators to hear directly from patients about their experiences. Jim’s presentation was quite powerful and provided a perspective that most in the room had not heard before. The positive response from the audience reaffirmed the value of bringing the patient voice into the full lifecycle of drug development.”

We asked Jim to share his experience (from the patient perspective) attending and presenting at the conference. In his own words:

When it comes to treatment options, patients like us routinely face difficult treatment decisions such as: “Drug X can treat symptoms of your chronic condition and might improve your long-term prognosis. But, 5% of patients on Drug X experience serious side effects, and in rare cases, complications can be fatal.  So: is this a risk you’re prepared to take?”

Question: Now, suppose you worked for a pharmaceutical company or the FDA and were assigned to inform patients like us about Drug X’s drug safety and risks/benefits: what should your primary goal be… provide clear, comprehensive and scientifically accurate advice about all of Drug X’s pros and cons?…OR… help patients review and evaluate information from any source — not just your communication, but also sources like WebMD, PatientsLikeMe, friends and family, and social media — in order to make more effective treatment decisions for themselves?

For participants attending the Drug Information Association (DIA)’s Pharmacovigilance Conference January 17‑18, 2017, this wasn’t a hypothetical question, because their job is to design and develop drug advisory communications for patients and providers.

I recently joined PatientsLikeMe’s Team of Advisors for 2017 and belong to three PatientsLikeMe patient communities (MS, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and aortic valve insufficiency). My plenary presentation focused on how patients would answer the question above — or, more accurately, how I would answer it.

I began by asking conference participants to raise their hands if they’d ever taken a medication (100%); how many had ever read an entire drug insert from start to finish (≈ 2%); and finally, how many had read a few targeted sections of a drug insert (≈ 50%). The key points here were that (1) regardless of what information they should seek in an ideal world, practically all patients, even if it’s only for a headache or a chest infection, tend to “zero in” on just the information that seems most vital to them for making a treatment decision. And, (2) in the case of serious chronic conditions, the way newly-diagnosed patients “zero in” is dramatically reduced; so, (3) safety communicators should focus more on helping patients recognize the  value of considering more useful information rather than less when reaching a genuinely effective treatment decision, and feel confident in their ability to evaluate any source of information available to them.

To illustrate, I walked conference participants through four treatment decisions I’ve personally had to make to show in each case: (a) what objective information — a tiny fraction of everything available — I actually considered, (b) how my emotions (shock, fear, anger, confusion, etc.) had influenced the way I weighed that information, and (c) the one or two factors that turned out to be key to reaching a decision that was both effective and emotionally sustainable for me.

For instance, when diagnosed with chronic leukemia, I was invited to join a clinical trial.  The key objective information I considered included:

  • Risks of the trial (identified and unknown)
  • the +’s and –‘s of standard 1st-line treatment
  • Requirements for participation
  • Costs of participation.

Emotional factors which dominated my thinking at the time included:

  • Desire for the longest possible remission
  • Logistical complexity of participation
  • Perception of this doctor’s stake in having me join the trial
  • My desire to be a good citizen-hero

And, in the end, the driving factor which influenced my decision not to participate in the trial was the fact that the trial’s logistics would have been incompatible with my work life.

After reviewing three other key treatment decisions in the same manner, I summed up three key observations from the patient’s point of view that drug safety communicators should keep in mind when designing their communications:

  1. Personal, emotional and family factors dominate most patients’ perceptions of the objective information they look at
  2. Since major health care decisions are made under the press of time and powerful emotions, they generally have less to do with objective facts about a medication than the patient’s feeling about what’s best
  3. Objective information about a treatment’s +’s and –‘s counts, but only at certain points in the patient’s decision-making process if/when s/he feels calm and self-confident enough to do so

With these in mind, my key takeaway for conference participants was that they should design their drug safety communications first to help patients find a calm, centered place from which to consider and weigh drug information from any source, and only second to focus on the most important, scientifically accurate information about a drug’s risks-benefits. Those would be my priorities for drug communicators…. but would you agree?

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Meet Lindsay from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted February 9th, 2017 by

 

Meet Lindsay (Shyandspicy), a member of the PatientsLikeMe 2016-2017 Team of Advisors living with bipolar II, fibromyalgia and diabetes. We recently caught up with Lindsay to learn how she finds purpose in her relationships with her family, her faith and helping others. 

Keep reading to get to know her story and how she tackles the obstacles of living with her conditions through research, self-advocacy and connecting with others.

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

There used to be not much that could give me joy or even make me smile. Now I can say one of my biggest joys in life is bringing pride to God and my family and other supportive loved ones. I have put them through a lot of strife and knowing that they recognize my hard work and attempts at trying to correct the past and become a better version of me brings joy. Along with that, I get a smile on my face when I spend time with my son, who is 13 and my little sister, who is 30 years younger than me. Experiencing life again through their eyes has a whole new meaning!

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

Stigma and high functional ability are the greatest obstacles. Because people can’t physically notice all my diagnosed illnesses on a daily basis (bipolar II, fibromyalgia, diabetes and other mental health illness) due to me being so highly functional. I have been denied much-needed services such as disability and compassion among others because I can mask how severe I am at times due to societal expectations of being what is normal. Society needs to start to recognize that we all are different and experience some different type of hurts/traumas in our lives but some of us can’t recover as well from those things. That does not make us less than. Instead of shaming us for displaying a need for help, society needs to encourage and applaud the strength in getting help. It starts though with ourselves not feeling embarrassed about our illnesses, whatever they may be, then family and friends and hopefully society.

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

This is hard for me to answer because many of my conditions (diabetes, fibromyalgia, mental health illness) are not seen and overlap. The best way to describe I think is that I know I have the potential to do great things, but mentally, physically and emotionally I struggle so hard to achieve this. First, I constantly talk myself into waking up in the morning, moving around, taking medicine, getting dressed, eating, overcoming fears, slowing down on taking on the world, filling out paperwork, and other basic skills that people tend to take for granted. I am a high functioning person so I’ve adapted to societal ways, but physically I’m in constant pain, the kind where every joint, etc., feels like a train has hit me and nothing I can do takes it away. Mentally, I am in constant battle of trying to build myself up while tearing myself down, remember little tasks and trying not to be confused (because I am intelligent and it makes no sense that I can’t remember simple things anymore). Emotionally, I am constantly finding exits, bathrooms, etc. in case I have a “melt down” so I can do it in private. I act cold, inappropriate and ruin relationships because I misunderstand things emotionally. All because I don’t want to be a bother or appear weak.

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

Research, research and research. I am a big reader and nerd already, but the one thing that has helped me is knowing what I am talking about when I go into the doctor’s offices. They may not believe you because some doctors are not up on research, but at least I know what tests I should ask for, medicines I should try and treatments to seek. If you can’t get it from a certain doctor, be an advocate for yourself. Just because one doctor says one thing, doesn’t mean it is entirely true. You can always change doctors, hospitals, etc., I never understood that. Another thing is keep track of symptoms, changes, etc. It helps to know when your condition is getting worse or better.

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

Very important. Without finding PatientsLikeMe.com in April 2016, I think my life would have been very different at this point. This site has given me courage, comfort and belonging. That was my major piece missing in my recovery of self, a sense of belonging…and finding non-judgmental and understanding strangers who get it is rare. This site brings everyone together and then some!

Recount a time when you’ve had to advocate for yourself.

I am always having to be a constant advocate for myself with doctors and my state funded insurance. It is SO frustrating and many times I want to give up, but I know no one else is going to do it and something needs to be done. Here is an ironic situation I run into a lot: I have applied for bariatric surgery 5 times. I’ve been denied 5 times due to mental stability, yet I need multiple test services, etc. and when I go to get the prior authorization, I am denied stating I need to just lose weight. Hmmm…interesting. You won’t pay for the surgery, you won’t pay for the coverage to get better sleep to lose weight, but will pay for me to see a doctor at least 5 times a week and 21+ pills a month. I also just had my 7th surgery on my knee. I am going to continue to fight because it makes no sense. Just because I have state insurance and I am overweight does not mean I should get unfair treatment.

How has PatientsLikeMe (or other members of the PatientsLikeMe community) impacted how you cope with your condition?

Because of PatientsLikeMe, I have found a new desire to become a better patient and to be there for other people who are not aware that there is hope for their condition. I started on this site because I was tired of how I was being treated as a patient and I found hope on PatientsLikeMe and comfort with other members. It brought me out of my depression at the time. Any time I talk to someone, (and this was before I was on the Team of Advisors) I would tell them about this site because I felt it was just a great way to not feel alone anymore and to get knowledge. I’m able to cope better knowing that if I am having a bad day other people will be supportive and give well wishes or advice. That is so comforting when you are depressed…just knowing someone in this world cares.

What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors?

I wanted to help other people like others have helped me on this site.

 

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Meet Hetlena from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 31st, 2017 by

Say hello to Hetlena (@TheLupusLiar) from the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors. We recently caught up with Hetlena and she chatted with us about some of the challenges she faces living with lupus and why she won’t let it stop her: “Putting off your aspirations, dreams, and wants due to the fear of what an illness can do means you are standing still.”

Get to know Hetlena and read on to find out how she stays positive: “After living for a while, you begin to realize that you are only given one life, so why not live it to the best of your ability.

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

What doesn’t give me the greatest joy? Not much. I do my best to find joy and appreciation in everything that I am exposed to because waking up to a new day is one of the greatest joys anyone can experience. I’ve always been a morning person, so the smile comes naturally. After living for a while, you begin to realize that you are only given one life, so why not live it to the best of your ability. (…And yes, I could do much better.)

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?

Being diagnosed with lupus wasn’t the only problem, adjusting to the shift in what I can do and when I can do it is one of the greatest obstacles of living with this perplexing illness. There are so many days that I live in fear of being exposed of my weaknesses while trying to live up to others’ expectations. Being that I’ve willed myself to hold a full-time job while battling this disease, there are many times I secretly cower to the fact that I may not remember something, I may drop my coffee cup, lose control of my arms, or be out sick when I ‘shouldn’t’ have. I feel that society can handle a common cold, but not forever shifting sick days. Folks will say that they understand, but it’s my experience that many do not. I wish more of us —those diagnosed with lupus — were brave enough to not be coy about the unwilling position that lupus places us in. We are weakened by our feelings, our worries that others just do not understand how someone can be so well, so able at one moment of the day, then not functional the next.

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

If I had to describe my condition to someone who isn’t living with it and doesn’t understand what it’s like, I’d have them first reserve a few days, maybe even a week or two, to be away from others. This is how this disease can feel, lonely, secluded, and strangely misunderstood. Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks normal, healthy cells and tissue. The body attacks itself. Lupus isn’t to the point where every doctor’s office has a brochure to give you when diagnosed. You’re told you have lupus, something not a lot of research has been done about, then you are asked to follow up in six weeks—if you have six weeks. This disease is scary, unpredictable, ridiculously confusing, but, thanks to many developments in the last ten years, better. How much better depends on the body. Since no two lupus patients are alike, my symptoms differ from others diagnosed. I am in constant pain. It’s continuous, yet varies at different times of the day. There are times when I’m overwhelmed with discomfort, confusion, anger, and depression. There are times when it all happens at the same time. These heightened times are known as flares, when the disease takes hold in a way that it cannot be controlled. The medicine usually changes with symptoms, thus the costs of doctor visits and medication is additionally horribly painful to the pocket. In retrospect, to understand the upheaval this disease persists upon in one’s life, you’d have to be diagnosed with it to truly comprehend what it’s like living with lupus.

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

During my 23 years of living with this disease, I’ve learned that self-monitoring is the first method of self-care that a person newly diagnosed with a chronic condition needs to practice. You cannot support your own successes without tracking your good days and bad days. Maintaining records on medications, symptoms and even your surroundings and feelings help make for a better you.

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

It is has been vital that I connect with others dealing with the same condition that I have. Because this disease is so complex and multi-faceted, it is helpful to communicate with other people with my condition. Those, like me, know firsthand how difficult managing this disease can be.

Recount a time when you’ve had to advocate for yourself.

For anyone living with a disease that changes almost as much as the weather, advocating for your health is not an easy task. Lupus flares do not always call before they stop by; so you end up visiting the emergency room more than you’d like to.

With this being said, there have often been times that I’ve had to insist on having an emergency room attending physician ‘check’ for certain vitals that they would normally have not taken or reviewed. When you are already weak, distorted, and out of sorts, as a patient, you are not taken seriously or seen as being a ‘complainer.’ This can be hurtful and annoying. This is why I keep a journal of my symptoms and other important medical information such as my current physician’s contact information and latest test results. Being able to quickly access this information and add to it, if necessary, allows me to advocate for my health and insure that I am taken care of in the best way possible, with the most accurate amount of information.

What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors?

It wasn’t that I just wanted to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors, I just HAD to join! There was no way that I would not have wanted to be a part of a team that helps others advocate for themselves in the most sensible and realistic way possible! PatientsLikeMe believes in the patient point of view to healthcare. How about that for an idea? We need our healthcare providers to know that we appreciate them, but we also need them to know the best way to care for us. That means being open, truthful and as informative as possible when it comes to relaying health information. PatientsLikeMe does just that! They give patients, like me, a voice. A voice that’s loud, clear, and monitored all at once. And, as a patient, this not only helps me, but allows my one voice to be an additional advocate for lupus healthcare awareness.

How has PatientsLikeMe (or other members of the PatientsLikeMe community) impacted how you cope with your condition?

Everyone needs a safe place of understanding, a nest of relief from feeling anxiety for being misunderstood. Being able to connect with others diagnosed with lupus is comforting. The PatientsLikeMe site provides this place to connect and more. Not only is the helpful health information always relevant and up-to-date, but my very own personal information assists me with my own care. I can look back at my information, target where a flare may have been triggered and get a more than typical perspective on my overall health.

What are you putting off out of fear from your condition?

You have to consider using and appreciating what you already have before you can begin to be happy. You have to do your best to not let the pain, depression, frustration and fear take over your mindset. Meditating and listening to yourself is one of the best ways to clear your mind and re-center. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can happen. Putting off your aspirations, dreams, and wants due to the fear of what an illness can do means you are standing still. In order to get where you want to go, you have to move. And that means moving past the fear of what could happen into the path of what will happen.

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Meet Ginny from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 26th, 2017 by

Say hello to Ginny (Mrslinkgetter), a case manager and family partner with Youth Mobile Crisis Intervention living with depression and epilepsy.  She’s also a member of the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors.

Check out what Ginny had to say about living with depression and epilepsy, the loss of her son, and how being her own advocate and the support of others helps her deal with stigma:

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

My first greatest joy that puts a smile on my face is spending time with my granddaughter! (She is 2 and the cutest girl on the planet by my biased opinion!). My second greatest joy is connecting with people using either my journey with chronic health issues, or my son’s and being able to help them. I often edit my son’s story a bit if I believe the way his life ended might cause more harm to them, especially my clients.

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?

People have pre-conceived ideas about depression, anxiety, and seizures and even when I try to inform them, they often bounce back to their former thinking. This causes, not just an obstacle, but sometimes a mountain between us. I have had people tell me they are “afraid of me” because of my seizures. They had been told my seizures are focal, not convulsive. I do not fall on the ground and shake, yet, they are afraid, WHY? Ignorance. I have had relatives who have shunned me due to the diagnosis, later in my life. I lost friends over the diagnosis of depression. I believe in speaking out about the conditions because I do believe we need to be the changers of the world. I know that it is an enormous task. One of my son’s epilepsy doctors was also one who had some big prejudice about the disorder. I went to him after my son’s death. He had told me that I had caused my son’s stigma. I had asked him for many years “How? How was it that I had caused kids to punch my son in the head and ask him to spaz out?” The doctor never answered me.

When we talked after Sam died I showed him the picture of Sam and Tony Coelho on a magazine cover. I asked him if he knew who that was. He did, and smiled. I told him that Tony had told Sam each year when we saw him, “Never be ashamed to talk about your epilepsy.” I told this doctor that Sam did become ashamed because the doctor told him to be ashamed. I told the doctor I believe it is up to us to change the world about how they view those of us who have epilepsy. I treated Sam no differently as I treated my father who had diabetes as I grew up. He had a medical condition over which he had no control. This specialist then nodded his head agreeing with me.

I speak to people to let them know these conditions are medical. They need treatment like a heart condition, asthma, diabetes. It is time they are not suppressed, made to be ignored, or thought shameful.

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

My depression can ease up on me like someone adding weight until I cannot carry it any longer by myself. Suddenly I realize I am crying more easily for little reason. I cannot do simple tasks that used to come easily. I thought I was doing well, but have slid back into depression. This is not the same as “sadness.” I want to stay in bed, but no amount of extra sleep is enough. Concentration can become more difficult. I can be grouchier.

When my I miss my seizure medications or have long migraines, I have focal seizures. I can sense a prodrome (aura) when a seizure is coming on. My brain is just not working right during that time. My words are not able to form right or come out correctly. This can happen with both my seizures and when I have a bad migraine coming on so I try to get home to be safe. I have a long warning time, typically. During the seizure my head can feel too heavy for my neck. I am not able to talk but I can sometimes hear what is going on around me. I can have tingling in my face and hands. I will usually sleep after. Even after I wake up I am groggy and my brain is not working at full capacity. Sometimes my vision will “white out” and l have been known to send e-mail during that time that make no sense. Apparently I kept typing even though I was in a seizure. Fortunately it was to a family member who I could explain what happened!

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

Become informed in your condition as much as you are comfortable with from reputable sources. Find a good support network whether it is family, a support group, faith group or whatever you can form. You will do better with support around you.

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

It has been vital to me to find people who understood what I was going through! When my son was first diagnosed, I was not on the internet so it took a while for us to connect with others. When I did it felt like a miracle! Once I connected I have wanted to stay connected. When I was diagnosed a few years later I needed to speak to people about my own connection. These have been my friends for so many years!

Recount a time when you’ve had to advocate for yourself. 

I have found a medication that would be better for me as I went into menopause. I had been at the American Epilepsy Society Meetings and learned about this new medication. I called my epilepsy doctor when I returned. She was pleased to hear about the medication and was more than willing to try this for me. It gave me a return to better seizure control. My doctor is very open to what information I have for her. I have had to fight insurance companies many times for my care and for my son’s care.

What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors?

I want to be able to impact others who have chronic health conditions in a positive way. I know that the online community was what got me through years with Sam. Sharing my experiences and passing it along to others my assist them in their journey.

 

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Meet Cris from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 19th, 2017 by

Say hello to Cris (@Criss02), another member of the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors. Cris is a proud grandparent and a vocal advocate for the ALS community. She sat down with us and opened up about what it’s really like to live with her condition.

Cris recently presented at the ALS Advocacy conference in Washington D.C., and she chatted with us about why raising her voice is so important: “Without our voices things would remain the status quo.”

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

Family. Just waking up in the morning. Thankful my son and his wife have taken us in so we’re not alone on this journey. So proud of him as a dad, teacher/coach! Seeing my teenage grandson each day with his silly sense of humor, loving kindness and our talks about his day as he lays on my bed. Seeing my granddaughter every day and proud of the woman and mother she has become – we watch our great granddaughter for her while she works. I can’t hold her but I can feed her on my lap and talk and be silly with her, my husband has diaper duty! Such a joy to be able to spend time with an infant, watch her grow, smile and coo as she becomes more aware.

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?

Without hesitation my greatest obstacle is losing independence. The ability to just get in the car to go shopping, grandson’s football and baseball games or dinner without worrying about weakness, falling or becoming fatigued causing excursion to be cut short for my “driver”. It becomes my main concern when deciding participation in outside activities – consequently I am missing out on events I enjoy.

Ironically, I never hesitate to go to health related advocacy and meeting events (near and far) – perhaps because I’m in a comfortable “safe place” with “my own”. I’m still able to walk short distances without assistance. However it’s unnerving being in the general public subject to constant stares or side glanced looks at my unstable walking. Often wonder if they think I’m intoxicated (which is funny as I don’t drink alcohol) – I’ve jokingly asked if I did drink would it straighten my gait? Upcoming wheelchair usage will undoubtedly escalate social anxiety and more stares.

Public awareness and compassion seems to be insurmountable making the question of on how to further their understanding. My thoughts are start with the young and teens – with the hopes as they grow older they will share compassion. Unfortunately, it seems, unless one has a personal experience with someone with a disease or disability they are complacent. That’s sad.

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

Living with ALS, at least my experience so far, is like feeling your body deteriorate one stiffening muscle spasm and tingling nerve at a time all the while your brain is telling you “it’ll pass”…only it doesn’t. Mornings are the hardest moving a finger at a time, then a toe or legs carefully trying to avoid horrific muscle spasms that hurt after subsiding – as if I had just run a marathon or worked out with weights. The loss of use in one arm/hand (2 years now) was tolerable, although as a graphic designer was career ending – now my good right arm/hand is increasingly becoming deficient – although I can still type with one finger. Having someone cut my food has since altered what I choose to eat in company. The mind will still be active as the body loses every function. I’m one of the fortunate slow progression patients still with use of my weakening legs, although several falls have awakened my denial knowing a wheelchair is in the near future. It will need to be tricked out – a power wheelchair with necessary medical features geared for someone with ALS and total function loss. Eventually I’ll be unable to breathe and may use a breathing device or unable speak and with luck will get an eye gaze communicator. Without all it will be death. There is no cure. But living day to day I do the best I can to make every day count.

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

Take your head out of the sand. Denial is not healthy and a waste of precious time! Importantly with any disease, I highly recommend working closely with your specialist or specialized clinic. Ask about clinical trials – early in diagnosis this could be critical for acceptance in a protocol. Research trials, associations, medications, therapies…anything specific to the disease. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or disagree with treatments. Knowledge is key! Get involved in your diagnosis and it’s “your” future.

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

Extremely important to connect with my fellow pALS and their cALS for emotional and knowledgeable support. They alone understand what I’m going through but unconditionally are matter of fact about its reality. My fellow patients are a family of a disease nobody wants.

Meeting pALS who have further and advanced progression but are still active in advocacy, policy changes, clinical research and more have been my inspirations and mentors. I no longer sit on the sidelines and for them I am eternally grateful.

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

So far I haven’t had a problem and had to advocate with the exception of misdiagnosis for over a year. Since confirmed diagnosis I have been fortunate my specialist is a compassionate ALS advocate and researcher who has encouraged my advocacy and participation in educating others.

What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors? 

Participating in causes was barely on my agenda the past 60+ years – which I now feel was completely selfish. I was just working, raising kids and grandkids. However, since my diagnosis I came to realize I wasted precious time when my small voice could’ve been heard somewhere making a difference. When I started a clinical trial protocol I was introduced to PatientsLikeMe and instantly felt a bond with the pALS in my forum and was pleased to have met a few at Advocacy in Washington and was surprised by their openness and requests for information and my story. Quickly I knew I wanted to help in any way possible from my diseases perspective to others who just needed a shoulder or guidance. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to “make a difference” so late in my life.

How has PatientsLikeMe (or other members of the PatientsLikeMe community) impacted how you cope with your condition?

I have a pretty good attitude and honestly know what’s in store but other members who are going through the worse aspects of this horrific disease have helped me accept reality. But, with that reality have helped me understand the journey and that I’m not alone. “It takes a village.”

Why should a patient advocate for patients care, disease specific necessary medical equipment, legislation or clinical trials?

Without our voices things would remain the status quo – healthcare would continue to be impersonal, medical support equipment for specific diseases would go unused, legislators would put clinical trials on the back burner as being too expensive – consequently patients would continue to die. My closing remarks at ALS Advocacy in DC to my state senators and representatives is a sample of my feelings for our “asks” for my incurable disease but could the message could apply to many! “In closing, I do want to remind you – in 75 years ALS has not discriminated with age, gender, race or economic status and will strike unknowingly at any moment. So, next time YOU drop a pen, choke when your drink goes down wrong, get up stiff and unable to move after sitting or laying or you stumble over that blade of grass – maybe you will think about what legislation, clinical trials and medical support you would like in affect if ALS were to invade YOUR body.”

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Meet Gary from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 12th, 2017 by

Meet Gary (tupelo), a husband, father and grandfather who lives with Parkinson’s disease. Gary’s also a member of the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors. He believes that physical exercise slows the progression of Parkinson’s and practices Tai Chi and Qigong on a regular basis.

Check out Gary’s story and his outlook on life with Parkinson’s: “Accepting your condition doesn’t mean you must resign yourself to it.”

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

There are many things that give me joy in life. In my personal life, I love sports, reading a good book and drinking a glass of good wine.  In my professional life, I’m motivated by taking on the challenge of new opportunities, taking an idea and creating a business around it, or public speaking. However, nothing gives me more joy in my life than my family. They are the reason I push myself so hard to understand all there is to know about Parkinson’s Disease while searching for a way to stop or slow the progression. My phone, my computer and my desk all contain pictures of my two young grandsons.  That’s what brings a smile to my face each day.

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

Living with a chronic, progressive disease is basically like having a new full-time job. Managing medication, scheduling medical appointments, keeping up with current literature and research, keeping involved with my Parkinson’s advocacy and volunteer work, while making sure I exercise daily can become exhausting.  The greatest obstacle and challenge I have living with Parkinson’s is doing all of this while also trying to maintain my professional career and leave time to continue to live and enjoy life to its fullest.

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

The best advice I can offer to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic illness is do all you can to take control of the situation. Research the condition, put together the best medical team you can find, search out all the options for treatment and control of the disease, make your support team (family and/or friends) aware of your condition and lean on them when needed, and do whatever you need to do to fight for your health.  Then, after you have taken control to the best of your ability, remember to GO LIVE YOUR LIFE. You had no choice in getting your condition, but you have plenty of choices in how you live your life afterwards. Accepting your condition doesn’t mean you must resign yourself to it.

What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors?

 Since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease almost five years ago, I have been actively involved in the PD community.  I’ve spoken publicly on a variety of topics, including drug development, clinical trials and patient volunteers, government regulations, resource allocation, access to records and information, interaction with healthcare providers and overall patient treatment and care.  Along the way I’ve come to learn how difficult it is for patients to have their voices heard and their opinions considered.  I’ve also realized how difficult it is to change any bureaucracy, and our healthcare system is right out the top of the list.  I was thrilled to join the Team of Advisors because I’ve seen firsthand what PLM has been able to accomplish in both helping patients and influencing change. As patients dealing with chronic conditions, we all share similar concerns, problems and issues.  We will be much more successful in producing meaningful changes as advocates of a combined patient community than we ever could individually or as separate disease communities.

Has there been any positive impact to your life from living with Parkinson’s Disease?

On first thought, it’s hard to imagine how someone could have a positive impact from a progressive chronic disease. However, I had several positive changes because of my diagnosis. First, I’ve come to appreciate and enjoy life much more than I did prior to diagnosis. As a Type A personality, I spent way too much time and focus on my career and had all the associated stress that came with the job.  I now try to eliminate stress as much as possible.  I control what I can and let go of what I can’t. Second, I spend much more time with my family, rather than time in the office. Finally, by becoming involved in advocacy for my condition, I’ve made friends with people from all over the world.  Our paths in life would never have crossed if not for our conditions.  There is no better example of that than the Team of Advisors and how quickly 11 strangers with different conditions bonded together over a long weekend. So yes, it is possible to have a positive impact that can coincide with all the challenges and problems that occur from living with a chronic disease.

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Meet Jacquie from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 6th, 2017 by

Say hello to Jacquie (@Jacquie1961), another member of the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors. We chatted with Jacquie recently about how she lives with her condition and what it meant to become part of this year’s Team of Advisors; “Joining the team is allowing me to…help others who are newly diagnosed or those who think they have something wrong with them.”

Jacquie also opened up about her passion for animals, especially her dog, Roman: “He’s precious, loving, beautiful and really has the personality of a human.”

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

I would have to say I get the most joy out of being with my dog, he’s been the greatest addition to my life right before I was diagnosed. He’s precious, loving, beautiful and really has the personality of a “human.” Of course my new kitty is an added bonus of love and fun. All in all, I have a tremendous passion for animals.

What has it been like for you managing multiple conditions?

First off, I had Lung Cancer. Fast forward months, I have a new oncologist and stage 4 metastatic lung to colon cancer. I became the 13th documented case of such as it is highly rare. Every 3 months I have a maintenance plan of scans, blood work (that’s actually monthly) and colonoscopies as I have pre-cancerous polyps that must be removed before becoming cancer. The risk is too high, so that is my life with cancer. I chose this over a life of chemo. I have since my 20’s severe anxiety and panic disorder, my only maintenance on that is the highest dosage of Xanax 5x a day and pray I don’t get attacks. I have tried everything and there is no cure for anxiety like I have it, I would not wish a panic attack on my worst enemy. This is truly a disease that if you have never experienced it you would have no clue how horrible it is. Because of 14 months of intensive chemo my bones and joints have severe damage, especially my back. I go every 3-6 months, depending on the body part, for injections for the pain. THIS has really impacted my life. I can’t do the things I used to do, dance, hike, rake leaves, garden etc., because of the pain. My mornings begin with a good hour on my heating pad for my back just to be able to take a shower. This limits me in doing things on the spur of the moment and even getting to my shop on time. Every day I have to apply pain patches and take pain meds which I despise. But…such is my life, I deal with all of it, juggle all the bs and carry on. Top that off with coronary artery disease and stents, all due to the chemo. Never had heart issues. I won’t say this limits my life daily but it does long term now. I now have added regular cardiologist appointments, scans, tests, etc.

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?

My personal conditions only have the obstacles I myself place on me. Society only needs to be aware that we are all different and we should never judge a person by how they look, talk, walk, or live. Under the shell of someone could be a person who suffers greatly and maybe that scowl on the person’s face isn’t because they are nasty, maybe it’s because they are in horrible pain. Maybe they just got some more bad news about an already bad condition.

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

I would tell them to think of their worst headache and multiply it by 10, that is real pain. Imagine being in your car and you are suddenly underwater and you can’t get out, you can’t breathe. That is anxiety. The feeling of being trapped and unable to get out the panic attack that ensues is like an out-of-body experience where so much adrenaline is pumped, you are exhausted when the attack is over but relieved you didn’t pass out or die like you certainly thought you would. Having cancer in the midst of this was just another fight for life big panic attack that didn’t go away.

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

First of all, the word “chronic” needs to be redefined. Most conditions are not chronic, they are in a maintenance phase or they are lifelong conditions. However, I would always advise a second opinion. Once diagnosed, try and learn everything you can about your condition. Join a group like PatientsLikeMe where you can interact with others suffering and learning to cope with the same or like condition. Coping mechanisms are generally best learned from those who have been and are in the same shoes as you. Reach out and surround yourself with a support system, and most of all cherish that best friend. You will need him or her.

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

It was very hard until I found PatientsLikeMe, then it became easy. There were so many and so many far worse than me I could immerse myself in helping them which in turn helped me to cope and deal with my own issues. Someone always had it worse than me, someone was fighting to live with their last breath, and some do not live and become another statistic.

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

After my first cancer diagnosis I had an Oncologist who did NOTHING for me for 5 months when I begged every visit for help and told him how sick I was. I changed doctors and found out that my cancer had already metastasized. Once I became strong enough I became completely in control of my medical care, I pick up all of my own scan results, tests, etc. I make lists of questions, I google everything and I follow up with all doctors. Many times I have already diagnosed myself before seeing a doctor and that includes the dentist and the eye doctor. In 2015 I knew my father was not well, and his complaints of pain went ignored by all doctors for several years. I went to my oncologist and told her something is wrong with him, please figure it out. He had stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma of the bone marrow. He is now in remission. How’s that for all these great doctors who told him he was just getting old?

What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors?

Joining the team is allowing me to further my voice as a patient of several conditions. To help others who are newly diagnosed or those who think they have something wrong with them. To let them know they are not crazy, and not alone. I am also taking this opportunity to educate the doctors within my large medical circle that I am an example of the reason they became doctors. That my time is valuable, too. Sitting in your office and waiting for you for 5 hours is unacceptable. I have pain and it is an issue coming to see you. I am not just another number in your file cabinet.

How has PatientsLikeMe (or other members of the PatientsLikeMe community) impacted how you cope with your condition?

Mostly I have been on the support side of PatientsLikeMe and try to help others. I have not used it as a tool to help me. I already know what I have and how I cope. But I must say there are days my coping skills don’t work very well, conversing to another member that is down and hurting and lifting them up puts my issues back into perspective. I’m still breathing, I’m still here.

What is it like to be you?

Why I ask myself that question I don’t know, maybe I am trying to understand what it is like to be me, I used to know and have an easy answer: it was great being me. Being me now is not always so great, but I am working on making my life better again. I have my new shop that, after my hurdles of getting there in the A.M., is a fun and rewarding place to be. I struggle with issues I have with my brothers. Aren’t they supposed to care about me not just when I am labeled as “sick and dying” but always? Do I expect too much? I think when one goes through so much and continues to constantly have to fight to keep a balance but never gets the balance it’s easy to fall into this abyss of “why me,” so I do my best to stay above that hole. I don’t ask “why me,” because there are no answers. I’m simply a good, driven person who wants to be happy, to help others, to enjoy my days, have fun like I used to and travel freely like I used to. I have a lot of “used to’s” I want back, maybe I should just live with who I am now but I refuse to give up or give in. There are ways I will feel better and I will find them. I got dealt a lousy deck of cards so I have to reshuffle now and deal another deck and make the best of it.

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Meet Glenda from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted December 29th, 2016 by

 

Meet Glenda (gagafor2), a member of the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors. Glenda is a wife, mother and grandmother who finds great joy in making others happy. She’s also living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

Recently, Glenda told us about coming to terms with the “unknown” in her future and coping with anxiety: “PatientsLikeMe became my lifeline to information and patients who knew what I wanted and needed to know.” Check out the rest of her story and learn how Glenda hopes to represent other members of the IPF community.

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

I would have to say making others happy makes me smile. I love to give and do special things for others, it gives me great joy I get so excited when I can find that special gift or plan that special surprise for someone else. My family gives me the greatest joy of all. I have had a wild ride so far with my husband of 45 years and my children and grandchildren. We moved many times throughout the last forty years to different parts of the country, making so many incredible friends and have having such wonderful memories. Yes, I still print out some of my photos just to pass on to my children and granddaughters so they can also look at, hold, and remember all the great memories that will live on throughout time. I am a pretty sentimental person. Our little granddaughters six and nine are so much fun and they give me a reason to fight with all I have and to live my life the best I can.

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?

My greatest obstacle with being diagnosed with a terminal illness is the unknown. Not knowing to me like being in a dark room trying to find my way around, just stumbling around seeking help. Most of my family and friends always tell me “you look so good.” Yes, I do look good, makeup, hair color, and clothes can paint a pretty picture. Inside is the emotional and physical picture they do not see, nor the frightening experience of the what ifs that can happen at any time. Now I try to look at the whole picture of a person and have great empathy with what is going on with them.

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

Living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a day by day experience. Sometimes when it is hard to breathe or get a good breath it is frightening and I need to calm myself and do my pursed lips breathing to get my center and not let the anxiety run away with me. I also have generalized anxiety. One of my biggest fears has always been not being able to breathe and yes here I am diagnosed with something that can throw me off the cliff big time

Most days are good and I go on taking it one day at a time, even knowing it is a progressive disease and could change at any time with an exacerbation. I have become germ phobic trying not to get an infection or virus to cause a decline. My husband and I own our own business so I still work, now on a reduced schedule. Fatigue is sometimes overwhelming and keeps me from getting together with friends and social events as I used to. Every three months I go for pulmonary function tests which give me great anxiety before I get to the hospital to do the test. I am so afraid each time I take them that my numbers will decline. I know I cannot do a cram study for pulmonary function tests, but I do tend to over think the whole procedure for fear of lower numbers. I do take one of two medications approved in 2014 that can slow the progression of IPF in some people. Right now, I receive help paying for the drug, ($96,000 a year) but next year I will go on Medicare so that gives me financial worry also. I have heard of patients not having insurance or being able to afford the cost of these drugs, which makes me angry and sad. Something needs to change for people who need these kinds of medications.

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

When I was diagnosed with interstitial lung disease I was not given much information or why I might have gotten it. I began to look on the internet to find out what I might have. I learned that IFP was the worst kind of interstitial lung disease with no cure and a life expectancy of 2-5 years.  Boy, did I have a huge panic attack, checking into the ER. I then had testing done to confirm what I had, and then getting a phone call at work telling me I had IPF. It was so traumatic to be told this over the phone with no explanation just to wait until my next appointment in 2 months.

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

PatientsLikeMe became my lifeline to information and patients who knew what I wanted and needed to know. This amazing site gave me information, advice, and hope. Please get all the information you can so you will know the right questions to ask your doctor. I have found through my own experiences in the health care system you need to be proactive and not reactive with your health and the information you need. Please go seek supports groups and places like PLM to speak with others who have already experienced what you are going through. Then pay it forward to someone else who is newly diagnosed. We all need each other. 

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

A few years ago, I became very sick not able to function at all. I gave my symptoms to my physician over and over without him getting to the exact cause. This went on for a year. My doctor became impatient and annoyed with me, making me feel like a stubborn patient because I kept coming back not getting any better. I finally asked him “would you like me to see another doctor?” I don’t believe he had ever been asked that question before. I did change physicians and we finally got to the bottom of the problem. We only have one body and we are the only ones who can advocate for the best treatment we can get. I try to learn as much as I can before I visit a physician so I know the right procedures and questions to ask. I don’t like to think we are just numbers but sadly it can be that way. I have found that going in the hospital requires someone on your behalf to monitor everything being done and given to the patient.

How has PatientsLikeMe (or other members of the PatientsLikeMe community) impacted how you cope with your condition?

PatientsLikeMe gave me the hope and compassion I needed at a time I was sinking in despair. Just being diagnosed with a terminal illness is a lot to handle on your own. I immediately connected with other IPF patients who gave me sympathy but also hope. A dear friend I met sent me a book of scriptures she said she wanted to pay for and send. What an angel she has been. Then there are the friends who know so much I just can’t pick their brain enough. It is a 24/7 online support group when you need it. It has given me information to make wise choices about medication to choose, supplements to take, and ways to cope. They have helped me beyond words; I wish I could name them all but just too many. I now hope to carry the torch forward for those who are newly diagnosed to those who are further along the road we travel.

How can we make our health care work better for us?  

Tell everyone about PatientsLikeMe, how we can connect and share with other patients, put in our test results, and know how to talk to our doctors and providers while being more informed.

What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors?

The only thing I know is that I wanted to make people aware of the PatientsLikeMe website. I did not expect to be chosen. I am not eloquent at putting my thoughts in writing, nor the most informed patient. I’m just an average person who got diagnosed with a chronic illness who wants to let others know how much I rely on communicating and sharing information. I was shocked when I received the notice I was chosen.  It was only during my trip to meet my fellow advisors that it came to me why. I want patent health care to get better, patients to be more informed. I love having all the data in one place and available to share. I love being able to enter every lab test, pulmonary test and medication so all can see and compare to each other giving us the ability to make informed decisions. I value each person on the site and their willingness to share their experience, data, and all other aspects of their health care. I am an informed patient now able to have a conversation with my physician on a higher level of understanding because of PatientsLikeMe.

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Meet Laura from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted December 22nd, 2016 by

 

Say hello to Laura (thisdiva99), another member of your 2016-2017 Team of Advisors. Laura chatted with us about what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder and why she thinks it’s essential to find and connect with others who live with the same condition: “It is of the utmost importance to connect with other Bipolar Warriors. Mental illness can be very isolating.”

Laura also shared some details about her background as a professional opera singer. She’s performed all over the world and has even won a Grammy! Get to know Laura and read her advice for others who are living with chronic conditions.

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

Hearing the laughter of my husband, my nieces, and my nephews brings me ultimate joy.

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?

My greatest obstacle in living with bipolar disorder is having to pretend that I am “OK” all the time. People with mental illness often find that they must hide their symptoms, and live in a quiet kind of agony of the mind, so that their friends won’t leave them, or so that they can keep their jobs. Living with bipolar disorder means constantly proving to the world that I am capable and worthy, that I am more than a bag of symptoms I constantly try to keep behind my back. I have been pretending to be OK for so long now that sometimes I don’t know where the pretending ends and my true self begins. I believe that education is KEY in bringing an end to stigma. Speaking openly about something lessens the fear and misinformation surrounding that thing.

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

Bipolar disorder is an illness of opposites. I can go through weeks or months of crying constantly, sleeping all the time, and then escalate to feeling nothing at all. I want to die just so that the sadness and nothingness will stop. Then I swing up into mania, where I need very little sleep, I over-schedule myself and include myself in too many projects, and get more angry and frustrated. Eventually I want to smash everything around me, including my own head. When I’m lucky, I have brief periods of stability between depression and mania.

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

You are worthy of love. You are worthy of feeling better. You did nothing wrong. You do not “deserve this.” You are not being punished. You just need to work with your family, friends, and treaters to find love and peace in yourself again.

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

It is of the utmost importance to connect with other Bipolar Warriors. Mental illness can be very isolating. Even though I have many friends and family who want to help (and often do!), sometimes you just need to speak with someone who knows what the bipolar roller coaster is like.

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

Not too long ago, I had to advocate for myself with my mother. My parents are my greatest allies and have been through everything with me. But my parents have also instilled in me the need to “pull myself together,” because “the show must go on” (we are a family of performers). Recently, my mother became exasperated with how I was feeling, and how I was reacting to my illness. I had to stop and tell her that even though I love her more than anything, bipolar disorder is not something that can be shoved to the side. It is not an illness that can be put in a box and left until it is more convenient. It infiltrates my brain every second of every day,  and I will never stop working with it, and trying to live with it. Advocacy is really just about education, and I think that that is something that we can do every day of our lives.

How has PatientsLikeMe (or other members of the PatientsLikeMe community) impacted how you cope with your condition?

PatientsLikeMe has shown me that I am capable of far more than I truly believe. It is so incredible to me that while other members of the community deal with horrible circumstances throughout their day, they can still take the time to offer me comfort or encouragement if I need it. PatientsLikeMe reminds me that I am allowed to be vulnerable or fragile at times, but that does not define me. It is part of the greater scheme and strength of having a chronic illness.

What are three things that we would be surprised to know about you?

  1. I am a professional opera singer. I have performed all over the world, recorded film scores, sung backup for James Taylor, sung at Superbowls and Red Sox games, and I am a Grammy award winner.
  2. I started reading when I was three years old, and I never stopped! I love the written word…especially Victorian Literature.
  3. I am a total geek…I love all things Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, and on and on and on!

What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors?

I love PatientsLikeMe, and I love helping people. When I was given the opportunity to combine those two things through the Team of Advisors, I jumped at the chance! It is so humbling and fulfilling when people bring you into their lives, and every encounter teaches me great lessons. My mother likes to say to me, “You have a big mouth; use it for good!” I hope that being a member of the Team of Advisors is doing just that.

 

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Meet John from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted December 15th, 2016 by

Have you met John (JohnJFB126)? He’s another member of the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors.  John is a musician, husband and father of four. He’s also living with MS.

For John, living with an “invisible” disease is challenging, and he hopes for more compassion and understanding from others in the future. Here, John shares how he finds critical support in the PatientsLikeMe community: “It reinforces that I am not alone.”

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

What gives me the greatest joy and puts a smile on my face is knowing that I helped someone.

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 greatest obstacle living with this condition is its, oftentimes, invisibility. Especially when compared with other chronic and disabling conditions. Societal shifts need to occur resulting in more a compassionate or understanding of these challenges are a more concise, comprehensive overview of the disease and how it truly is idiosyncratic.

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

I have described this condition by comparing it to a frayed electrical cord with the inability to properly transmit the energy required to execute a function. Or, think of having MS as your computer’s hard drive sending a program execution but due to corrupt transmission lines/data paths, it needs to take additional time to map an alternate route to obtain the information and/or activate the desired program/effect.

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

One piece of advice I would offer to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition is: If you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic disease, it’s chronic and not necessarily fatal. Learn as much about the condition and include at least one person in this learning to serve as a buddy and/or support.

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

It has been incredibly important to me to find others living with the condition and who may be able to relate to what I’m going through. Their insights, struggles and successes have proven to be invaluable; it reinforces that I am not alone.

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

I have often had to advocate for myself with my insurance providers; needing to articulate the need for coverage of a procedure or medication as those items were critical to my ongoing care and health stability.

What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors?

I see the opportunity to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors as the chance to learn, give, and make a difference in the lives of individuals around the globe!

How has PatientsLikeMe (or other members of the PatientsLikeMe community) impacted how you cope with your condition?

The PatientsLikeMe community has been a source of reference, strength, and encouragement for me as I cope with the diagnosis given me.

If given the opportunity to participate in efforts to change something which would transform how the current healthcare system is implemented and designed, what would it be?

I would work collaboratively with government (legislators/representatives), pharmaceutical and insurance companies and the medical community to transform methods for the delivery of care to persons with chronic disease diagnoses and other long term health illnesses. The goal being to streamline, reduce the need for repeated/duplicative procedures, create a system that “speaks the same language” across all platforms, and delivers timely services to each patient (“tailor made” care).

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Meet Kimberly from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted December 8th, 2016 by

We’d like to introduce you to Kimberly (firefly84), another member of your 2016-2017 Team of Advisors. Kimberly lives with autonomic neuropathy and describes what it’s like to manage a condition that is at times invisible, how she tackles each day by taking “baby steps” and focusing on the moment at hand.

Before becoming ill, Kimberly worked as a registered nurse and discusses the challenging transition from “caregiver to the one needing care.” As someone who knows firsthand what it’s like on both sides of the patient/care team relationship, Kimberly shares why it’s important to her to help change the system and, in doing so, leave “a lasting impact that will benefit all generations to come.”

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?

Prior to getting ill, I was working as a Registered Nurse in all areas of the hospital and had recently started doing home health and hospice as well. Suddenly I went from caregiver to the one needing the care. It’s been hard giving up the control factor. Healthcare professionals in general make horrible patients because we think that we should dictate our care. To a certain extent that works, but it also doesn’t allow you to just be the patient. Instead of sitting back and letting people take care of me, I have continued to take on multiple roles; ones that I probably shouldn’t be, but ones that I don’t know how to let go of. There are days when having medical knowledge is wonderful and it has saved me doctor appointments by calling in and saying that we need to adjust medications. But then there are also days when I wish I didn’t know anything about medicine, because then this condition wouldn’t be quite as scary.

A portion of this condition is invisible, so there are some days that I look fairly healthy. The whole “ill patient” scene needs to change. We need to be seen as real people, with lives that are affected in every aspect. We have spouses, families, financial responsibilities, and we still want to contribute to society. We didn’t pick our conditions; our conditions picked us. This isn’t how any of us saw our lives unfolding. These are the cards we got dealt. Society needs to be more accepting of chronic illnesses and understanding that every day is a challenge.

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

Automatic…think of the things your body does automatically. Now take those things (blood pressure, heart rate, sweating, temperature regulation, digestion) and put them into a blender. What comes out the other side? A mess…that’s how I think of it. The “rest and digest” (parasympathetic) and the “fight or flight” (sympathetic) nervous systems no longer communicate with each other. Think of the adrenaline rush and pounding, racing feeling in your chest if you were in an accident…that is what happens to me if I’m in small group with mildly increased noise levels. My body has become incredibly hypersensitive and totally unpredictable. This means that my heart rate and blood pressures basically do whatever they want, whenever they want (high or low). I lost the ability to sweat on 90% of my body, so anything involving outdoors is out of the picture once it is above 65 degrees. My worst symptom that is the most visible to people around me is flushing. Think of how hot a sunburn gets…now think of having that heat and redness for 16-20 hours per day, every day. Many things trigger it (showering, washing my hands, walking by the stove, having the sun shine on me). The hardest thing is that none of my symptoms are predictable, so I always have to plan ahead for multiple scenarios. That’s me…the blender scenario!

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

Take a deep breath. Focus on this moment, and this moment only. We can’t live in constant fear of what hasn’t happened yet. There are so many unknowns; do your research, find a support system. Hold tight to family and friends as they will be your rocks going forward. Always have one or two people that you can call when you’re having a bad day and cry your eyes out for no reason at all. Finally…baby steps; this is my mantra. Sometimes going one day at a time is too much. So you go one moment, one second, one minute, one hour, and eventually you will have gotten through the day…with BABY STEPS! As long as you can find one positive thing each day, you can get through anything. Sometimes it can be something as simple as the sky was blue today or maybe your pain improved for an hour. Don’t set big goals because if you don’t achieve them you feel like you have failed, but if you set small obtainable goals, then you have succeeded and most of all, you have survived.

What made you want to join the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors?

Navigating healthcare is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. You get told that you have an illness, hopefully get a referral to a specialist, maybe get an official diagnosis, and then you’re on your own. Nobody tells you how to deal with insurance companies, how to expedite prior authorizations for procedures or medications, how to establish a good rapport with your healthcare team, or where to find resources and advocates. You are taken to the edge of a cliff and then told good luck. At least that has been my experience with several of my health issues.

Having worked within the healthcare system has given me an enormous amount of knowledge regarding how to successfully navigate the twists and turns. I wanted to join the Team of Advisors because I get so angry when the healthcare system fails patients time after time. I want to help change that, because it isn’t fair to anybody. We really can change things, but it has to be one step at a time. Advocating for community members and anybody with a condition is a lot like organ donation. Yes, we’re doing this for everyone right now, but we are leaving a lasting impact that will benefit all generations to come. That’s my reason!

 

 

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