16 posts tagged “diagnosis”

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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Checking in with member Bev – “Laughter and comedy are still a huge part of my health management.”

Posted January 17th, 2017 by

Remember Bev (YumaBev), who we met back in 2012, after she’d just had deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery? She told us about her blog Parkinson’s Humor and a book of stories from her blog, Parkinson’s Humor: Funny Stories about My Life with Parkinson’s. Well we recently caught up with her again to see how things have been going since we last spoke.

Check out the latest with Bev to see what she had to say about being an eternal optimist, connecting with other “Parkies” and the power of laughter.

It’s been a while (4 years) since we last caught up! How have things been going?

The last time we spoke, I had just had the first part of my DBS surgery. The surgery was an eventual success, but I had some minor complications. The skin on my scalp was so thin, it pulled apart where it was sutured. There was never any infection, but it did require several surgeries and a plastic surgeon to finally get my scalp to stay closed and heal properly. Right in the middle of all these scalp surgeries, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and the tumor was just below my DBS generator, so that made the cancer surgery a bit tricky. I also had a slight complication from the cancer surgery, in that the nerve in my right arm was pinched, so I had limited use of my right arm for about 6 months. Then my DBS settings were encroaching on the mood part of my brain, causing a severe depression. Needless to say, most of 2013 was definitely not a good year!!!

However, my scalp stayed closed and my hair grew back, my arm fixed itself, the cancer is gone (so far) and once my DBS settings were adjusted, the depression quickly disappeared.

Now my DBS settings are controlling almost all my Parkinson’s disease motor symptoms. I’m taking way less Parkinson’s disease medicines and I am back to sleeping 8 hours a night, which is something I hadn’t done in many years. Everything is about as good as it can be with Parkinson’s.

In your profile you mention that it took 8 years to get a diagnosis. Can you tell us a little about that journey?

My early Parkinson’s symptoms were not the typical resting tremor common in more elderly patients. The first symptom that sent me to a doctor was upper back pain near my shoulder blade/spine. I was referred to an orthopedist. Next came the inability to double click my computer mouse at work (more orthopedists.) Difficulty writing followed and then a tremor, but only when my hand was being used. (Think food flying off my fork and across the room.) After being x-rayed, CT-scanned and MRI’d, with everything coming back normal, I was finally referred to a neurologist. He diagnosed essential tremor (ET) and prescribed propranolol. This helped the tremor, but nothing else. My dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s the year before, so I asked if it could be Parkinson’s and was told, absolutely not. (Guess he was wrong.)

As my symptoms progressed, I confounded many more doctors, mostly general practitioners and more orthopedists. I even asked my dad’s neurologist if I might have Parkinson’s and he said, “Don’t waste my time, your problem isn’t neurological.” (Guess he was wrong, too.)

My symptoms kept slowly worsening, I needed help putting on a jacket and getting up from a chair. I startled very easily and had difficulty cutting my food. I was very stiff and rigid. My step-daughter, who I saw only once a year or so, was shocked at how much worse I was each visit.

Then my symptoms started progressing rapidly. I was losing the ability to do things daily. I needed help dressing. I could no longer drive. I had difficulty brushing my hair. I walked like I’d had a stroke and my right hand and arm were always curled. My GP was on maternity leave and not wanting to start over with a brand new GP, I took matters into my own hands. I KNEW it had to be neurological, everything else had been ruled out. I also knew it wasn’t ET because the tremors moved to my other arm.

I got a list of neurologists within 300 miles of where I lived, off a medical website. I typed a letter, detailing my medical history and symptoms, and started sending them out alphabetically. I’d send out about five, then wait to see if I heard back. Then I’d send more and wait. When I got to letter W, I almost gave up. But I sent the last few and waited. Dr. Zonis’ office manager called me, said they knew exactly what was wrong and had me come in the next day. They were right in the same town I now lived in, Yuma, AZ. He said Parkinson’s, gave me carbi/levodopa and five pills later, I could move again!

Now, to be fair, we moved around a lot, so the first neurologist I saw was in Colorado, my dad’s was in Florida, and the last one in Arizona. But MANY young onsets don’t have the same symptoms as elderly patients. Dr. Zonis was in his mid-60’s and I was the first young onset he’d ever seen in his practice.

In your last interview you talked about the power of laughter. What role does comedy play in your life now?

Laughter and comedy are still a huge part of my health management. Laughter stimulates your brain to produce more neurotransmitters, like dopamine, so it really is good medicine. And with no side effects! Well, you might pee your pants, but then you laugh at that, too.

You describe yourself as an eternal optimist – how has that influenced your experience with Parkinson’s?

Some people have optimistic tendencies, some have pessimistic ones. I think it is part of you, just like eye color or skin tone. I have always been optimistic, but I know what depression is like (from my DBS induced depression) and I can now empathize with people who feel depressed. It is awful, your whole body aches. You wake up feeling like you’ve been boxing all night with Mike Tyson. You have no hope and you feel down.

Everyone with Parkinson’s disease is different. We progress differently and have different symptoms, but I think my positive attitude explains why, after being symptomatic for 20+ years, I am doing so well.

What’s it been like connecting with others on PatientsLikeMe? Has it helped you manage your condition?

Connecting with others with Parkinson’s disease is essential to living well with the illness. Your doctor doesn’t have the time or knowledge to help you figure out how to live with Parkinson’s disease, they only know how to write prescriptions. People with Parkinson’s disease know the best local doctors, dentists, therapists and helpful tricks and are willing to share their life experiences. For example, replacing medicine bottle caps with the flip top ones that come on vitamin bottles. Parkies also can tell you if this symptom is common or if this side effect is dangerous.

 

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“I have been empowered to face the challenges of my condition” – Member Deb shares her journey with type 2 diabetes

Posted October 20th, 2016 by

Meet Deb (optimisticrealist), a self-described optimist who found no challenge too daunting, exercised daily and maintained a healthy diet. We recently caught up with her and she told us how her type 2 diabetes diagnosis changed the way she thought about what it meant to be healthy.

Learn more about Deb’s story and what she had to say about empowering herself through education, finding veganism and learning to live with her new normal.

Tell us a little bit about who you are. What was life like before your diagnosis?

I have always been an optimist, nicknamed Pollyanna for my focus on the bright side. I had the sincere belief that with creativity and perseverance there was no challenge that I could not surmount. If all else failed, I could reframe the situation to find the positive.

How has life changed since your diagnosis?

Having had none of the classic symptoms, my diagnosis of type 2 diabetes completely blindsided me and caused me to wonder if optimism was just another word for denial.

I was diagnosed while in the hospital and sent home with prescriptions but no instructions about how to live with my new reality. I will never forget standing at the pharmacy counter at 10 pm on the day I was discharged, exhausted and confused, getting a crash course in how to use my glucometer and lantus.

For the first weeks, I slept with the lights on as if somehow that would protect me from…what? I awoke each morning thankful for having awakened but my second thought was that there was another deer-in-the-headlights day ahead.

I couldn’t live like that, didn’t want to live if that was to be my life. I had believed myself a healthy person, exercised almost daily and had a physical job, ate no junk — yet here I was with a serious, chronic, progressive condition. I struggled with self-blame and regret and became depressed. I knew that the only course for me was to take charge of the situation, and that meant learning everything I could about diabetes management.

I spent every free moment online and I began to have hope that I could improve my condition or at least delay its progress and avoid complications. The greatest revelation was reading about veganism and diabetes. I found a registered dietician who is also a certified diabetes educator and herself a vegan. I was already vegetarian for many years so I decided to give it a try. It has changed my life, and my diabetes, for the better, in a number of ways.

Within two weeks of my last bite of animal food, I was off all insulin completely. After a lifetime of struggling with my weight, the pounds came off at the rate of about 1.5 pounds/week — effortlessly. As I approach the two-year anniversary of my diagnosis, I have had three consecutive a1c tests under 6%, test my blood glucose only once every other day, and never count a carb! I have been able to lower my blood pressure and have maintained my weight loss for over a year.

In the forums you talk about the importance of maintaining an exercise routine. What motivates you?  

I am a lifelong exerciser, but due to extreme fatigue I was unable to work out for months. After many tests to rule out other causes, my doctor was persuaded that the drug side effects were the culprit. I couldn’t wait to get back to the gym! But it has been a long and winding road to regain lost strength and endurance. I am motivated to keep at it because I know that both my blood pressure and blood sugar are dramatically improved, and I even break a sweat some days! I have not missed a day in about 6 months…some days are easier than others but my mantra is “do what you can when you can.”

In your profile you mention struggling to come to terms with your condition and the way you thought about your health. What advice can you offer others who may be going through the same thing?

My advice to others who are feeling overwhelmed by their diagnosis is education, education, education! An educated patient is an empowered patient. Learn everything you can from reliable, evidence-based sources, then teach your doctor. If your doctor is resistant to an educated, empowered patient, fire them and find a new one.

Has PatientsLikeMe has helped you manage your condition? What does it mean to you to donate your data?

PatientsLikeMe has been a tremendous resource for me in managing my condition. I have explored a number of online sites and it is by far the most comprehensive compendium of information about a wide array of conditions. I love being able to read about real patients’ REAL experiences with treatments, it is invaluable as a way of tracking my own data, and most of all, I find the forums a wonderful, welcoming, civil place to learn from and help others. PatientsLikeMe is as much a necessary part of my day as eating, sleeping and exercise!

I have been empowered to face the challenges of my condition by reading evidence-based research. Donating my data is a way of “paying it forward.”

 

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“Listen to yourself.” Member Daniela opens up about life with MS and psoriasis

Posted October 13th, 2016 by

Daniela (DanielaO) is living with multiple sclerosis and psoriasis  in Puglia, Italy, and loves crafts, art history, music and traveling. She recently opened up to us about getting her first diagnosis at age 14, managing multiple conditions, and how connecting with others on PatientsLikeMe makes her feel “present and part of a whole.”

Here’s what she had to say about reinventing herself and finding support from others who understand.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What’re your hobbies and passions?

Ciao, my name is Daniela, I am from Tuscany and live in Puglia, Italy. I like traveling, seeing new landscapes, meeting people and learning about their cultures. I studied Fine Art and I love to make things with my hands. I am passionate about crafts, art history and music, particularly baroque.

What was your diagnosis experience like?

At the age of 14, I had psoriasis. My skin became like a map of red spots. Very stressful. On turning 20, I was diagnosed with Graves-Basedow, as my thyroid was not working adequately. Big stress. I was 39 years old when Miss Multiple Sclerosis came to visit me. Very distressful, especially as I was bringing up two children on my own. Now I am aware that these diseases are caused by immune system dysfunctions.

How has life changed since your diagnosis?

Having psoriasis, prompted/pushed me to try to understand why. The first book I read about healing was The Doctor Himself by Naboru Muramoto. Since then I learned many things about foods’ properties, how the quality of my thinking and emotions can modify the chemistry in my body. I did seminars learning why and how to maintain a healthy gut. I believe therefore that, mentally, I am responding well. Of course, there are really bad moments, but I’m so happy when they leave.

In the forums you talk about “reinventing” yourself, how has that helped you cope with your MS?

Because of MS, for several years I studied the Method Feldenkrais and became a Feldenkrais teacher. It has been a big challenge for me: Method Feldenkrais is about body movements, “talking” to the nervous system. It increased the awareness of myself and the world around me, more confidence and strength.

You mentioned that being on PatientsLikeMe makes you feel less alone and more curious – how has it been for you to track your health and connect with others on the site?

Multiple sclerosis symptoms are like the waves of the sea, they come and go and are never the same. Made of so many tonalities and degrees. At the moment, keeping a record of my health helps me a little. To be connected with others is very helpful. I live in a gorgeous place in the countryside, but this means I am cut off and isolated. To be able to interact with people who can understand me, makes me feel present and part of a whole. Of course, there are Italian forums, but I like to go far…

What advice can you give others with MS?

Just one, easy advice: Listen to yourself. I do have very special advice for those affected by psoriasis: find a doctor who knows Doctor Coimbras’ Protocol and ask about taking high doses of vitamin D3. I started taking it for MS since April 2015, after few months my psoriasis disappeared. After 40 years I was finally free of it. This is a great achievement. Thanks, Team at PatientsLikeMe, for giving me this great opportunity.

 

 

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Patients as partners: Member Peggy on the diagnosis journey (Part 2)

Posted May 6th, 2016 by

Earlier this week, member Peggy (peggyznd) illustrated the 2015-2016 Team of Advisors’ Partnership Principles by sharing how to advocate for yourself and work with your doctor in your diagnosis journey. Here, she talks about finding a specialist, questioning your diagnosis and switching doctors. Peggy reminds all patients play an active role in their health: “Be like the parent who must protect and nurture the child, and do the same for yourself.”

Do I have to diagnose myself to get to the right specialist?

You might. Your family doctor may recommend a certain specialist. Not unusual, but if your problem is seen through too narrow a lens, you may not get the best diagnosis. Is the exhaustion you feel due to a failing heart, or is it due to an indolent blood cancer? Is the stomach cramping due to an ulcer or to a parasite which you brought home from a trip? You may start down a path of specialist to a subspecialist, moving away from a broader review to an increasingly narrow. If this does not make sense, or there is no clear resolution of the problem, this is a time to ask, “What else could it be?”

That may call for a return to the family doctor with all the various reports and tests in hand to review all of them. AND you have been collecting and reading ALL your reports, labs and visit summaries as you go, of course. No one is more likely to read these papers more closely than you. Even if you don’t understand them, which is pretty typical, you will understand the thinking behind your diagnosis. Watch for any errors as to the tests taken. Are they complete? What has changed over time? Are the meds accurate listed? Is there is something that simply does not make sense?

What else could it be?

If things do not improve after a reasonable period — you get to decide that period — or get worse, ask the most essential question, “What else could it be?” This may shift things from a less general diagnosis to one which is rarer, or masked by another health condition. Ask the doctor to justify his thinking, and if what he says makes sense to you. That bum knee may not be the cause of the several new falls. Maybe the new high blood pressure medication from another doctor (or this one) causes you to be dizzy, making you fall, reinjuring the knee. See how this works?

Getting nowhere? Or are they just wrong?

It’s hard to change doctors, especially if the diagnosis seems wrong or if errors have occurred in the process. Patients fear that they will be labeled as trouble makers. They may not think the new doctor will be objective with a colleague’s patient, or that there is not a more accurate diagnosis. How does one ask for a second or third opinion or a referral to a large medical center?  You will have to practice saying, “I know you have been working with me on this for some time, and that you want the best diagnosis and treatment for me. Now it seems time to send me on to another medical center/a more specialized treatment center/Dr. So-and So. I will need to gather all my reports and histories, and know you can make this efficient for me.”

Play an active role in your diagnosis and treatment, and do so at the outset. Patients are too often late to realize this, and far too sick to do so effectively. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from friends and family, and from social workers or patient advocate in the system. Again, be like the parent who must protect and nurture the child, and do the same for yourself.

 

 

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Patients as Partners: Member Peggy on the diagnosis journey (Part I)

Posted May 5th, 2016 by

Last week, Team of Advisors member Jeff kicked off a series of conversations about the Partnership Principles with his thoughts on partnering better with your care team. Today, Peggy (peggyznd) digs deeper into one area where strong relationships are key: getting diagnosed.

 Peggy draws from her own experience with kidney cancer and breast cancer to answer some important questions patients face in their diagnosis journey. Check out what she has to say about advocating for yourself below, and stay tuned for more from her soon!

How do I advocate for myself?

When you need to see a doctor for a new or a recurring problem, you are told to “be your own best advocate.” Sounds good in general, but is it really necessary?

Answer: YES. You have tried to figure out what is wrong and you need help. That sore knee is just not healing, or that odd breathlessness seems more frequent. Your family is tired of your complaints or you just “know” something is wrong.

Practice telling your story to the doctor, completely and accurately, so he might really listen to all of it. He may interrupt you within 18-20 SECONDS, studies show. If you are prepared, you will be more likely to say, “Let me complete my explanation of my symptoms or my family history.”

Before the appointment, write out what has happened — why you need a doctor. Be exact. Say “Seven weeks since my fall,” not, “This happened after our vacation.” Explain that you iced and elevated it twice daily for two weeks, and have been wearing a knee wrap ever since.  Say that you take “extra-strength Advil four times a day,” not that you’ve been popping pills ever since.

Explain any other meds you take and why, any history of being slow to heal, or that you are worried that this could be bone metastases like 10 years ago.

Give the doctor clarity about your situation and concerns as possible. Be honest about the level of pain, the interference with your daily life — that you cannot brake the car with your right leg.

If these are more vague symptoms, start a daily diary. Include shifts in food, bowel or sleeping habits, when and how the dizziness occurs, any medications, new or old and prescribed or not, and your own thinking on these symptoms.

Do some basic research. Check if that new medication interferes with an existing med, and if you are taking it properly — with food, one hour before meals, at night. Older people must be alert to this, as age will affect the ability to metabolize medications. Multiple meds from several doctors? Ask your pharmacist to review them for harmful interactions. Plan to bring all those meds (yes, even the ones which are “just” supplements or vitamins) to the appointment.

 

“We don’t want to be a difficult patient by questioning the diagnosis or the need for some test. Yet these questions may lead to a more accurate diagnosis.”

 

What if my child was the patient? How would I handle this?

Consider a new mother bringing a sick child to the doctor. Both mother and child are “new” at this, but know something is wrong. Mom comes in with specific details — a fever that disappears in the day and is back at night, sudden bouts of diarrhea, pulling at the ear, and so on. The doctor uses these details to diagnose a food allergy or earache, prescribes a treatment and sends mom and child home. But Mom is given a series of things to watch and do. She will know that this should clear up in 8-24 hours, not “pretty soon,” that an increase in fever should be reported, and a very high fever might require a trip to the ER. She communicates on behalf of the child, ready to respond when things go wrong, and knows to take the child to the ER, to the office or to prep for a specialist.

Adults don’t do this for themselves. We take the new drug without discussing others with the doctor. We don’t fill the prescription because the diagnosis “just doesn’t seem right” — but don’t discuss this with the doctor. We hide the excessive alcohol use, or the very odd rash in a very private place, as being irrelevant to the discussion at hand. We don’t want to be a difficult patient by questioning the diagnosis or the need for some test. Yet these questions may lead to a more accurate diagnosis. The thoroughness of the mother with the pediatrician might be a model for all of us who are too passive in dealings with our doctors.

Do I have the right diagnosis?

Keep in mind that a diagnosis is really more a “working” diagnosis. It could change as the treatment and/or the disease progresses. There is often a great deal of uncertainty in that diagnosis, and is based on observations in large numbers of patients, who may or may not be exactly like you.

Keep tracking your symptoms, whether you are given any medication or treatment. Ask the doctor how long it might take to alleviate the problem, what might make it worse or better, and what might require a second visit to the doctor. If the problem persists, reach out to that doctor again with your questions.

 

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“I am working on all of it slowly” — Member David opens up about his experience with PTS

Posted April 13th, 2016 by

Meet member David (david61060), a United States Air Force veteran who’s living with multiple conditions including PTS, sleep apnea, and epilepsy. When we caught up with him, David shared what it was like to grow up as a “navy brat,” his experience in the military, and how It took him more than nine years to admit to himself that he had PTS.

Below, see what he has to say about triggers, coping with more than one condition, and the value of connecting with others on PatientsLikeMe.

Tell us a little about yourself.

To tell you about myself … well I was a navy brat and grew up mostly around just military kids and people connected with the military, every 3 to 4 years moving to a new base. Except in the 70s we stayed in the Republic of Panama for 6 years, leaving there in 1976. I was 16 — that was the hardest move. First year of high school … leaving behind a lot of friends that I knew I would never see again. Moving to California and graduating high school, I went into the Air Force. In my 15 years I saw a lot and did a lot but my last tour was the worst: Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

I came home with so many problems – depression, seizures, nightmares, waking up in a different room than where I went to sleep … then the divorce and losing the house. The car we had broke down and I had to walk or take the bus to the base (fortunately we did not live far from the base).

Most of the military doctors at Kelly Air Force Base did not seem very sympathetic to my problems including weight gain because of the drugs … blackouts at work THEN the notification that I was being discharged because of my weight gain. The next thing I knew I was in a true padded cell with the bed bolted to the floor.

If not for my older brother (a fighter pilot in the USAF) and my father (a retired USN Officer) stepping in and having multiple conferences, I would have been discharged with out a hope of help from the VA or the US government.

You wrote in a forum post, “Some people … did not want to even hear or listen to me.” How did you find the courage to open up about your PTS?

Opening up about my disorders — PTS and my seizures — I was originally very quiet about my problems. I do not even know if my parents who I lived with even knew. An assistant at the VA in Martinez, CA recommended that I go to a meeting at the mental health unit, and I did. I met one of the best doctors I have known, Dr. Kotun.  She recommended that I go into one-on-one therapy, so I did.

It took me more than nine years to admit to not only myself but to my therapist that I was suffering from PTS.

In your profile, you list epilepsy, depression, and sleep apnea as some of the other conditions you live with. How has it been managing these in addition to PTS?

Managing and just attempting to live with them are not really that different. Being sure that I take my pills three times a day is a real trial for me. In the morning there are 12 pills (including vitamins and other OTC pills). Getting my sleep is and can be the hardest part. Sometimes the nightmares and the sweats can be the hardest part of the day. Putting the mask on for the sleep apnea at times seems like putting on that gas mask … just dozing off and I hear a car horn that sounds like the warning siren. The mask suddenly feels constricting … I end up awake for hours afraid to have to put it back on. Usually I do not until the next night.

As I said before I think living with all I have can be really trying for me and my new wife but I have to go on — I have to — the other choice is not an option.

Some people have shared their PTS “triggers.” Do you know your triggers, or do symptoms happen unexpectedly?

My triggers for my PTS seem to happen when anything military is close— the helicopters flying overhead. Hearing munitions going off, and sometimes it could just be a memory that that was triggered — walking in a park and we come to a fence line and the area suddenly looks like the area close to one of the bases I was at, then a car backfires and I drop to the ground and reach for my weapon. In the long run it can be embarrassing to react like that in public. This had stopped me from even going out the park or into the city but I am working on all of it slowly.

And then there are times that I just have that feeling for no reason and the fear comes over me again like a wave. It makes no sense.

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

Connecting with others and talking to others about my problems and seeing theirs has been a remarkable window to work with … to realize that if we all open up we could help each other. Being that there are others on the site that are not veterans but have a lot of the same problems has been very helpful to me, and I hope to others that I have written to as well.

 

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World Bipolar Day 2016 – Share how you’re #MoreThanADiagnosis

Posted March 30th, 2016 by

“What am I in the eyes of most people – a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person – somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then – even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.” – Vincent van Gogh

Today, March 30, 2016, is World Bipolar Day, celebrated on the birthday of artist Vincent van Gogh, who’s believed to have had bipolar disorder. Sponsored by our friends at the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF), this year’s theme, “More Than A Diagnosis,” focuses on how people with bipolar are many things beyond their condition. Check out the IBPF’s page for resources and ways to get involved.

And if you’ve seen the conversations with new member Paul in the last month surrounding the release of his debut feature-film, Touched with Fire, then you’ve seen firsthand how someone living with this condition is capable of living a successful life full of creativity.

Check out the forum where members have been sharing how they’re #MoreThanADiagnosis. And don’t forget to connect with the more than 10,000 members living with bipolar disorder in the mental health and behavior forum on PatientsLikeMe.

 

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How MS affects pregnancy — from our partners at MotherToBaby for MS Awareness Month

Posted March 14th, 2016 by

It’s MS Awareness Month, and this year, we’re focusing on how the condition affects pregnant women and their babies. Our partners at MotherToBaby recently shared an article that answers some of the questions that might come up for women who have MS and are thinking about having children. Check it out below…

MS: The Diagnosis That Doesn’t Mean Missing Out On Motherhood

By Neda Ebrahimi , Teratogen Information Specialist, Motherisk

As a counselor with Motherisk, the Canadian partner of MotherToBaby and a service of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), I hear many stories from women about pregnancy. Some of those stories strike cords with me. Their urgency and desire to make the healthiest decisions possible for their future children is both understandable and admirable. In honor of National Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, I give you Nina’s story.

Nina’s Story

“I’m 31 years old, and I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS), when I was only 22. My first relapse was scary. I was writing my finals, and 2 days before my last final, I lost sight completely in one eye, and my legs felt so week and wobbly that I couldn’t stand even for a second. After going to the hospital and receiving several courses of steroids over 10 days, I started to improve but it took 2 months for my symptoms to fully resolve. And then, everything went back to normal, as if nothing had ever happened. I received my diagnosis several months after, and it felt like a death sentence. I had 2 more relapses before my doctor put me on disease modifying drug (DMD), and I started with Infterferon-B1a. Over the last 8 years, I only experienced 5 more relapses. The last relapse I had was only a few months ago; I lost sight in my left eye, and numbness that ran from my face to my toes on just the right side of my body. I have always been able to work full-time except when I’m experiencing a relapse, for which I’ve had to take a month off. I am a dentist, so not surprisingly I can’t carry out my job when I’m experiencing numbness in my hand. I met John 5 years ago at the MS clinic I used to visit. He was a nurse there. We fell in love, and despite of my illness he proposed to me last year, and we talked about having a family, with two children, hopefully one boy and one girl, and living happily ever after. It didn’t initially worry me that one day I may want children. John is crazy about kids, and I feel my maternal instincts kick in every time I hold a baby. Since we got married, my anxiety has been increasing proportionally to my yearning for having a child. I know my MS can’t be cured, at least not now, I know it can get worst over time, and eventually I may need support to carry out even simple tasks. Or Maybe I won’t, and I would be one of the few who never enter the progressive state. I don’t know if I’ll be able to care for a baby and meet his or her demands. What will happen after my pregnancy? I really don’t want to experience another relapse after I deliver. How am I going to manage my illness, and what will happen if I need to came off my DMD when I’m pregnant or breastfeeding? There are so many questions, and I don’t know who to turn to.”

Nina is not alone in her thirst for answers. MS is an autoimmune neurological disease with very different presentation. No two MS patients are exactly the same and symptoms can vary from just the occasional mild tingling in the finger tips to more severe symptoms that render the patient unable to walk or stand for several weeks. With Relapsing Remitting MS accounting for 85% of all MS cases, most patients will undergo a remissive state after an attack, and will resume their daily life with little or no hindrance. Some patients will continue to have modest symptoms during the remissive state which they learn to adapt to and manage by different medications and or lifestyle changes. As there are no current cures for MS, many MS patients live for decades with this disease, and must find the means to maintain a high quality of life as the disease progresses, which can be challenging in the later stages of the disease.

MS impacts many more women than men with a 3:1 ratio in North America. As the disease onset occurs during the reproductive ages, many women with MS face the dilemma of pregnancy at some point during their lives. Young women, like Nina, with MS planning pregnancies, have many questions. Because the disease presentation and progression varies from person to person, there is no exact answer and treatment and management must be tailored to the specific person’s need. However, I’d like to address some of the most common questions to help all of the “Ninas” out there:

1. “Would the disease adversely impact the pregnancy and my developing baby”?

Up until the late 1950s, women with MS were advised to terminate their pregnancies. With our advancement in the field, we know that this is almost never necessary. Many women with MS continue to have healthy babies, and research shows that there is no increased risk for having a baby with a structural malformation or developmental delay and many deliver healthy babies with no major complications. Although there is a trend toward lighter weight babies, the birth weight percentile remains in the normal range for most. Another observation has been the higher rate of miscarriage in the MS population with mixed results from different studies. The reason for this is not well understood, but the majority of miscarriages are in early pregnancy. While miscarriage rates in the general population are around 10-15%, in women with MS the rates are closer to 20%-30%. With successful conception, the chance of delivering a healthy baby at term is high, and women with MS should be assured that their disease is unlikely to cause harm to the developing baby.

2. “Would my baby also have MS”?
There is a complex interplay between genetics and environment leading to MS. While the risk of getting MS in the general population is 0.3%, having a parent with MS will increase this risk by almost 15 times. So children of women with MS may have a 3% to 6% chance of developing MS later in life, but the environmental and lifestyle factors may play the ultimate role in disease manifestation. Hence despite the genetic contribution, the risk for your baby developing MS remains small and can potentially be modified.

3. “If I stop my DMD when planning, what are the risks of having a relapse while I try to conceive?”
Depending on how long it takes to conceive, the drug free period prior to pregnancy may be a risky period for experiencing a relapse. While some women conceive after just one cycle, many will conceive after several months of actively trying to become pregnant. It will take 1 to 3 months (depending on the drug) to fully clear the system, and during this time, some may experience disease activity. If prior to starting the DMD you had very active disease, there is a risk that you’ll experience a relapse when you stop the medication, especially if it takes more than 3 months for you to conceive. The decision to continue DMDs is highly individualized and is determined on a case-by-case basis. You and your neurologist will determine the best mode of action.

4. Would having a pregnancy make my MS progress faster?
Pregnancy has not been shown to speed the disease process. In fact, pregnancy is a state of remission for many women with MS, and a time for optimal wellbeing. It is well established that relapse rates reduce by 70% by the third trimester of pregnancy compared to the year prior to pregnancy. However after delivery the relapse rate increases, with 60% of women experiencing a relapse in the first 3 to 6 months postpartum. While the risk is increased in the postpartum period, the course of MS tends to return to its baseline, and no worse than what it was in the year prior to pregnancy. Some studies have found a protective effect with pregnancy, with a delay in the long-term disease progression; however, more studies are needed to confirm this finding.

5. Would I be able to continue my DMD through the pregnancy?
Although many women with MS go through remission in the pregnancy, some will continue to experience disease activity especially in the first two trimesters. The decision to continue DMDs is dependent on several factors, including the type of medication, disease activity in the year prior to pregnancy, and the type of control achieved with the given DMD. The use of glatiramer, Interferon Beta 1a/1b, in pregnancy have not been associated with an increased risk for malformations and if you achieved great control with these drugs, and are at a high risk of relapsing, your physician may consider continuing your therapy through the pregnancy. The newer drugs, especially the oral DMDs, have not been well studied, therefore it is recommended that you discuss with your neurologist the best plan for the course of your pregnancy. There are ongoing research studies looking at the outcome of pregnancies following exposure to these medications. MotherToBaby and its affiliates are engaged in such studies. For study information or for the most up-to-date information about newer medications used to treat MS during pregnancy, call from anywhere in North America toll-FREE 866-626-6847.

6. What if I have a relapse during pregnancy?
While relapses during pregnancy are uncommon, they may happen, and can be quite severe for some women. Steroids are usually used to treat those relapses, although some success has been shown with IVIg therapy as well. A women that experiences a severe debilitating relapse during her pregnancy, may require the standard steroid therapy, while a women that experiences a mild flare-up may choose, in collaboration with her physician, to abstain from treatment. Systemic steroid use in the first trimester has been associated with a very small risk for cleft lip and palate, and use in the second half of pregnancy may increase the risk for having a smaller baby and for delivering prematurely (before 37 weeks gestation). However, it is recommended that you speak with your health care provider before you stop or change any medication. The benefits of taking a steroid and treating your condition should be weighed against these small possible risks. For more information, check out this fact sheet online: http://www.mothertobaby.org/files/Prednisone_6_13_1.pdf or call anywhere in North America toll-FREE 866-626-6847.

7. Should I breastfeed or start my DMD right after delivery?
The postpartum period is a period with a high risk of experiencing relapses. Data on whether breastfeeding has protective effect has conflicting results. Some studies suggest a protective effect, possibly due to the delay of menses returning, while others show no impact. Information on safety of DMDs in the breastfeeding period are scarce, however given the large molecule size of glatiramer acetate, and Interferons, it is unlikely any will transfer into milk. If they do, they are likely not to be absorbed from the baby’s gastrointestinal tract. There is no information regarding other DMD usages during lactation. The benefits of breastfeeding baby are numerous, but, ultimately, your functionality and ability to care for your child take priority. The decision to breastfeed or not may depend on your ability to breastfeed, especially since the demands of a newborn and the hormonal changes in the postpartum period can be very taxing on your energy levels and if you experience chronic fatigue due to your condition. Thus, if a woman (while consulting her physician) decides to breastfeed she may do so. However, if she needs to restart her DMD, currently she may be advised to stop breastfeeding.

Bottomline: While having MS poses physical and emotional challenges, it does not jeopardize a woman’s capacity to motherhood. With careful planning and close collaboration with your doctors and healthcare providers, and especially with some support from family and friends, you will be able to have successful pregnancies, healthy children, and out of control teenagers, just like any other woman. So if becoming a mother is something you have always wanted and looked forward to, having MS is more of a bump in the road rather than a life sentence, and with some maneuvering you can achieve your dreams. Happy parenthood!

 

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Touched with fire: A meaning behind the suffering

Posted February 18th, 2016 by

We’ve been talking with new PatientsLikeMe member Paul, whose debut feature-film, Touched with Fire – inspired by his experiences living with bipolar – opened last week in select theaters. 

For Paul, the road to diagnosis was more like being on a rollercoaster. Years of using marijuana seemed to stimulate his creativity at film school, but culminated in the manic episode that would shape the rest of his life. His diagnosis was not the divine revelation he interpreted it as, but the triggering of a lifelong disease: bipolar disorder.

Here’s how Paul describes this time in his life:

Having trouble watching the video? Click the button below:

 

 

Share your own experiences and connect with more than 70,000 members in the Mental Health forum on PatientsLikeMe. 

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“I feel as if I’ve been given more time to spread awareness.” – An interview with ALS member Lisa

Posted December 28th, 2015 by

Lisa (Ltbeauti) was studying to become a teacher in Richmond, VA, when she was diagnosed with ALS—the same type that affected both her sister and father. After joining PatientslikeMe in 2008, Lisa has made it her mission to stay proactive about her health and, like any good teacher, offer support and share her experience with new members in the community.

We caught up with her recently to learn more about how she copes with ALS, and here’s what we learned …

1.  Give us a glimpse of a regular day in your life. What are some challenges you face? What do you most enjoy?

I need assistance with most things now. I am in a power wheelchair 95% of the day. I will occasionally transfer to a recliner with a lift seat on top the cushion. The biggest challenge I face is constantly changing strategies to remain as independent as possible as the progressing nature of this disease takes away my ability to do even simple tasks. I can no longer speak and I use an iPad with speech software to communicate. I really enjoy getting outside to be around some plants or flowers. I was an avid gardener before ALS, and even worked at a greenhouse for 3 years.

2. Can you describe how life has changed for you since your diagnosis in 2008? 

I was in the process of becoming a teacher while working and raising a family when in 2006 my voice sounded raspy and different. I was diagnosed at Duke as was my sister 2 years before. Our father had the same MND, probable ALS. Most genetic types of ALS account for only about 10% of all cases and ours is slow progressing Bulbar type. So ours is pretty rare.

3. What inspires you to keep a positive attitude?

I think my faith helps me and the fact that most people with ALS don’t have a slow progressing form. I feel as if I have been given more time to advocate and spread awareness, so that’s what I do. I spend a lot of time in different forums, chat rooms, ALS Facebook groups and of course PatientsLikeMe trying to give and get advice.  In the case of PatientsLikeMe, I can also get data I can use to make more informed decisions regarding my healthcare and wellbeing.

4. You were recently an InMotion participant in Richmond’s Walk to Defeat ALS in October. Tell us a little about this event.

This yearly event raises money that goes to help local PALS (Person’s With ALS), like me with all sorts of stuff like equipment, support, technology, respite care and more. ALS can cost hundreds of thousands a year in the later stages and having access to equipment free of charge is one less worry we face. My local chapter has supplied me and others with a lot of equipment.

5. What has your experience been like on PatientsLikeMe? You recently posted in a forum about long-term ALS patients – what does it mean to you to be able to connect with people who are going through a similar time?

Connecting with others for support, to learn I’m not alone, and the data tracking features are very important to me. As I said before, I belong to many ALS support groups and forums but none can compare to PatientsLikeMe. It’s such a novel concept where users can set parameters and track data while getting support and answers. I have a complete history going back to my diagnosis to show any doctor, of all sorts of things relating specifically to ALS.

6. If you could give one piece of advice to a newly diagnosed person, what would that advice be?

Advice to newbies, prepare for the progressive nature of this disease by being proactive in your healthcare. Take advantage of your local ALS Chapter for equipment and support and reach out to others who have been where you are now. It’s amazing how beneficial it is to communicate with others going through similar circumstances.

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Meet Christel from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted November 29th, 2015 by

We wanted to take a minute to introduce you to Christel, one of your 2015-2016 PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors. Christel who was 12 years old when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, shares openly that she spent a lot of her teens and twenties ignoring its existence.

But 32 years later, Christel has made peer support and advocacy her focus. She’s founded a psychosocial peer support conference for adults with diabetes (and caregivers, too) and co-founded an advocacy organization for easy and effective diabetes policy advocacy. Christel also writes a popular patient blog, ThePerfectD.com, and speaks publicly about her experiences.

In a recent interview (below) she talks about societal stigmas surrounding diabetes and how important it is to connect with others who share this condition.

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?

Society thinks that diabetes is a punchline; something that shouldn’t be taken seriously.

We need to stop making fun of diabetes. All those pictures of desserts with the hashtag #diabetes? People with diabetes aren’t laughing. In fact, it only perpetuates the ignorance.

Those who are diagnosed often don’t get the proper education and care they need, and don’t talk about it, as the stigma surrounding diabetes due to misinformation prevents us, as a society, to address how to support people with this disease.

Until that changes, the increase of diabetes diagnoses will continue. The latest statistics show that 1 in 3 U.S. adults could have type 2 diabetes by 2050 if we don’t change our attitude and educate the public on what diabetes is, what it isn’t, and what can be done. (And the number of type 1 diabetes diagnoses are also increasing, although we don’t know why.)

What needs to happen? Education, compassion, and a willingness to speak up when someone makes a joke about diabetes.

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

29 million Americans have a diabetes diagnosis (that’s 11% of the population!) and 86 million more have a pre-diabetes diagnosis, yet there is a lack of true awareness about what the disease is and the gravity of a diabetes diagnosis.

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disease. Individuals diagnosed have issues with the insulin they produce; not enough insulin or a resistance to the insulin they do have. People with Type 2 can manage their diabetes a number of ways: diet, exercise, oral medications, and insulin – or a combination of any of these.

Type 1 diabetes (which I have) is an autoimmune disease, and we comprise about 5% of the diabetes community. My body attacked the insulin producing cells in my pancreas, so I must inject insulin to manage my glucose levels. Without insulin, bluntly stated, I’m dead within a few days (if not sooner).

Even with insulin, I walk a fine line every day attempting to keep my blood glucose levels in range. Too much insulin in my body and the consequences can be immediate: mild impaired cognitive function to seizures, coma, or death. But too little? The consequences can be just as devastating: long-term complications and/or the poisoning of my body through ketoacidosis.

I’ve oversimplified these two main types (there are other types of diabetes!), but here’s what shouldn’t be oversimplified: insulin is not a cure, you cannot “reverse” or “cure” diabetes (you can maintain), you don’t get diabetes from being fat, you don’t get diabetes from eating too much sugar, and if you ignore your diabetes, the complications are deadly.

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

Grieve.

It’s perfectly acceptable to fall apart and mourn the life before your diagnosis – and your caregivers should do the same. You can ask: “Why me?” and shake your fist at the sky.

There will be plenty of time to be brave and courageous and inquisitive. Get the grief out of the way first. Don’t put it off or deny it as I did, years after my diagnosis, because grief is inevitable.

But don’t get stuck in your grief. Find others who can help and support you and guide you through your next steps in the journey.

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

Diabetes can be a lonely disease. For years after my diagnosis, I didn’t know another person with type 1 diabetes and wished that I could talk to someone about the daily challenges and the fears.

The Internet opened up my world and gave me confidantes, compatriots, and support from all over the world. Without the ability to get help online and share my thoughts and experiences, I truly believe that I would not be living well with diabetes today.

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Natalie shares her story as caregiver for her mother with Alzheimer’s disease

Posted November 21st, 2015 by

Natalie (center) with her mother, Maxine (left) and her mother-in-law, Pam (right).

When was your mom diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease? What was your mom’s diagnosis process like for you, for your mom, and for the rest of your family and friends?

My mother, Maxine, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in April of 2010. She had been living on her own for about one year, following her separation from my father. We both started noticing drastic changes in her attention to detail, motivation to work, cleanliness of her home, etc. and were concerned for her well-being. It wasn’t until she started not answering her phone that we insisted on a change. She simply didn’t want to speak to anyone, because she herself couldn’t understand the changes going on with her mentally, and wouldn’t know how to explain herself. For outsiders, it looked like disinterest, depression and laziness. For myself and my father, we knew something larger was the problem.

What is one thing you learned about yourself as a caregiver for your mom? 

Caring for my mom has taught me so much – and hindsight is 20/20. However, I have found that my resiliency, despite challenging situations, is far stronger than I have ever given myself credit for. When people ask ‘how did you do it?’ I simply reply with the most honest answer I can – There was no other option.

How long and how often were you caring for your mom?

When my mother was diagnosed, the legal implications of her inability to care for herself came to light. Since her and my father were divorced, the State of New Hampshire would have taken control over her finances, healthcare decisions, etc., had there been no one else deemed a responsible party. And at age 20, I was not the ideal candidate. However the thought of the alternative was not something I could bear. Court appointments and legal requests for guardianship took months. When I was finally named her legal guardian, I took on a larger role in her care than I had expected (but was committed to fulfilling as long as I was needed). Additionally, I was her secondary caretaker, traveling from Boston to New Hampshire every weekend on Saturday mornings and returning back to the city on Sunday nights. I cooked, grocery shopped, cleaned the house, did laundry, refilled her medications, paid bills and made sure the caregiver schedule for the following week was set. It was a routine that was well-oiled, but didn’t leave a ton time for the typical weekend ‘R&R.’

How did you balance being a caregiver for your mom with other obligations (work, relationships, planning your wedding, etc.?)

At the time of my mom’s diagnosis and while we moved her back into the home I grew up in, I was an undergraduate at Northeastern University. I would travel back and forth from the city to the coast of New Hampshire to be with her and relieve my father and the other caregivers each weekend. Meanwhile, I was a live-in nanny for a family of three, whom I would care for during the week when I wasn’t at class. I also was just starting a new relationship with my now husband. For the next few years, that was my life. I spent more time in my car than I did in my bed. And while my friends were partying each weekend, I just simply wasn’t around. My priorities were so far removed from those of my age, and I was okay with that. After I graduated and started working full-time, her disease was quickly progressing. Instead of spending Friday nights with my boyfriend (at the time), he would come home with me and help. Once we were engaged, we knew we wanted to move quickly in hopes that she could see me get married. That was the light at the end of the tunnel.

Throughout your mom’s illness, what moment stands out to you most?

Natalie’s mother, Maxine.

A goal that was shared by my father and I was singular and authentic – we wanted to keep mom at home for as long as we were financially and physically able to. Luckily, we spent her money right and found so many helpful resources that were available to us – like the Rockingham VNA and Hospice. Despite her illness, my mom was never without someone by her side that truly loved her – a luxury that many others in a similar situation aren’t privy to. We are so grateful we were able to achieve that goal and to care for my mother at home, even until the day she passed. Selfishly, the moment I remember most vividly in my mind was having her at my wedding, just a month and a half before she passed away. That memory stays with me, and reminds me of something truly magical, even on my most difficult days.

What advice would you give to other caregivers trying to take care of a parent or loved one?

Don’t try to do it all on your own. You will reach a breaking point, and you won’t have the energy to pull yourself back together. Ask friends and other family for help. Have someone come over to relieve you for a few hours so you can shower without worrying the house will catch on fire (yes, I’m not kidding – things like this fall by the wayside). Be honest with others about your situation, because more often than not, they would love nothing more than to help.

If you’re caring for someone living with a chronic condition, you can connect with others who understand what you’re going through on PatientsLikeMe. You can also connect with others in the growing Alzheimer’s community on PatientsLikeMe.

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“I am not a quitter, I never have been” – An interview with lung cancer member Jacquie

Posted November 19th, 2015 by

Jacquie today.

For Jacquie (Jacquie1961), a business owner and entrepreneur from New Mexico, 2013 was the worst year of her life – she’d lost two beloved pets to old age and then was diagnosed with lung cancer, which soon turned into colon cancer. After rigorous chemotherapy and the adoption of a new dog, Roman, Jacquie joined PatientsLikeMe this past

Jacquie in September of 2013, shortly before her diagnosis.

September and has been sharing her positive, never-back-down attitude with the rest of the community. We took time to connect with her recently and this is what we learned…

Tell us a bit about your life.

After a long career of juggling my own real estate firm and landscaping company, I decided to obtain my esthetician’s license in 2011. In late 2012, I opened a spa for skincare. It was in 2013, as I was building up my new business, that I got my first diagnosis of lung cancer.

What I didn’t know was that I also had cancer in my colon that went unnoticed by the first oncologist I had. I was getting sicker by the day, losing more weight, but no one even did any blood work on me or examined me for five months. I asked about chemo and was told every month that my doctor hadn’t decided on that yet. After Christmas of 2013, my parents urged me to change oncologists.

Jacquie with her boxer, Roman.

Because I was severely anemic, I spent a month and a half getting blood weekly before I could have a colonoscopy under the care of my new oncologist. In March of 2014, I was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic lung to colon cancer. My surgeon told me that there were only 12 documented cases of lung to colon cancer and the prognosis for life expectancy was not good. I had the colon surgery with resection and started a hellish year of chemo. It wasn’t until May that I closed my business because my job was now to save my life!

I have a new dog, a Boxer named Roman. He is my rock! He’s a rescue and came into my life at the right time. He gave me a reason to get up in the mornings, take short walks, laugh and have a constant companion as most of my time was spent in bed if I wasn’t at chemo or the hospital or a doctor’s office. I never had children so animals to me are my family. The only good part of 2013 was finding Roman.

Jacquie and her father on her wedding day.

How has your life changed since your diagnosis?

Wow, I have to say I am not the same person I was before I was diagnosed and gone through everything I did. I don’t think anyone can. I find myself less tolerant of people who complain about the smallest of things like burnt cookies because they don’t matter.

Material wealth means nothing to me anymore. I lived well, worked hard and made good money. Now that is not that important to me. I’ve had all that and lost it due to cancer. And anyone’s life can be changed on a dime. So cherish what you have now, enjoy life and create memories. And take care of your health.

I am also now in the process of starting a new business with my father – a pawn and antique shop. It’s coming along slowly, but we’ll get there soon to open.

Cancer is a mentally and physical life altering journey. Mine was pretty extensive, but I am sure there are a lot of other women and men who can identify with this. If you approach it with knowledge and a positive attitude the transitioning is much easier.

In 2013, Jacquie was recovering from lung cancer surgery and her family wouldn’t let her be without a Christmas tree. Knowing her love for the ocean, they brought her a white tree. In 2014, after recovering from lung and colon cancer, Jacquie added 2 smaller trees as symbols of her strength in fighting cancers.

I lost all of my hair head to toe in the first few treatments of chemo, but I made it work with hats and an assortment of wigs. Cute hats, wigs, and learning ways to use makeup can make a huge difference in how you see yourself and how you feel about yourself. I still went to charity dinners, events, and I’ve done several fashion shows for cancer even on chemo. No one was the wiser that I was even wearing wigs. I never liked looking at myself in the mirror but accepted it as part of my “job.” My hair is growing back in and I’ve gone out in public. It’s not me at all, but it’s who I really am right now.

Now is the part where I pick up the pieces and put myself back together. How do I deal with the hair growing back? I let it breathe, use some cream to style it and a headband. I wear my wigs or a cute cap when I am running errands. I am trying to put together a monthly course to teach women how to apply makeup and wear scarves. I am lucky that I already have the experience, but it surprised me how many women do not know what to do with themselves so they stay home. Not right…Getting cancer is bad enough but having to feel ugly shouldn’t be part of it.

You mention that you had to be your own advocate with doctors. What would your advice be to others who must advocate for themselves?

As I explained above regarding my first oncologist, I learned from that experience that I better watch out for myself. I didn’t have anyone who had experience with cancer to tell me what to do. Having been through this and seen the mistakes made with my care, I’m adamant that if something is not right with me or I don’t feel right I talk to my doctors about it. I read every scan and I ask questions. Doctors are very busy and it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Keep a file with all of your tests. Keep a journal of things you need to have done. I know every three months I have to have scans and a colonoscopy. I often have to remind my doctor that it’s time. Keep track of your scripts as well.

You’ve said in a recent forum post that you’re “a firm believer in keeping up a fight even in the face of adversity.” What keeps you going? And how would you encourage others in your situation to keep going?

I am not a quitter, I never have been. Even given a diagnosis I may not live very long, I was sure to prove the doctors wrong. And yes, I am still here. I was ready to start living life again and then recently hit another bump in the road with a diagnosis of coronary artery disease. My cardiologist will decide whether to put in stents or do bypass surgery. Okay, whatever it takes. And now, I’m also supporting father – my best friend – through his first experience of chemo. After a bout of bad health, I took him over to my doctor and she diagnosed him with non-hodgkins follicular lymphoma stage 4. Since I’ve been through this, he is now my patient.

This August, Jacquie modeled for a local cancer charity, CARE. All funds raised go to people of her town for assistance with bills and medical expenses.

Some days I think my world is falling apart, but I still keep going. I think there is more work for me to do on this earth and God picked me to do it. I’m not a religious fanatic by any means but I have had a world of prayers around me. Everyone is different in how they handle traumatic and life-changing events. I try to tell people to find strength within, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I see the beach at the end of mine and know I will get there someday soon. People need goals, baby steps – and remember that tomorrow is another day. Every morning and day is a gift that was not promised. Take that gift with gratitude. And spread it!

It doesn’t have to be a curse or a death sentence. It is an illness. You’ll have good days and bad days. If people find themselves depressed or anxious and unable to cope there is help. Find a support system, a therapist, a best friend, a forum like PatientsLikeMe. Surround yourself with positive people. You are a survivor and that is something to be very proud of. I have a group of friends and we call ourselves the Warrior Women. We are a tough group who’ve fought the beast and we are winning.

You’ve been very supportive to other members in the PatientsLikeMe forums. What has been your experience on PatientsLikeMe?

I’m very glad that my mother actually told me about this site. It makes me feel good to think that just maybe I can help someone else because of my experience. Or maybe I know of some way that their journey will be easier on them. I’ve enjoyed conversing with several other women. I’ve also learned more about lung cancer than I knew before through others’ experiences and how they are dealing with it now. I know it’s better and helpful to talk or converse with others who’ve experienced the same thing you have or similar. It’s hard with family and friends as I believe one can’t truly understand what you have been through unless they have gone through it themselves. PatientsLikeMe brings like-minded people together.

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