4 posts tagged “neurological condition”

“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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March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month

Posted March 9th, 2015 by

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects more than 2.5 million people worldwide, and in the United States alone, about 200 new people are diagnosed each week. Those are just a couple of the many reasons why the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) recognizes March as Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month.

What more do we know about MS? Doctors are unsure of the root cause of the condition, but women are twice as likely as men to develop MS. Additionally, the farther away from the equator you live, the greater likelihood you’ll experience MS – overall, your lifetime chance of developing MS is about 1 in 1,000.1

Did you know that there are four different types of MS? Each one affects people a little differently.

  • Relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) affects the large majority (85 percent) of MS patients, and this type features clearly defined periods when symptoms get worse and activity decreases.
  • Primary-progressive MS (PPMS) causes a clear progression of symptoms and equally affects men and women.
  • Secondary-progressive (SPMS) is a form of PPMS which is initially diagnosed in only about 10 percent of patients.
  • Progressive-relapsing MS (PRMS) is found in only 5 percent of MS patients, but these people have both clear relapses and a clear progression of symptoms.

So now that you know more about MS, what can you do to help raise awareness? Here are just a few of the ways the MSAA recommends:

  • Read one of the MSAA’s publications, including the recently published annual MS Research Update, which includes the latest developments in MS treatments and research.
  • Find and attend one of the MSAA’s educational events for people with MS and their care partners.
  • Register for Swim for MS, which encourages volunteers to create their own swim challenge while recruiting online donations.
  • Check out the Australian MS Society’s Seeing [MS] campaign, which features MS patients and photographers working together to visualize the invisible symptoms of MS.
  • Share on social media using the #MSawareness hashtag and MSAA profile badge.

If you’ve been recently diagnosed with MS, check out our MS patient interviews and blog posts, or join more than 38,000 people with MS at PatientsLikeMe.

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1 http://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/facts-statistics-infographic


Getting to know our 2014 Team of Advisors – Lisa

Posted October 27th, 2014 by

A few weeks ago, we kicked off the “Getting to know our 2014 Team of Advisors” blog series with Dana, a PatientsLikeMe member from New Jersey that is living with bipolar II. And now, we’d like to introduce you to another member of the team – Lisa. 

About Lisa (aka lcs)

Lisa’s recent work experience was to help healthcare providers improve care delivery working for Cerner Homecare, a home health/hospice software solution, and Press Ganey, a patient satisfaction measurement/improvement organization. She is very knowledgeable about providers/systems and the flaws in the system. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) in 2008, and just recently stopped working as a full time executive due to non-motor PD symptoms like loss of function, mental fatigue and daytime somnolence, and she is now a volunteer at National Patient Advocate Foundation, and a Mom whose daughter just got married in June.

 

Lisa on being part of the Team of Advisors

“When we had our first in-person meeting in Cambridge, we were a group of strangers who had no idea what to expect. We quickly learned we were connected by our common experiences and our passion to improve the patient’s experience. I think we were all surprised that our variety of health conditions gave us much more in common than we anticipated. Our passion and respective experiences made the discussion rich. And the PatientsLikeMe Team made us feel special and like we were part of the team. I think dinner the night of our arrival, before we’d had any formal introductions to each other, lasted over 3 hours and ended only because of fatigue!

Before I was introduced to the history and mission of PatientsLikeMe at a deeper level, I was an advocate and I knew I was benefitting from the community and tools. Learning more about the history of the brothers, the openness of the culture and the passion shared by the formal team has made me an evangelist.”

Lisa’s view on patient centeredness

“Patient centeredness is a new buzz-word in healthcare today. It’s somewhat oversimplified, but at its most basic it is putting the patient at the center of care. This means many things in healthcare: ensuring access to care, engagement of the patient at and between visits in their own care, integrated care across specialties. In research: collaboration among researchers to advance discoveries as the priority, with financial return secondary; finding a better balance between patient safety and speed to market of new discoveries, improving patient participation in clinical trials.”

Lisa’s contribution to researchers at the University of Maryland 

PatientsLikeMe recently invited the University of Maryland (UMD) to our Cambridge office for a three day consortium that kicked off a partnership funded by their PATIENTS program, which aims to collect patient input and feedback on all phases of research, from ideas to published results. For one of the working sessions we invited Lisa to join us remotely, to discuss her journey with Parkinson’s disease (PD), and share her perspective and expertise as a patient. Here’s what she experienced:

“When I was still working, I learned that Parkinson’s affected my ‘public speaking’ ability. So, starting our discussion with a Q&A format helped me feel that it wasn’t presenting but rather just talking with colleagues. Also, speaking ‘as a patient’ meant I didn’t have to pretend…like if the right word didn’t come to me quickly, it was okay. The PatientsLikeMe team made it easy.

I had to work out my thoughts in advance and at first had considered sharing ‘data’ about PD. As I thought further though I realized that they live with data, they don’t live with PD. Instead I tried to share my experience through storytelling, hoping I could bring them into the life of a PWP on a daily basis.

Two things came as a surprise, both out of the questions I was asked by the UMD team. When we opened up the discussion to questions, there was some good discussion about the hurdles of participating in a clinical trial from the patient’s perspective. But then the researchers asked me questions I didn’t expect – not inappropriate, just surprising to me. One [of] the researchers wanted to know how my condition affected my family.

Another asked me, “what would my experience be like if I didn’t have PatientsLikeMe as a resource?” That one made me think. I hadn’t realized that I’d probably have no idea what I didn’t have. I would not know that other patients often have this onset of anxiety in public that they’d never had before. I would not know that there is a skin condition associated with PD. I would have a list of meds I kept and probably wouldn’t be able to go back and see start and stop dates because I wouldn’t have bothered saving that data…..

Patient participation in research is more than recruitment and trial results. I think a patient should participate in the study design process – before the Institutional Review Board approves. Be more creative in the design:

  • Ensure patients who meet the study criteria KNOW about the study – extend your reach to leverage support groups, forums and patients.
  • Ensure patients have ACCESS to the study – if your study requires multiple visits and has a handful of study sites, you’re limiting yourself to a finite number of potential participants.
  • Ensure patients learn about the study RESULTS – we need to know what we did mattered so we’re inspired to do it again, so we’re inspired to tell others.

For the PD community, a recent study found that only 1 in 10 patients with Parkinson’s disease have participated in a trial. PARTICIPATE! My experience is that YOU have to go find them. Sure, if you see a doctor in an academic setting, you’ll see flyers posted on the bulletin boards about trials (your provider may or may not mention to you). PatientsLikeMe has a clinical trials tab (did you know that?). PD has Fox Trial Finders and I suspect there are other condition specific registries. Or go to http://clinicaltrials.gov/ and search a database of private and public clinical trials. Together we can all help each other and ourselves!”

More about the 2014 Team of Advisors

They’re a group of 14 PatientsLikeMe members who will give feedback on research initiatives and create new standards that will help all researchers understand how to better engage with patients like them. They’ve already met one another in person, and over the next 12 months, will give feedback to our own PatientsLikeMe Research Team. They’ll also be working together to develop and publish a guide that outlines standards for how researchers can meaningfully engage with patients throughout the entire research process.

So where did we find our 2014 Team? We posted an open call for applications in the forums, and were blown away by the response! The Team includes veterans, nurses, social workers, academics and advocates; all living with different conditions.

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Making a difference for Parkinson’s disease in April

Posted April 2nd, 2014 by

 

After getting diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD), PatientsLikeMe member Ed recalled “I needed to talk to people who had the disease, because only they knew what it was like…and could help me get through that initial shock… we can do much better fighting the disease as a group than we can as individuals.” And that’s why all throughout April, everyone impacted by PD is coming together to get the word out for Parkinson’s Awareness Month.

PD is a chronic and progressive movement disorder that affects around 1 million people in the United States, and symptoms of the condition include tremors, stiffness and impaired balance. There is no known cure for PD, but medication and surgical options can sometimes relieve a few symptoms.1

To get PD Awareness Month started, check out one of the many events being organized in April by the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF) and the National Parkinson Foundation (NPF). You can join the NPF’s Team Hope, get involved in the PDF’s Parkinson’s Advocates in Research (PAIR) program and find local Parkinson’s resources and organizations.

If you or someone you know has been recently diagnosed with PD, head over to the PD community at PatientsLikeMe, where over 8,000 members are tracking their symptoms and sharing their experiences.

Spoiler alert! That isn’t all Ed had to say about his own experiences and what sharing on PatientsLikeMe means to him. Keep an eye on the blog later this month; we’ll be posting his recent video interview.


1 http://www.pdf.org/en/about_pd