9 posts tagged “feature interview”

Patient, caregiver, wife and mother – Georgiapeach85 shares about her experiences with MS and her husband’s PTS

Posted June 22nd, 2015 by

Ashleigh (Georgiapeach85) is a little bit different than your typical PatientsLikeMe member – not only is she living with multiple sclerosis, she also a caregiver for her husband Phil, who has been diagnosed with PTS. In her interview, Ashleigh shares her unique perspective gained from her role as a patient and caregiver, and how PatientsLikeMe has helped her to look for a person’s character, not their diagnosis. Read about her journey below.

Hi Ashleigh! Tell us a little about yourself and your husband.
Hi! I am 29 and my husband Phil is 33. We have been married for 9 and a half years, and we have a son who is almost two 🙂 . I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting MS in July 2009 just before my 24th birthday. My husband served in the Army Reserves for just over six years and did one tour in Afghanistan in 2002. I met him while he was going through his Med Board and discharge. We met while working at Best Buy – he was Loss Prevention, the ones in the yellow shirts up front – and I was a cashier and bought him a coke on his first day 🙂 . We dated for nine months, were engaged for six, and got married and haven’t looked back!

What was your husband’s PTS diagnosis experience like?
It has been hard as his wife to see him struggle with first acknowledging that he had stronger reactions to small things in life than most people would and that perhaps he should seek outside help and then the struggle to get the care he needs from the VA. He is finally seeing a counselor next week after requesting he be evaluated for PTS a year ago. He has never had insurance other than the VA so has to rely on their lengthy processes for treatment. He was given a preliminary evaluation in March for the claim and was told that he definitely needed to be seen further, but then the VA made no follow up.

One of his manifestations is getting very frustrated very quickly, so I try to make all of his doctor appointments for him so he doesn’t have to deal with the wait times and rudeness from the VA employees. I have spent hours on the phone getting the right forms filled out and referrals done. I am proud of him for not giving up on it and seeing that he needs to learn some situational coping strategies so that we can enjoy life as a family. Phil loves camping and the outdoors where things are peaceful and open, so we belong to a private camping club and he loves to take our son and dog up there to get away.

You have a unique perspective as both an MS patient and a caregiver for your husband. Can you speak about your role as a caregiver and some of the challenges you face?
The biggest challenge I face is remembering his reactions to crowds and loud stimulating environments when we are choosing where to go. We have had to leave restaurants because they have been so busy and crowded just waiting for a table that he gets very panicked and apprehensive about being able to get to an exit quickly. He does just fine most places, but crowds and small areas stress him out. I handle making all of my appointments for my MS and his for his medical needs so it can be stressful sometimes while trying to work full time and be a mom.

How has PatientsLikeMe helped you expand your role as a caregiver?
I am just exploring the Post-Traumatic Stress section to see what others are experiencing. I never even thought about getting support for being a caregiver for Phil, I just always assumed he was the only one with caregiving responsibilities for me, but I see that I need to learn what I can about what he is going through so that I can give back the support he has given me over the years and through my diagnosis. Just as I want to be open about my MS, but don’t want it to define me as a person, Phil wants to learn to address his experience in Afghanistan and how he reacts to situations outside his control, but doesn’t want to be defined by a label of PTS. PatientsLikeMe has helped me to look for a person’s character, not their diagnosis. I have met many wonderful people and it is a great relief to know I can log on and vent or seek guidance from people all over the world.

What has been the most helpful part of the PatientsLikeMe site with regards to your MS?
Well I found the best neurologist ever through the site by looking up people who were on Low-Dose Naltrexone for their MS (which is an off-label prescription my former neurologist thought was not worth pursuing), then I sorted by those geographically closest to me, and I sent them a private message as to who prescribed them LDN. One of the members gave me Dr. English’s name at the MS Center of Atlanta, and that center has been a godsend for the care and advancements I have been exposed to. In a similar circumstance, I have made a new friend when a lady two years older than me found me under a search for those in her area and through messaging we found out that her son and mine were born on the same day, just one year apart! She lives 10 minutes away and Phil and I have become friends with her and her husband and that has been so great to have a female friend my age, with MS, and with a young child. Beyond the connections, being able to search for a medication and seeing how it is working for others and their reviews has been immensely helpful.

What’s one piece of advice you have for other caregivers who are also managing their own chronic conditions?
Just because there might not be a cure doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot about life and yourself in the journey for caring for someone you love. Learn to take the good days with the bad and be thankful for life and being around to give support. In my case, I care for my spouse whom I love with all my heart and will be with for the rest of our lives. You have to view the big picture when you get caught up in the stress of day-to-day or certain circumstances, it’s the only perspective you can take when you’re in it for the long haul 🙂 . Also, don’t feel guilty when you need to take a break for yourself, you are only good for others when you have charged yourself up.

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“Don’t go it alone” – IPF member Christine shares about her health journey

Posted April 24th, 2015 by

Christine_Williams was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in 2009, and ever since, she’s been managing a “rollercoaster ride that’s terrifying and not fun.” But she’s connected with your community on PatientsLikeMe for inspiration and was even referred to a new medical center to be evaluated for a lung transplant by her “rehabilitation buddies.” Below, read what Christine shared about her diagnosis, progression and thoughts on living with IPF.

Can you share a bit about your diagnosis experience? We’ve heard from many members that finding an official diagnosis isn’t always easy. What that true for you, too? 

Mostly no. In March 2009, I contracted pneumonia back to back within 8 weeks. It was around the time when the swine flu became a big deal, and I had visited Cancun, Mexico that year. I wasn’t necessarily in great health but fairly healthy. I had always attributed my shortness of breath to me being overweight. Because of the pneumonia, a CT scan was ordered. Then a bronchoscopy and finally a video assisted lung biopsy. I was diagnosed however right after the bronchoscopy. I started exhibiting shortness of breath symptoms in 2001. Even went through a series of PFTs at the time but was given an inhaler and told to lose weight. Ironically I didn’t start to suffer from REAL shortness of breath until after the diagnosis. Perhaps I had an exacerbation when sick with pneumonia. 

How has your IPF progressed over the past five years?

To tell you the truth, I really don’t know. I figured the doctor would tell me if there was an exacerbation or not. No news is good news? I do know that my disease had stabilized within 2 years because I was “kicked out” of the lung transplant program so to speak. I no longer needed to see the transplant team doctors however was recommended to still see my pulmonologist which I did. It was only the diagnosis of pulmonary hypertension (in October 2013) that the option of lung transplant is back on the table. I know I need to know this information and will ask my pulmonologist how my PF has progressed when I see her this month. I was only using oxygen at night until March 2013. Then I started using it full time. My liters per minute (LPM) has increased since then too (from 2-4 at rest and 4-6/10 on exertion).

Take us through a typical day in your life – how are you managing your IPF?

I officially retired from my job December 2014. I have up days and down days. Every morning I open my eyes, I thank God! I attend pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays). I used to attend a yoga class given by the PR until it was cancelled. I hope they bring it back soon because it brings me much needed peace and helps me breath better. I try to be as “normal” as possible. I cook, clean, spend time with family and friends. I also help take care of my 5-year old twin grandsons for about 3 hours every day after school. I run errands; post office, dry cleaners, etc. Sometimes I go to the doctor by myself but most times I ask for someone to go with me; just to have another set of eyes and ears. I rely heavily on my support system both in person and on-line.

Since it looks like a lung transplant might be back on the table for you, can you tell us a little about what the experience has been like?

It is a very exhausting experience. I’m being evaluated by three different centers (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Temple University and New York Columbia Presbyterian). Every other week, I’m changing my mind. Traveling back and forth, making appointments, getting all the tests done can be extremely stressful. I was initially with the University of Pennsylvania lung transplant center. I was rejected by them because of esophageal issues. I was so defeated that I went home and cried and said I can’t do this anymore. But I guess God has something else in store for me. I was referred to UPMC and my cousin had a double lung transplant at Temple. One of my “rehabilitation buddies” went to NYCP and referred them to me. I am a part of the NYCP program and UPMC and Temple are in the process of testing me. I know that lung transplant is not a cure but an option. It’s trading one set of challenges for another. It is good to see some people that I have met on-line over the years thrive with transplant.

How have others in the IPF community on PatientsLikeMe helped support your journey?

Words cannot express how I feel about the IPF community! As I mentioned earlier, they are an important part of my inspiration. Their honesty, love, courage and encouragement help keep me going when I think I can’t go on anymore. I pray for our individual and collective healing on a daily basis. 

You post a bunch to the “Today’s Thought” thread in the forum – what is one thought you’d share with someone who has recently been diagnosed with IPF?

DON’T GO IT ALONE!!!! Please reach out to family and friends. Stay connected even if it’s online. Research face-to-face groups on the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation website. Talk to a therapist, priest, rabbi, etc. This can be a dark, lonely and scary experience; a rollercoaster ride that’s terrifying and not fun. Remember that you are not alone!!! And there is a whole community of us just waiting with open arms.

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PatientsLikeMe member TMurph58 shares about his advocacy efforts and journey with ALS

Posted April 20th, 2015 by

TMurph58 is a longtime PatientsLikeMe member who is living with ALS. You may remember him from his 2012 interview, when he talked about the “Treat Us Now” movement and his experiences with ALS. We recently caught up with Tom, and he shared about his extensive advocacy efforts over the past few years, including his recent presentation on patient-focused drug development with Sally Okun, PatientsLikeMe’s Vice President of Advocacy, Policy and Patient Safety. Catch up on his journey below.

Hi Tom! Can you share a little about your early symptoms and diagnosis experience?

I think I was very lucky to have a knowledgeable general practitioner – my actual diagnosis only took three months to complete even though I had to see three separate neurologists. My early symptoms started in my right hand with weakness and the atrophy of the thumb muscle – I thought it was carpal tunnel syndrome.

How has your ALS progressed over the past few years?

Thankfully I have been in the category of a slow progressor:

The ALSFRS-R measures activities of daily living (ADL) and global function for patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The ALSFRS-R provides a physicians-generated estimate of patient’s degree of functional impairment, which can be evaluated serially to objectively assess any response to treatment or progression of disease.

Description:

  • 12-question scale with 5 possible responses each (0-indicates unable to 4-indicates normal ability)
  • Individual item scores are added to produce a reported score of between 0 = worst and 48 = best

What sort of advocacy efforts have you been involved in since your diagnosis?

  • PatientsLikeMe (PLM) Member since January 2011.
  • Active with the ALS Association (raised over $80,000 to date) – my most current activity.
  • On 8/2/2011, FM 106.7 The Fan (Sports Junkies) hosted an ALS Awareness Day Interview.
  • March 2012: Featured Interview on PatientsLikeMe (PLM) –Meet ALS “Treat Us Now” Steering Committee Member Tom Murphy.
  • April 24-25 2012 Visit to Capitol Hill with Former Neuraltus CEO (Andrew Gengos) – Summary: I think Andrew Gengos (CEO Neuraltus) and I made a good “team” – Both Industry and Patients “partnering” with a consistent message related to Expanded Access and Accelerated Approval for Rare and Life Threatening diseases such as ALS.
  • Raised over $30,000 for a collaboration between ALS Treat Us Now and the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALSTDI) and rode the last 15 miles of the ALSTDI Tri-State Trek in July 2012.
  • Presentation made to the FDA CDER on 8/24/2012.

You’re a 3-star data donor on PatientsLikeMe – what do you find helpful about tracking your health on the site?

Because of this site, I think I have the most complete documentation of my disease progression in treatments than anyone in the health industry. It is a great tool and has been unbelievably helpful to me over the last four years. 

Finally, congratulations on your 33-year anniversary! As a father and husband, what’s one thing you’d like to share with the community about ALS and family relationships?

At the end of the day, given all the challenges those of us with ALS face – nothing is more important than your family relationships and the love you share.

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“ALS is not for sissies.” – PatientsLikeMe member SuperScout shares about her journey with ALS

Posted March 30th, 2015 by

That’s what SuperScout likes to tell people when explaining her personal motto. She was diagnosed in 2009, and in a recent interview, she explained how she takes her life one day, and sometimes one hour, at a time. In her interview, she broke down what goes on during a typical visit to her ALS clinic, and shared how technology has been simultaneously frustrating and extremely helpful. Learn about her journey below.

When did you first experience symptoms of ALS?

In August 2008, I was attending a Girl Scout event. As we recited the Promise, I noticed my fingers weren’t making the sign correctly. Over the next few months, I began to lose the fine motor skills in my right hand. Writing was hard, & I started using my left hand for most things. I thought I had some form of carpal tunnel. I had NO pain, so I wasn’t concerned. In December 2008, I went to my family doctor for my annual check-up. I told him my problems & he sent me for an electroencephalogram (EEG). That began the series of tests that eventually led to my diagnosis in April 2009.

How did you feel after being officially diagnosed? And what was the first thing that went through your mind?

I don’t think I will ever forget that day. I suspected something unusual was going to happen because the technician at my second EEG commented that the neurologist must find my case interesting because normally, it’s difficult to get an appointment with him. He entered the exam room, sat down, and said, “I have bad news for you. You have Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” I was stunned, and asked if it would affect my longevity. He said yes, but couldn’t tell me how much. He asked if I had any questions, but I didn’t because I didn’t know much about it. Sure, I had heard of it, but didn’t know what it would do to me. I went home, and looked on the Internet for information on ALS. It was scary. The first thing through my mind was how it would change my life and that of my family. I was used to doing for others, now they would need to do for me.

You tell people “ALS is not for sissies.” Can you elaborate on that?

A sissy is defined as someone who is timid or cowardly. No one who has ALS can fit that definition. We all know it will shorten our life, and rob us of many functions we once took for granted. I really like the PSA Angela Lansbury did for ALS in 2008. She’s sitting on a stool, and a gun is fired. As the bullet races toward her, she describes what ALS does to the body, and ends by saying “There’s nothing you can do to stop it.” She asks for donations for the ALS Association (ALSA) stating that with this help those with ALS can do this: She rises and avoids the oncoming bullet. We all see the bullet, yet can’t do anything to stop it. Unlike other serious diseases, there are NO options for a treatment that will cure this disease that’s been described as horrific. However, every day we People with ALS (PALS) are fighting the daily battle to stay positive. Sometimes, it’s easy, sometimes, it’s hard. You take it one day at a time, or even just one hour at a time. That makes us BRAVE, and not sissies.

Take us through a typical visit to your ALS clinic – what’s the experience like?

Every 3 months, I visit the ALS clinic at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Once my weight is checked, I’m taken to an exam room, then the team of specialists each stop in to see me. In addition to the neurologist, I see a respiratory therapist, nurse, ALS representative, MDA representative, speech therapist, dietician, occupational therapist, physical therapist, social worker, & a pastoral care minister. They each make recommendations to help me have the best quality of life with ALS as possible. My family members are asked if they have any needs. Each room has a sign – “Have we answered all your questions?” About 1 week after my visit, I receive in the mail a summary of my visit with their recommendations. Prior to the visit, I also complete a Quality of Life survey, similar to the one on this website. Although lengthy (around 3 1/2 hours), I enjoy my visits because each person makes me feel important and they truly care about me.

How has technology helped you with your communication?

When I began using my Eyegaze Edge, I found it frustrating, but gradually got better at not moving my head and was able to be successful. Now, it is my sole means of communication. Before my caregiver arrives in the morning, I type out for her what I want for my meals, what channels I want to watch on TV, and any special information. My son says I sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher when I talk, so using my device is a necessity if I want to communicate. We even take it to Sunday School, so I can participate in our class discussions. My most favorite thing to do is connect to the internet. Sending emails is easy, and I go on Facebook, play games, read, Skype, shop, and do whatever I’m in the mood for. Once, when the camera broke, I was without it for a few days and I really missed it. I wound up grunting “Yes” or “No” to questions which was frustrating. Using technology to connect to others makes me feel I still have a purpose in life, and I have something worthwhile to contribute.

Finally, what’s the most positive surprise you’ve learned while living with ALS?

The most positive surprise I’ve learned while living with ALS is that I have more people thinking about me, and supporting me with their prayers, than I expected. I learned this during the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I began to see videos posted on my Facebook timeline of people participating in the Challenge in my honor. It warmed my heart to see them. They featured friends, former work colleagues, and some fellow Girl Scout volunteers. Many said how I’ve inspired them with my smile. It was never my intention to be an inspiration, but just to cope with ALS the best way I knew, with my faith in God and a sense of humor. Due to the Ice Bucket Challenge, the world now knew more about ALS, and money will be used to find a treatment and cure for ALS. I feel hopeful for the first time since my diagnosis.

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“I am not alone in this” – PatientsLikeMe member Rikwood55 shares his journey with lung cancer

Posted March 23rd, 2015 by

New member (and New Zealander) Rikwood55 was diagnosed at age 58 with non-small cell lung carcinoma (stage 4), and he said he joined PatientsLikeMe in the hope of connecting with people on the same or similar lung cancer immunotherapy treatments. Rick took part in a clinical trial, and is now tolerating the immunotherapy treatment well. His scans are looking good, and he sums it up this way:

“Five rounds of Carboplatin Chemo was hard going, as it is for everyone. Now more stability has returned and with it, hope for the future.”

Read Rick’s interview below and share your own experiences.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, Rick.

I am Rick, and I was diagnosed at age 58 with NSCLC stage 4 metastasis. I am a New Zealand-born resident currently receiving immunotherapy treatment in a clinical trial every 3 weeks at Auckland Hospital. I have received 14 treatments to date. Scan results have been good and I am tolerating the treatment well. I have joined PatientsLikeMe in the hope of connecting with people on the same or similar lung cancer immunotherapy treatments. Please, no clinical specific info, which would in any way compromise study results. Let’s talk about living day to day…I think you’ll know what I mean.

You were diagnosed about 2 years ago – what went through your mind after your diagnosis?

Diagnosis day was a tough day. Mentally paralyzing. No soft landing. I dealt with it as best as I could. Fortunately my beautiful wife was there for me. 

You’re a brand-new member of PatientsLikeMe – welcome! What do you think of the community and site so far? 

Thank you for your ‘new member’ welcome to PatientsLikeMe. What I have seen so far, this site looks to me to be very impressive, I found the section on sleep very reassuring. Insomnia is a big issue for me. I see now from your research data that I am not alone in this.

On your profile, you’ve noted that one of your interests is in clinical trials. What about clinical trials makes you passionate about them?

I do not think I am passionate about clinical trials per se. However, I am very enthusiastic about the immunotherapy study treatment that I am fortunate to currently be on. It has given me hope. A sense of hopelessness was never far from my mind in the first year after diagnosis. Five rounds of carboplatin chemotherapy was hard going, as it is for everyone. Now more stability has returned and with it, hope for the future.

Finally, what is one thing you’ve learned over the past two years since your diagnosis that you’d like to share with the lung cancer community?

Maybe one small way that I can try and say thanks to the cancer researchers, biotechnicians, study administrators and clinical care staff is to show support and encouragement for the groundbreaking work they are doing. They deserve all the flag waving acknowledgment possible for giving me back hope.

To paraphrase Mel Bernstein/Harris Yulin in Scarface, (1983), “Everyday above ground is a good day.”

Cheers!

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“I am slowly building my self-esteem “ – PatientsLikeMe member SuperChick shares about her journey with PTSD

Posted March 4th, 2015 by

PatientsLikeMe member SuperChick is a veteran living with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and her story is one of learning to cope with emotions and frustrations. She’s living proof that things can get better – she’s a loving mother of two, has a great husband and is managing several other mental health conditions. Below, she shared about the sexual abuse she experienced while serving in the military and explained how her previous husband physically assaulted her. Superchick also describes the symptoms of her PTSD and how the community on PatientsLikeMe has been “a huge help” to her. Read about her journey below.

Note: SuperChick shares about her story of abuse, which may be triggering.

Can you speak a little about your PTSD and what led to your diagnosis in 1986?

I was originally diagnosed with PTSD after being raped while I was in the military. I believe I was more susceptible because I had been molested as a child and didn’t have good family support or dynamics. I worked through it, but was diagnosed again in 2007 after leaving a severely abusive marriage, where I was raped multiple times and choked at least twice. I was emotionally abused and didn’t even realize it was abuse. I stayed for fourteen years trying to change myself because my ex-husband had convinced me I was the problem and couldn’t do anything right. It destroyed my self-esteem and any healthy coping skills I had.

What are some of the symptoms you experience because of your PTSD?

Since being diagnosed with PTSD the second time, I have numbed my emotions, I experience anxiety, and I have trouble falling and staying asleep even though I may be thoroughly exhausted and am taking medications for sleep. Sometimes I am afraid to go to sleep. I sometimes have nightmares, although not nearly as often as I used to. I have difficulty fully trusting my current husband, or people in general for that matter, even though I know he would never harm me and treats me with tremendous respect. I have suffered from a very low self-esteem and for a long time felt responsible for the trauma. I react more intensely to triggering situations than other people would. I am slowly building my self-esteem, but that is still a struggle for me.

You’ve got two wonderful children – how does PTSD affect your family life?

Because my children spend half their time with their father, I worry about them when they’re with him because I know how abusive he can be. I worry about them being sexually abused or harmed and am very protective of them around anyone I don’t know very well. I’m afraid of my daughter becoming involved in abusive relationships when she grows older and my son becoming an abuser. In a positive sense, I am very affectionate and make time to listen to them and engage in activities I know they enjoy because I want them to experience healthy love. I am remarried to a man who truly loves and respects me. My husband and I try to model a healthy relationship for them.

It’s hard for my husband and me, though. The fact that I still have to be involved with my ex-husband and am told over and over again by the court system, child protective services, and all the mediators we’ve worked with that I have to get along with him makes things very difficult. It minimizes or completely dismisses the trauma I’ve experienced. My husband wants to protect me, and this makes him feel frustrated and powerless. There is no way to get along with a narcissist and abuser. I want to move on and not have him as the focus of our lives, but then something happens and it starts all over again. Sometimes my husband feels shut down when he suggests something I have already tried and found to be futile.

I’ve come to realize that while I have been dealing with all of this for over seven years, he came into this halfway through and is in a different place than I am, having to deal with emotions and frustrations I’ve already experienced and dealt with. He is beginning to understand that his approach can sometimes trigger my symptoms, so when he feels like I’m shutting him down I am actually trying not to go back to that pain. It’s hard in that respect for me to be there for him. We plan to go back to family therapy to help develop a healthier focus for our lives. We’ve been dealing with adversity that has out of necessity been the major focus of our lives, but now we need to move on.

How have you learned to live and cope with your PTSD?

I’ve been in therapy since before I left my marriage, and finally found a therapist who has helped me overcome many of the symptoms of PTSD through EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), which helps change the way I react to the memories. For the most part, I am able to remember the trauma without it bothering me. I still experience triggers, but am able to process the emotions using cognitive behavioral therapy skills and journaling. When I am triggered, I make sure I take care of myself through prayer, talking with my husband and therapist, and doing things that help me relax, ground me, and fully engage my mind, like playing my flute and piano.

The community on PatientsLikeMe has been a huge help. I’ve been able to get support from people all over who have been through what I was going through, and that has helped me cope and make better decisions about my health. I was able to see what my main issues were through the mood map and monitor the effectiveness of my medications. There were many times the PatientsLikeMe community were far more helpful than my doctor.

You’re also living with bipolar II, depression and a few others conditions – how do these affect each other?

I believe the PTSD triggered the bipolar, because I never had symptoms until after I left my marriage and had symptoms of severe PTSD. As I look at symptoms of PTSD, it explains a lot of behaviors I didn’t fully understand, like self-harm, which began as I started to talk about and process the trauma of long-term sexual abuse in my previous marriage. As I’ve worked through many of the issues causing the PTSD, I’ve found that I no longer experience the symptoms of bipolar and have been able to decrease my medications. If I do experience depression now, it is short-lived and related to a specific experience.

As a veteran, what is one special message you’d send to your fellow veterans also living with PTSD?

I think veterans have experiences that only people who have been in the military can understand. Military units are like family, and I find I miss that sense of community now that I’m retired. Meeting with other veterans, especially those with shared experiences of PTSD, may be helpful because those people are more likely to relate well.

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“In my own words” – PatientsLikeMe member Vickie shares about her experiences with lung cancer

Posted November 20th, 2014 by

Meet Vickie, a PatientsLikeMe member who has survived cancer not once, but twice. She’s sharing her story, from diagnosis to survivorship, during Lung Cancer Awareness Month. She spoke about her reaction to getting diagnosed, the anxiety filled months leading up to surgery and what recovery was like post-operation. Learn about her journey below.

The journey
Occasionally I received cards in the mail offering discount lung or heart screenings. I think most people do now and then. I always throw them in the trash. In May 2012, I received one. For some reason I didn’t throw that one away. I called and scheduled an appointment for the heart and lung scan. Was told I’d get a letter in two weeks letting me know the results.

Imagine my surprise when 4 days later I received a voice mail asking me to call the hospital back as soon as possible. With feelings of dread and fear, I returned the call. Was told they were concerned about 2 places in my left lung. Was cautioned to not jump to any conclusions. They could be any number of things. I needed to have testing done. Was scheduled for MRI and PET Scan. Those results were enough to call for a biopsy.

Had the needle biopsy. My lung collapsed immediately. Very scary. Spent 1 night in the hospital. Sent home with instructions. Two days later began having problems breathing. Drove myself back to hospital and found out lung had collapsed again. This time was hospitalized 4 days.

While I was on a gurney in the ER, a pulmonologist from the hospital cancer center (didn’t know he came from cancer center at the time) came to see me. He asked me if I had been told the results of the biopsy. I told him no. He told me it was positive for cancer. Told me not to worry about it, they were going to take care of me. I remember lying there and I just nodded my head. I thought about it for about a minute then blocked it out.

The hope was to do surgery while I was in the hospital for the second lung collapse. The surgery, a lobectomy and wedge resection, would remove my upper left lobe and a portion of my lower lobe. Unfortunately the original scans showed calcium build up in an area of my heart. It was decided I needed to have the heart issue taken care of before the cancer surgery.

Had a heart stent put in. Had to be on a blood thinner for at least two months to make sure blood clots didn’t form on the stent. I then had to be off the blood thinner for a period of time. I have been seeing my oncologist every three months. Get CT scans every six months. Also see pulmonologist every three months.

The surgery
It was three months between time of diagnosis and my surgery. Seemed much longer. I was very worried the cancer would spread. When the time came for me to stop the blood thinner and no call came from doctor I was on edge. I felt they were forgetting about me. I made a call now and then to the lung cancer nurse navigator to remind them about me. I wasn’t that way all the time but I did have extreme anxiety at times. Earlier my family doctor had offered me something to help with my anxiety. I turned it down. Eventually my anxiety did reach a point where I did tell my PCP I needed some help.

Finally, the day of my surgery arrived. September 24, 2012. My parents had driven in from Colorado. Took me to the hospital. Other family would be joining them. At about 0730, the preparation began. I had no idea what kind of a journey was coming my way. I woke up October 8, 2012.

Nothing had gone as planned. What I know of that time is what I have been told by family and what I have read from my medical records. I was on a vent. I was combative and had to be restrained. I tried to pull vent out several times. I had lost enough blood I became anemic. Three days after the surgery I suffered respiratory failure. I developed an infection.

After waking up, I was very confused. I had and still have memory problems. I had to work on my penmanship. Didn’t have enough hand control to write. That has since returned. Couldn’t speak above a whisper due to a paralyzed right vocal cord from the vent. ENT told me there was a good possibility it would never come back. Ended up spending 6 months in a nursing home undergoing speech, physical and respiratory therapy.

Surviving and sharing
I find PatientsLikeMe to be a source of comfort. It is nice to know I can share my feelings and thoughts with those who have been or are going through similar experiences. It makes me stop and think about how I am doing. It is helpful to look at where I have been and see where I am and think about where I am headed.

Diagnosed June 2012 with lung cancer. Diagnosed April 2013 with uterine cancer. At last week’s checkup with pulmonologist, was shown something on my most recent scan. November 19, 2014 will be having bronchoscopy.

It has not been an easy journey. But when all is said and done, I am still alive.

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“Speak up!” PatientsLikeMe member Dee speaks about her journey with ALS

Posted September 15th, 2014 by

 

There’s been a lot of awareness going on for ALS with the IceBucketChallenge, and to help keep the momentum going, PatientsLikeMe member Dee (redrockmama) shared her personal experiences with the neurological condition. She made the decision to install a feeding tube early in her journey, and now she is managing her weight through overnight supplements. Read on to learn more about her ALS story and why she thinks every person living with ALS should become their own best advocate.

 

Tell us a little about yourself and how you are doing, Dee.

I am 62, married and a mother and grandmother. I have bulbar onset of ALS. I have always been very active and independent to a fault. I was raised horseback riding and still have a horse. I am told my disease is progressing slowly but of course to me it doesn’t feel that way.

Many people in the community talk about how finding an official diagnosis isn’t easy – what was your experience like? 

I actually found out fairly quickly. My symptoms started in April 2013. First doctor thought it was a stroke, second told me it was stress and of course they did MRI’s and blood tests, basic neurological exam and a stress test. Third doctor did an EMG. That was June 2013. Finally hearing someone say it out loud was initially a relief. That feeling didn’t last long.

In the ALS forum, you wrote about your decision to get a feeding tube in February. How has the operation changed your everyday life?

My first doctor told me I had to lose 15 % of my weight for him to order a feeding tube put in. Now understand, my first symptom was slurred speech and within days, difficultly swallowing. We had several issues with this doctor and clinic so we changed doctors. This was January 2014. He asked me several key questions, like; how difficult eating was, did I enjoy my meals or were they a chore, how did food taste, how often did I choke? He said his experience was that doing the feeding tube surgery earlier had better results. The stronger I was the better. We did it within two weeks of that appointment (February 10th). As of the end of May, I am no longer able to eat solid food at all. I have lost about 10 pounds but am currently maintaining well by having my supplement given to me overnight through a Kangaroo pump.

How has being a registered nurse shaped your perspective?

I’m not really sure except that I felt confident I knew what I had before any doctor was willing to diagnose it, and knowing what was ahead of me was frightening. It has made me good at being my own advocate. By being my own advocate, I mean when how I feel doesn’t coincide with what “the professional” is telling me, I speak up and or look for someone who will listen. We all know our bodies better than anyone else and every case of ALS is unique in some way. We have different symptoms, different rates of progression and some have pain, some don’t. Make sure you’re not being categorized. If what they say just isn’t what your gut tells you; speak up! Advocate for what you think is best for you and the way you want to deal with your disease. If you don’t speak on your own behalf who will?

What is one thing you have learned on your journey that you didn’t expect?

I have come to realize that our lives revolve around meals. We are all social beings, and we come together over food and drink. Not being able to do that is really a challenge and even makes the ones around you uncomfortable. Food is comforting and even though I have never been a big eater and I’m not ever hungry, I really miss the tastes and experience.

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Diabetes, behavioral changes and a surprise donation: An interview with Melinda Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDE, FADA

Posted March 17th, 2014 by


Diabetes Alert Day is just around the corner, and to get a jump start on raising awareness for this chronic condition, we recently caught up with Melinda Maryniuk. She’s the Director of Clinical Education Programs for the Joslin Health Solutions division within Joslin Diabetes Center. Her areas of special interest include nutrition, patient education, behavior change, and increasing access to quality diabetes education services. (Check out her full bio at the end of this post.) Melinda spoke with us about how she got her start in diabetes education, what she wished more patients knew and her philosophy behind behavioral changes.

Can you tell us a little about how you became interested in dietetic education?

Growing up, I had always seen myself as a schoolteacher. But when it came to choosing a major in college, my dad pushed me to be some kind of scientist (I don’t remember why) even though I was not particularly interested (or good at) the subject! After changing majors multiple times (medical technology…biology…) and feeling completely without direction – my mom asked me a really important question. What do you like to do most? When I answered “eat” – she suggested I consider being a dietitian. Taking a nutrition class in college for the fun of it got me hooked. It was a perfect blend of science (which turns out I really did enjoy when it came to food chemistry) and teaching.

During my dietetic internship, where about a year is spent in a medical center before taking the exam to become a “registered dietitian” (RD), I quickly learned I was not comfortable working with sick patients in inpatient settings. I wanted to keep people OUT of the hospital. Once I started working in the field of diabetes education 35 years ago, I knew this was the right path for me. I never thought of people with diabetes as “sick” – but just having to be a little more intentional about making healthy food choices.

Looks like you’re also a believer in behavioral change. Can share what that means for the patients you work with?

We are all responsible for our day-to-day health care. We make hundreds of decisions each day that may affect our health. We choose to smoke or not smoke. Brush and floss our teeth. Choose healthy foods. Wear seat belts. Keep our weight in check. Be physically active. Have annual check-ups with our doctor. Take or not take the medicines (or vitamins or whatever) are prescribed to us. Much of what we do becomes automatic and we don’t even think about it. If you are generally “healthy” – you can make what might be considered poor choices without any immediate consequences.

When diagnosed with a chronic condition like diabetes, there are some behaviors that must be done (like taking insulin) in order to survive. There are some behaviors that should be done (like checking blood glucose) in order to reduce risks of serious problems. And there are some behaviors (like choosing healthy foods and being more active) that can lead to living a longer and healthier life. Thus, while adopting healthy behaviors is important for everyone, it is truly a matter of survival or at least greatly improved quality and length of life for people living with a health condition like diabetes.

When I first started out as a diabetes dietitian – I thought I had all the answers. I believed that if I could just tell people what to eat…they would stop eating the foods they loved that were not good for them and eat what I told them. I made up dozens and dozens of sample menus, lists of “dos and dont’s,” fancy handouts persuading people how to build-a-better-breakfast. I was recognized as a very creative and entertaining “teacher.” But while my “students” (patients) may have been “learning” something – they were not necessarily doing it.

So I changed my approach. I found that I became more effective when I followed the “ask-don’t-tell” philosophy of behavior change. Not telling the patient what to do…but asking them what they would like to do, how they think they can do it, how I could be of help and working with them to create reasonable action steps to actually do it. I believe for people to be successful in making changes in their behavior, they have to settle into an understanding of why that change is personally important for them to make. And then break it down into small steps. Having a healthcare provider, diabetes educator, coach or just a supportive family member or friend (even within an online community) can help see that intention to change – become a lasting behavior change.

I’ve long been a big fan of this quote (directed to doctors) from physician and philosopher, Albert Schweitzer, which also reflects this thinking: “Each patient carries his own doctor inside him. They come to us knowing this truth. We are at our best when we give the doctor who resides within each patient a chance to go to work.”

How do you see online communities like PatientsLikeMe contributing to patient education?

Online communities are a tremendous resource for people living with a wide variety of different health conditions. Research has shown you’re more likely to stick with the healthy behavior changes you make if you receive some kind of ongoing support. An online community is a perfect way to both offer and receive that kind of support. I love to see how these communities are growing to share ideas, tips, suggestions, practical advice and real-world experience. I think peer-to-peer support can be as valuable as reaching out to your healthcare team. That said, and while I’m very open to new therapies and sharing information, it’s still essential to have your primary care provider be part of your decision team for products and new paths you want to try.

There’s probably a lot you wish more people that are living with diabetes knew, but what would be your top three?

#1. Know Your Numbers. By that I mean, know the results of important lab tests and exams done for diabetes. Firstly, know what your A1C is, what it should be.. and if it is not where it needs to be, know what to do to get it there. Know what your blood pressure is…and what it should be. Other important lab test numbers to be aware of are your LDL cholesterol and a protein test to check kidney function. Have an annual dilated eye exam and make sure your feet are checked by your doctor to pick up any potential problems early. Being proactive in knowing your test results and making sure you and your healthcare team is taking action towards reaching target results helps you to live a long and healthy life with diabetes.

#2. If you’re not getting answers you understand, change up your healthcare team. If you feel frustrated with your physician, an important first step is to tell him or her what you’re looking for and how they could be more helpful. Sometimes people leave their doctor when what could have helped is just having the conversation of how to improve the relationship! Ideally, it is great to have more members on your healthcare team – like a diabetes nurse educator or dietitian – but that may not always be possible. However, you may be able to form a connection with a community pharmacist who is interested in diabetes that can also serve as a support and answer questions. Also, because diabetes CAN be hard…there may be times when it will be helpful talking with a professional psychologist or mental health counselor to help you navigate the stresses and challenges of living with a chronic disease. And surround yourself with people who are positive and supportive. Sometimes those closest to us don’t provide the support we need (or are misguided in how they are trying to “help”). Make sure you point out HOW they can be more helpful. And…this is a great place for online community support systems like PatientsLikeMe!

#3. Your diabetes treatment plan will change over time. Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, be prepared that the doses and types of medicine you take will change. That does not mean your doctor can’t figure out what is going on…or that your diabetes is getting “worse” – but your body can change and how it responds to different medicines can change. People with type 2 diabetes are often not prepared in their understanding that over time they will likely need to take insulin by injection. No matter what the medication regimen you follow, a healthy meal plan and regular program of physical activity is critical to helping the medicines work best. You need all three- diet, activity, medicines.

What do you wish patients knew that we haven’t asked you about?

Learning about diabetes is a lifelong process. You may have had it for quite some time and attended a class years ago. Know that there are always new things being learned. New discoveries. New medicines. New approaches to meal planning. Never stop learning and asking questions. Subscribe to a magazine like Diabetes Forecast (from the American Diabetes Association) or take annual diabetes refresher classes at your local diabetes education program. As Dr. Elliott P. Joslin, the founder of the Joslin Diabetes Center, said way back in 1934, “the diabetic who knows the most, lives the longest.”

And we just can’t pass up the opportunity to ask you about this one – Last October a donation was made by CheeseBoy in your name to the Greater Boston Food Bank. Can you share what that was all about? 

Ha! How did you hear about that?!? My sister picked up a flyer for a contest that Cheeseboy, a fast food chain was running in honor of their millionth grilled cheese sandwich being sold. She challenged everyone in our family to enter the contest – which was to write a (very) short essay stating to what group Cheeseboy should make a $10,000 donation – and why. I’d been thinking a lot about food insecurities and how (surprisingly) not having access to enough food in the poorer populations of our nation (and the world) is being increasingly linked with a higher risk of obesity and diabetes. It stands to reason. When a person has very little income the food that tends to be purchased tends to be low quality and high calorie (buying a super size soda can be cheaper than buying a bottle of water!) So, I wrote a 250 word essay to recommend a donation go to Feeding America – the nation’s leading domestic hunger relief charity. I didn’t realize at the time Cheeseboy is a Boston-based company so they asked if I minded for the donation to make an even bigger impact by giving it all to the Greater Boston Foodbank – that is part of the Feeding America network of charities. What a thrill it was to feel responsible for a donation of $10,000 to such an important organization that ultimately provides increased comfort and security for people who are at high risk for many health problems – including diabetes. And, as a bonus, I received a special card allowing me grilled cheese sandwiches for life! The ultimate in comfort foods!

About the PatientsLikeMe diabetes community

There are more than 14,000 PatientsLikeMe members currently living with diabetes, and many of them have been sharing their experiences and contributing to real-world research that could benefit their fellow diabetes patients. If you’re living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you can find others just like you on PatientsLikeMe. Track your own experience with a personal health profile, or share your story in the community forums to start living better together.

Join in today

More about Melinda Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDE, FADA

As Director of Clinical Education Programs for the Joslin Health Solutions division within Joslin Diabetes Center Ms. Maryniuk oversees the clinical, educational and quality improvement activities for the 40 Joslin Affiliates and outreach programs. She also coordinates the education activities for the HealthCare Services Department, including several national diabetes education initiatives. Her areas of special interest include nutrition, patient education, behavior change, and increasing access to quality diabetes education services.

Ms Maryniuk has worked in the field of diabetes education for over 30 years and has lectured and published extensively for both patient and professional audiences around the country and internationally. She is active within the American Diabetes Association, having served on the Board of Directors, as chair of the Education Recognition Program Committee and is currently an Associate Editor for Clinical Diabetes. Within the American Dietetic Association, Ms. Maryniuk served as Chair of the Diabetes Care and Education Practice Group as well as Chair of the Division of Clinical Dietetics and Research of the Council on Practice. She is the recipient of the 2005 Outstanding Educator in Diabetes from the American Diabetes Association as well as the 2010 Medallion Award from the American Dietetic Association. She recently served as a Co-Chair for the task force to review and revise the National Standards for Diabetes Self-Management Education.

Melinda has a BS from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and a MEd from Tufts University. She completed a dietetic internship at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center in Boston.