18 posts tagged “patient advocacy”

Communicating drug risks/benefits so the message really gets through

Posted February 22nd, 2017 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emotional factors which dominated my thinking at the time included:

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

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

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

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

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

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.


“I feel it needs to be told”: Member Cathy shares a memory

Posted February 21st, 2017 by

Last year, we spoke with Cathy (Catrin) about her experience transitioning into a caregiver role for her husband, Fred, who was living with bulbar onset ALS. Shortly after that, Fred passed away, and to mark the year of his passing, Cathy recently shared the following memory.

Here’s what she had to say…


“I have been saving this story for a while. Don’t know why but I feel it needs to be told. It is just a little story. No twists. No turns. No big reveals. But still. A story to be told.

Around this time last year, I ran the very quickest of errands. Fred was at a time of his illness we seldom left him alone. The kids and I we were a team in hanging with him. But we have lovely neighbors close and a prescription was needed, so just for the littlest of time, he was hanging alone. But that isn’t the story.

It was when I returned that the story began. As I’ve noted many times before, Fred went to too many concerts in the sixties. He always said that. Yet, on returning from my errand, I walked in to find Woodstock live in my home. It was 1969 again.

Jimi Hendrix was playing. So was Janis Joplin. Jefferson Airplane. Canned Heat. Still not sure why John Sebastian was there. Guess we will never know.

Those who knew Fred knew he never danced. Cotillion had ruined him. But there he was, dancing as best he could dance. Stomping his foot to Hendrix, occasionally playing air guitar. I dropped the prescription and immediately joined in.

For just a little time, the joy was back. 

Thank you Santana.

I still have Woodstock on the DVR. Haven’t played it since. But I tell this story because it is a testament to ALS. It is a story of hope, of perseverance, of determination. I was always so very proud of Fred, he was my very best friend. Yet it was in that moment I saw his deep abiding strength. I saw in that moment that though ALS had robbed him of his body, it would never steal his spirit or take away his soul. In the year that he has been gone, I write these little stories to keep his memory, my memories strong. I continue to walk the ALS walks. I continue to be loud.

ALS is a beast. We WILL defeat.”

#kickoutthejams #hopeisstrong

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.


What do PatientsLikeMe members think about the Affordable Care Act?

Posted February 16th, 2017 by

With a new administration in Washington, the future of “Obamacare” is uncertain. So we wanted to know: What do patients think about potential changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA)? More than 2,000 PatientsLikeMe members recently shared their thoughts in the largest patient poll on the 2010 health care law.

Previous large-scale polls about the ACA focused on the general population, rather than specifically asking people with health conditions to weigh in. But in this poll, we heard directly from 2,197 members living with a variety of conditions, including MS, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s, depression, ALS, diabetes and cancer.

“Regardless of your political leaning, the great equalizer is that we’ll all become sick one day. At this time of uncertainty about the future of health care, listening to the voice of patients today will illuminate the path forward for all of us.”

‑ Sally Okun, PatientsLikeMe’s Vice President of Advocacy, Policy and Patient Safety

Overall, PatientsLikeMe members have similar feelings and concerns about the ACA as the general population. But patients – who have regular, real-world health care experiences – see some benefits that the general population might have overlooked. Take a look at these snapshots of some key findings from the poll (tap each graphic for a larger view).

No go on repeal

Those who took the PatientsLikeMe poll* were more likely to oppose a repeal of the ACA than the general population**.

Click image to enlarge

What should be scrapped?

When asked which one component of the ACA they would eliminate, if they were forced to choose, patients were four times more likely to say they would eliminate the individual mandate vs. other components of the ACA.

Click image to enlarge

 

How helpful is the ACA?

More than 37 percent of patients said the ACA has been “very helpful” for people with chronic conditions, while nearly 20 percent said “somewhat helpful.” Also, nearly half of patients (46%) said the ACA needs only minor modifications.

Click image to enlarge

Strong opinions stand out

People living with major depressive disorder (MDD) as their primary condition were more likely to oppose a repeal of the ACA. The MDD community may have a stronger stance on recent health care policy because of a 2013 rule requiring insurers to cover mental health and addiction issues equally to physical health ailments.

Click image to enlarge

Money talks

Lowering costs is a priority for both patients and the general population. Lowering the amount individuals pay for health care is an important priority for 94% of patients and 93% of the general population. And lowering the cost of prescription drugs is an important priority for 96% of patients and 89% of the general population.

Click image to enlarge

“I think the problems with this health care program affect those individuals who are caught in the cracks … who do not make enough but do not make so little that they are covered by government programs,” said member Randy, who took the poll. “But we had these problems before the Affordable Care Act. So we need to fix [it], not take [it] away completely.”

What do you think about the ACA? Do you have a different take? Jump into the forum and keep the comments coming. Your voice – the real-world patient voice – matters.

 

* See the full report on the PatientsLikeMe poll.

** General population results came from a 2016 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.


Meet Christopher – “PTSD is not just soldiers whining and complaining about struggles in life”

Posted February 15th, 2017 by

Say hello to Christopher (ChrisBC), a father, musician and Purple Heart recipient living with PTSD and bipolar disorder. We recently caught up with him to hear about how PTSD affected his marriage and how his diagnosis pushed him get the help he needed and connect with his feelings.

Keep reading to learn how he copes with stigma and the one thing he wishes people understood about PTSD.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? What are you passionate about?  

I was born in Seattle WA, and my family moved to Alaska where I grew up. I joined the Army when I was 19 years old and went to my first assignment at Fort Polk, Louisiana. I spent the next 22 years in the Army. During my time in the Army, I was stationed in seven different locations including Germany. I had five different deployments of varying lengths with three combat, and two peacekeeping. I received a Purple Heart as well as many others in my platoon during my Iraq tour for being wounded under enemy fire. I retired in 2014 and have one daughter who is 11 years old.

I am passionate about music and I play the electric bass guitar for the church that I attend now here in NY. I have played guitar since I was 8 years old and have been playing bass guitar about 12 years. I’m also passionate about family, church community, and raising my daughter.

How has PTSD affected your life? What’s the most challenging aspect of your diagnosis?

PTSD affected my life in a big way in my marriage. It was my then wife who noticed the differences in me and encouraged me to go get help. I finally went after struggling with the symptoms and believing that I didn’t have it and I was strong enough to forget the things I had been through.  Once I knew that I had PTSD and was diagnosed, then I started getting help for even more things that I was struggling with that needed to be addressed.

The most challenging aspect of my diagnosis is being in touch with my feelings. I would tend to block out my feelings and hide them deep inside and put on a false persona because I was scared. I still struggle with this today and have so much support helping me to make it through this.

How do you cope with stigma? 

I believe there should be a law against stigmatizing those of us with PTSD and other mental illnesses. I cope with stigma by not talking about it with those that stigmatize, that don’t understand it, because they already have their views and I don’t like to confront people. I believe the stigma is a real thing and when I see it makes me angry and upset. People are going to do what they are going to do and I just don’t want to discuss issues with them when they won’t understand it. Basically, I use avoidance to deal with stigma.

What’s one thing you wish people understood about PTSD?

I wish people understood that PTSD is not just soldiers whining and complaining about struggles in life. We all have those, but when you have PTSD you are dealing with a 24 hour, 365 days a year illness that is a constant struggle.

What advice can you give others who are struggling with PTSD? What do you find most helpful?

The advice I would give others is to have a support team to help you. Find a psychiatrist, and a psychologist, for those that don’t already have those. Those are the two most important people that will help you through those real hard times when the symptoms are overwhelming.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.


Meet Lindsay from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted February 9th, 2017 by

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.


Meet Hetlena from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 31st, 2017 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.


Meet Ginny from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 26th, 2017 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.


Meet Cris from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 19th, 2017 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.


Meet Gary from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 12th, 2017 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.


Meet Jacquie from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 6th, 2017 by

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

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

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

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

What has it been like for you managing multiple conditions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is it like to be you?

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

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.


Meet Glenda from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted December 29th, 2016 by

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.


Meet John from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted December 15th, 2016 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.


Patient Advocacy: An interview with artist and activist Regina Holliday

Posted November 22nd, 2016 by

Regina Holliday wears many hats. She’s an artist, activist, speaker and author, and she’s painted hundreds of patient stories on the backs of jackets in an ongoing art project called The Walking Gallery.

Through her art, Regina promotes better care, treatment and transparency in healthcare. She’s been an advocate of PatientsLikeMe for quite some time (two of her paintings hang in our office!), and shares our belief that patients and their providers should work together as a team.

Today, we’re sharing a recent interview from Regina Holliday’s Medical Advocacy Blog. Check out what she has to say about the role of a patient advocate, the importance of choice in healthcare and the impact art can have:

“It is very easy to push aside someone’s story, if that story is only the bullet point on a slide or the footnote in an academic article.  It is much harder to look away at the painting on someone’s back, screaming at you like so many wheals and welts.”

 

How would you define the role/responsibilities of a “patient” advocate?

The patient advocate can be defined in several ways.  Sometimes this is an official staff member in a facility.  They can operate as a patient navigator or customer service operative.  In the best scenario, their job is to help the patient understand the processes and options in care within the facility.  In the worst scenarios, the patient advocate operates as a tool of damage control to damper litigious action of distraught family members.

Sometimes the patient and family hire a patient advocate from a registry like the AdvoConnection. In this case the advocate may be a nurse, a doctor, or a trained and experienced caregiver who helps the patient while hospitalized or at home. They obtain medical records, ask questions, keep notes, help patients make their own difficult medical decisions, and review and negotiate medical bills.

Often the patient advocate is a close friend or family member who is not paid for their service. This advocate provides many of the same services as a paid advocate, but often is learning on the job. Occasionally they have a background in medicine, and use that knowledge to great success helping the patient ask the right questions and get appropriate care at the correct time.

Finally, there are patient advocates focused on policy.  I am often classified among this category, although I prefer the term patient activist.  A patient advocate focused on policy attends local, regional, state, and federal meetings to provide a patient perspective in policy decisions.

*(This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive definition of a patient advocate. Just how I define it in response to this question.  There are several other resources out there to learn more, like this one.)

** (Additional edits were made on 10-5-16 to clarify the responsibilities of patient advocates in relation to the AdvoConnection.)

You do a number of these sorts of speaking engagements and presentations around the country. Are there some unifying themes — clear trends — you see, common ideas that many people share about their worries or attitudes toward health care? Patient safety? Patient advocacy?

I have been attending medical conferences and public meetings for the past seven years. In that time I have watched HITECH legislation morph and change.  Patient access to data at stage one of Meaningful Use had budding teeth and at stage two it got poor fitting dentures.  I have watched the ACA become the law of the land, only to see constant steps to repeal it.

I watched the concept of patient engagement grow from a demand in small healthcare meetings, to a hashtag on twitter  (#patientsincluded), to trend of conferences inviting patient speakers.  I hoped that the next step was true partnership in decision-making and design.  Sadly, of late I have often heard that “patient engagement” was out of fashion.  We are now onto MIPS and MACRA and massive ACO’s.

I have watched patient safety advocates work for years with very little attention paid to their cause. I was happy to see Value Based Care begin to role out, as it addressed so many concerns of these advocates.  I am saddened to hear how many attendees at conferences expound on their love for fee for service.   Or twist the intended purpose of reducing readmissions, by leaving patients in hallway for days to be “observed,” but not admitted after complications.

The most apparent trend of the past seven years is that there are powerful lobbyists in this industry that will do anything to keep the status quo alive and well in healthcare.  There are also amazing individuals, often on Twitter, (check out #hcldr), that will not stop fighting for the patient voice and the positive disruption that comes when data silos are leveled and technology is used appropriately.

Will patients ever be like consumers of other products? Outside of elective procedures or choosing a birthing place/option, how much real consumer choices do patients have in their health care? How would you like to see those avenues expanded or re-routed?

I hate the word “consumer” when applied to healthcare; it assumes we take and never give.  Partnership in care requires two-way communication.   Care is always about choice.  When we embrace price transparency, a patient can decide which facility has the most affordable MRI procedure.  When we have medical record data transparency coupled with a clinical trials database, a cancer patient can decide the best personal path for their care.  Which may include a hospice path, if that is their choice.

We have a choice right now.  The difference in healthcare is that we have to fight for that choice, whereas in retail it is expected that customer will decide which items to buy rather than the shopkeep.

Regina Holliday during a visit to PatientsLikeMe in September 2016

How would you like to see health care systems and hospitals–particularly public and teaching systems– involve patients or their advocates in meaningful aspects of care best practices, policy making and priority-setting?

Patients, caregivers, and patient advocates need to be present in meetings throughout the facility.  For far too long we have been forced into the role of lobby designers.  We ask that you invite us to take part and provide appropriate recompense for our time.  Or schedule the meeting after the workday is done at the facility.  That would be fine.  Then everyone at the table can be the unpaid volunteer that patients and family caregivers are so often asked to be.

You might want to make sure we can have those meetings next to a playroom though, so our children can play together while we work together to create new policy. Because whether you are a patient or a provider, childcare is expensive.

How would you describe your painting style and approach?

My art looks like the work of the children’s book illustrator Garth Williams and the activist painter Diego Rivera fused.  As a few people have told me over the years,  “Your work is often sweet and disturbing at the same time.”

Describe the healing benefits and/or the impact that making art that tells stories about health care can have on patients, survivors, care providers?

As far as a healing benefit, the art process is a type of meditation and that can help soothe the soul.  It is a very nice feeling to be in the zone and at one with the cosmos.  But the creation of art could feel like a nail ramming through my hand, and I would still create.  I use art as a tool and the goal is to impact others.

It is very easy to push aside someone’s story, if that story is only the bullet point on a slide or the footnote in an academic article.  It is much harder to look away at the painting on someone’s back, screaming at you like so many wheals and welts.  To know this image is someone’s story. To look at the painted eyes that look into yours and seem say, “I died, and it is all for naught if you do not act.”

Are you alright? by Regina Holliday

Of all the art you’ve made–your Walking Gallery, the murals — can you choose one piece and describe it and explain why it’s a piece that you especially want to share?

My favorite piece is “Are you alright?”  In that painting, I captured my late husband Fred. He stares at me from that painting like he is still with me.  Still alive on pigment covered canvas.  Still urging me to help him, a patient.

And every day I do exactly that.

 

 

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.


#ChatActChange: empowered to chat, act and make change – together

Posted November 17th, 2015 by

On October 28, Sally Okun, our Vice President for Advocacy, Policy and Patient Safety, participated in a Twitter chat – using the hashtag #ChatActChange – aimed at empowering people living with chronic conditions to advocate for policy change. Hosted by Diabetes Social Media Advocacy (DSMA), other chat participants included policy expert Susan Dentzer, Diabetes Hands Foundation and Novo Nordisk.

The chat generated some great conversation about what it means to be an empowered patient. 186 people joined the discussion, including patients, diabetes influencers and policy experts. 2015-2016 Team of Advisors member Christel, who is living with type 1 diabetes, took part in the chat, as did the American Diabetes Association.   

More than 500 users were reached with the #ChatActChange hashtag, and there were more than 1,154 tweets during the one-hour Twitter chat.

To check out a complete summary of the chat, take a look at this Storify. You can also contribute to the ongoing conversation on Twitter using #ChatActChange.

Let’s be empowered to chat, act and make change – together.

Share this post on Twitter and help spread the word.