96 posts tagged “patient”

Leaning on loved ones—An interview with lung cancer member Clare

Posted February 23rd, 2016 by

When Clare (Riverdale) was diagnosed with non small-cell lung cancer, her husband was already living with prostate cancer. While supporting each other through chemotherapy and radiation, the couple has made an effort to eat healthy and keep up the active lifestyle they led before.

We recently connected with Clare, who emphasized “the value of a loving mate” in her experience with lung cancer.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am 73 years old, grew up on a farm in Alberta. My father smoked a pipe and used to joke about turning the air blue. No one else in the family got cancer. I smoked starting at age 20 while studying for exams, trying to stay awake, then continued as people who smoked got a coffee break and those who didn’t smoke really didn’t get a break. I continued to smoke less than a half a pack a day till age 28, then thanks to Nicorette gum stopped easily, as did my husband. We are very physically active. I rode my bike several miles to my job — weather- permitting — as we have great bike lanes and didn’t live too far from the center of the city. We continued to ride daily after retirement for exercise and belong to the European Waltz Time Society for bi-monthly dancing.

You were diagnosed with lung cancer after going to the emergency room for severe back pain—what went through your head when you received the news?

I was glad to hear that my pain was not a heart attack and that my cancer had been detected in an early stage.

In your profile, you mention that your husband is living with prostate cancer. How has it been supporting each other while managing your own health?

I was so sick during my husband’s treatment with radiation that I did not support him much but he seemed to sail through. The staff at radiation called him the entertainer and the coffee shop he attended daily called him by name and had his coffee ready as soon as he walked in the door. Only once did he have to delay because he had to have a bowel movement and a full bladder each day prior to treatment. He still has prostate pain and takes pain meds for that but his PSA says the treatments were successful and every 3 months the bladder checks say he doesn’t have bladder cancer. All I can say is that without him I would be willing to die now. But he says he can’t stand the thought of being alone, and I worry about him for that reason.

We noticed you regularly track your quality of life and symptoms on PatientsLikeMe. Have you seen benefits from tracking?  

I find it difficult to put in new things like a change in dosage of a medication, or if I want to mention my right breast is getting larger and nipple is painful. I have used it a few times to remember when an event happened.

What’s one thing you’ve learned in your journey with lung cancer that you’d like others to know?

Something I learned in my lung cancer journey is the value of a loving mate. Going through this alone, I would stay in bed and in misery but because of my mate, I eat properly, I exercise and he gets things done when I couldn’t manage. Maybe I would but because I don’t have to, things are better. Yesterday I spent the night worrying about pain in my tongue and wondering if a jagged filling was causing the sore. He called the dentist and I was taken right in and reminded about one of the side effects of Giotrif is mouth sores and to rinse with salt water. Alone I would have continued to stew instead of starting right away on treatment. That is why an advocate is so necessary.

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“I had no idea that my thyroid controls so much” — PatientsLikeMe member Barbara shares her experience for Thyroid Awareness Month

Posted January 29th, 2016 by

January is Thyroid Awareness Month. So, how much do you know about the small, butterfly-shaped gland that influences the way your heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin function? To help spread #thyroidawareness, we asked member Barbara to tell us about living with thyroid cancer and hypothyroidism, a condition that affects over 6,000 PatientsLikeMe members.

Barbara shares how her thyroid issues have taken an emotional toll on her, as well as some advice on being your own advocate: “Fight for your right to feel normal again.”

Tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies and passions?

I really love photography and a new passion is gemstones. I have been taking photos since I was a kid.  I love landscapes and different and interesting people. I still have several film cameras but I love the freedom of digital. I enjoy video and web design as well. I have gotten the opportunity to study gemstones and it has opened up a big new world. I am currently studying how to identify gemstones. It is like being a detective.  There are so many different types. Learning their origins has been fascinating. I also love watching Kung Fu movies with my husband.

When you were diagnosed, what went through your mind?

Barbara took this picture on her trip to Holland.

My diagnosis was a little odd.

I went in for a regular Pap appointment and the doctor felt my glands and made an offhand remark, “Oh, you’ve had that checked,” and then continued on. I sat there stunned. I did not like this doctor so I didn’t say anything about it. When I got home I immediately called and scheduled a physical. It was during the physical that they examined the lump on my thyroid. They sent me to an endocrinologist who did a biopsy after joking that he could do it blindfolded. I did not like that doctor either. The results were abnormal but inconclusive. I was told that I needed surgery and that there was only a 20% chance it was cancer and a 20% chance that I would need thyroid medication.

I thought that I might die. I know that was an overreaction but I was scared.

I didn’t get a real diagnosis until after the surgery.  It was cancer, and within two weeks I knew I needed medication even though I still have half my thyroid.

How has your life changed after having thyroid surgery?  

I have become intimately familiar with exhaustion. I was told by doctors and friends and co-workers that managing my thyroid would be no big deal. Only one person gave me a real glimpse of what was to come. That was a professor that had a friend with extreme exhaustion due to his thyroid issues.

I have been tired, exhausted, angry, unreasonable, irrational and a nightmare to live with. The worst was the first year but it took many years before I started to feel close to normal again. The surgery was nothing compared to my symptoms afterwards especially since I didn’t have any to start with. They have no idea why I got cancer. There is some in my family and I have been told that there can be a link with melanoma, which does run in the family. That is something I am still learning about.

I can empathize much more with people dealing with mental illness because looking back it seems like I was crazy. I know I was not in my right mind.

Barbara took this picture on a trip to Holland.

I have learned to be very sensitive to my emotions.  If I realize that I am not feeling “right,” then I can take precautions. If it is a really bad day I may call in sick to work because it can affect my job performance. I seem to be more prone to migraines when I am off. It can be really hard to tell if I am hypo- or hyper- from my medication. The symptoms can overlap or be very similar. I have charted all of my lab results and read a lot of different research so that I can be my own best advocate. Learning more and paying close attention along with an alarm set for my medication helps a lot. I never ever miss a dose. Depending on my blood work I may adjust my dose by half a pill a week or every other week. I have found that I am very sensitive to dosages. I miss Levothroid — it worked better than the Levothroxine I take now.

In honor of Thyroid Awareness Month, what’s one thing you think people should know about living with and recovering from thyroid cancer?

There are many different ways each person may be affected. If they push you away, please be patient. I did not realize how horrible I was until I came out of the fog. I didn’t feel that sick at the time but looking back, wow. There is help; once I switched doctors the new one listened a lot closer to what I told him and he believed me. Fight for your right to feel normal again. I had no idea that my thyroid controls so much.

In your profile, you mention your doctor: “He doesn’t seem to really understand what I am feeling because by now I should be ‘fine.’” How have you dealt with this? Do you have any advice for someone in a similar situation?

Doctors have been frustrating at times. I have tried to restate things in a different way and if that didn’t work I would request a different doctor. I have also seen a chiropractor that does muscle testing and she helped me a lot even though it seemed an odd way to see what could help. We found that a vitamin and mineral supplements helps me a lot.  We went through a few other supplements to get here but I felt better with each step and she was excited to see me improve. She started with a supplement that helped my liver. I would think that everyone may be a little different. She said that I improved about twice as fast as she thought I would so we were both very happy with the results. Now I have the energy to go out and take some photos.

What has it been like connecting with other PatientsLikeMe members with your condition?

It has been very helpful to see what other people try and what they feel works for them.  It has given me hope. I love the thought of all of our data helping others so they will have a faster, easier time with whatever their ailment is. If I don’t feel well I can see that someone else is doing much worse so I better be happy for what I do have.

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“I try my best to make the most of each new day”– An interview with ALS member Brian

Posted January 22nd, 2016 by

Brian (Dunric) is a former game developer and has been living with ALS since 1998. Unable to find a local ALS support group where he lives in Lodi, CA, he discovered PatientsLikeMe in 2012.

In a recent interview, Brian opened up about dealing with the uncertainty of his condition the best way he knows how — with a sense of humor. Here’s what he had to say …

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m your average nerd who refuses to grow old, despite being 41 years old now. Diagnosed so many years ago and not having close family ties was rather trying on me. I’ve had my share of nursing home nightmares and some caregivers that made me feel like family.

Some of kids I’ve known and helped raise over the years now have children of their own. It seems like the world changes but I do not. I try my best to make the most of each new day, and it feels the proper way to accept life with ALS.

2. In your profile you write, “Many trials and tribulations of ALS have pushed me to limits that I have never thought of before.” Can you describe some of these experiences, and how your life has changed since your diagnosis? 

I have gone through some situations that doctors never thought I’d survive but the worst of it all was accepting the fact that ALS would be part of my future. Not really knowing just what was going to happen or expect. It’s that uncertainty that can drive anyone absolutely mad. Having once the illusion of absolute control and then having that revealed to me that control is an illusion was a very hard thing to accept.

There was a moment when I had my first PEG placed that the doctors (prefessionals as I call them) that I had informed them of feeling a “pop” sensation when PT wanted to have me sit up on the side of my hospital bed. Later that evening a licensed nurse had started a feeding session without checking patency. Hours later I had already had the beginning symptoms of Acute Peritonitis, all from the formula being introduced and me feeling a burning sensation.

The following afternoon I was put into a CT scanner and shuttled up for emergency exploratory surgery. The surgeons never thought I would make it after a pulse of over 180 and my body in writhing pain. After several months I had recovered but had to have my tube surgically placed along with relocation of my stomach to prevent a recurrence of such a catastrophic disaster.

3. Your sense of humor shines through in many of your posts. What advice do you have for others on keeping a positive outlook?

In my past I have had major anger issues and learned (on my own) how to channel and let go of such negative energy. I used to hop in my car and just go for a drive to unwind. Being no longer an option, the best way I have of releasing anger, fear, and such discomfort has been through humor or making light of some of the worst situations I’ve been in (in a tasteful manner of course).

Such an example was during the long hospital stay I had was the wonderful view out my window of a cemetery. I asked my doctor “If I’m not going to make it, at least it’s a short trip next door don’t you think?” It was kind of a morbid view when recovering in your second month of madness. Best to make the most of it since it was all I had at the time.

4. What has your experience been like with PatientsLikeMe? What keeps you coming back to the site?

I discovered PatientsLikeMe when trying to find an ALS support group of which this town has nothing of the sort. So an idea came up. Google has all the answers. (Siri on my phone came up with more odd results … let’s just say not G -rated support groups.)

Having no close family really makes ALS quite a challenge and I wanted to meet others in some way to compare notes, tips, tricks, and the occasional rant once in a while as ALS is such a trial on me to face alone. Having no car, nobody to help comfort my pain and frustrations. People here listen and I was surprised just how many lives I touched and look forward to reading my next update.

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Meet Craig from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 13th, 2016 by

We recently sat down with Craig, one of your 2015-2016 PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors. Craig is living with fibromyalgia and severe degenerative disc disease, the result of a serious car accident in 1978.

Craig is active on PatientsLikeMe and other online communities, where he adds his voice to discussions about chronic pain, healthy living and LGBTQ issues. He’s also written essays to raise awareness about life with fibromyalgia, a “hidden disability” he feels is commonly misunderstood.

In this interview, Craig shares how important it is to have a community he can turn to for support and to remind him he’s not alone.

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

It’s a mixture of both smiles and sadness when I think of my greatest joys. I tragically lost my mother in a traffic accident when I was 19 years old. We had started a conversation the week before where I was trying to “come out” to her (that I was gay). I procrastinated and when she asked if I was, I said I wasn’t sure, that I was working on that answer, and that I’d tell her more next week. Well that conversation never happened, but each time in my adult life that I see or hear about a gay person sharing an important life moment with their mom, like introducing a new partner, or a mom marching with their child in a gay pride parade, I’m overwhelmed with happiness, and sadness, wishing MY mom was there with me to share those moments.

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?

Having a “hidden disability” is hard to live with. We worry about being judged because we outwardly seem “able-bodied”. But if a person could try to walk a mile, not even, walk a BLOCK in our shoes they’d understand what a hidden disability is. I wrote an essay about hidden disabilities entitled “Global Masked Hero Sightings Expected”. It discusses the phenomena that we all know too well — that people with disabilities are “INVISIBLE.” I liken it to having a “superpower,” albeit one that we don’t necessarily wish we had. Here’s a link to it on PLM.

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

Imagine that you’ve just worked one of the hardest days of your life. You are so tired that you can hardly walk. Just changing your clothes is almost more effort than you can handle. Every muscle in your body is aching and tired, and the slightest movement of some of them sends them into a tight painful spasm. Your huge, warm, bed calls out to you seductively, and all you want to do is limp over and slip clumsily between the sheets and let the comfort of painless sleep welcome you. When finally sleep overcomes the pain you welcome it as the only comfort you’ve had all day. All too soon you wake up to a new day, and sitting up in bed, you realize that your body still feels as bad or worse than it did the day before — that each time you wake up you NEVER feel rested, or refreshed, and that this will likely go on for the rest of your life.

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

Learn EVERYTHING you can about your condition! YOU should be the most knowledgeable person you know about what your condition involves. Research it. Google it. Read about Clinical Trials. Learn about the medications that might be used to treat your condition. Become a walking/rolling Wikipedia about your condition, then USE that information to make the best of living with that condition. When you know and understand almost everything about something, it holds NO power over you.

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

When I was first realizing through first hand experience, the symptoms of my illness, before my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, I felt overwhelmed and alone in the world. I didn’t understand how a condition could affect SO MANY different parts of my body and life. I could understand the mechanics of my neck and spinal damage, but I didn’t understand how it could manifest in so many different and distant ways. When I joined PLM and found that there were thousands of others with my condition I felt such RELIEF that I was not alone. I felt validated and somehow comforted that others knew what I was going through without being judged as lazy, or malingering, or attention seeking.

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

I advocate for myself and for others on a daily basis. I’m active on PLM helping others understand more about their conditions. I write essays on many different social media, community, and news sites, helping the mundane world at large see the world through our eyes, and by seeing through our eyes, become better, more compassionate, more loving people.

Can you think of any positive changes that have happened in your life because of your condition(s)?

I believe there is a great balance in the universe for every person’s path in life. That for anything “taken away” by extreme loss or illness there is something “given” that re-balances your journey. There isn’t a year in my life that I would ask to do over again. I have learned SO MUCH from my walk through this world that has made me a better person. By seeing the world without the filters that life wants us to see through we are more able to see the world through the eyes of LOVE. It is BECAUSE of the adversity in my life that I grow closer to seeing the world with unconditional love. This ability to see the world without filters is the ability to see enlightenment. To transcend this earthly existence where we can become anything we desire or imagine.

 

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“It is definitely a daily challenge” – An interview with PTS member Holden

Posted January 11th, 2016 by

Holden Montgomery (holdenmonty), an administration support technician for the Air Force Space Command, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 and later diagnosed with PTS, depression, and anxiety. He joined PatientslikeMe in March 2015, where he’s been connecting with other vets and sharing how he copes with his conditions.

We recently caught up with Holden, and here’s what he had to say…

Tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies and passions? 

So I must admit that when I started with this journey after my deployment and home break-in/vandalism I didn’t really have any hobbies or passions. Since my only focus while I was deployed was to live until the next day, that is the mindset that I came back with and still struggle with, but I will touch on that later.

So the biggest thing that saved me when I was struggling the first several months before my first son was born was photography. I have a Nikon D5100 DSLR and I would go exploring in nature and take photos of whatever I thought looked awesome or beautiful. I have thought about doing that again here in Colorado Springs but when you wake up to Pikes Peak every day and it’s always there you tend to take the beauty that is around you for granted. I must admit though just about every sunrise and sunset is breathtakingly beautiful.

But lately, after I attended my first Soldier Ride with the Wounded Warrior Project towards the end of June of 2015, I really got into bicycling and that has become my main hobby and passion. It’s also kind of amazing how you change because I have started to notice that one of my passions is wellness. I know I need to work on my own personal wellness but I have started to be more passionate about wellness in general.

In your profile, you mention dealing with anxiety and depression in addition to PTS. What are the challenges of managing three conditions?

So even though I was initially diagnosed with PTS in 2011 and anxiety in 2014 it wasn’t until I spent a week at a behavioral health clinic in the middle of June of 2015 that I was diagnosed with all three. But being diagnosed with all three gave me some peace of mind. Well as much as you can with mental health conditions.

For me it seems like the cause of my PTS was several things that combined together. Between multiple different things from my deployment and then a couple months after I got back my home I was living in at the time was broken into twice in the same week. It seems to be very similar with PTS from what I have seen that people that have PTS tend to have anxiety and/or depression as well. It seems like what led to my diagnoses of PTS was kind of a snowball effect of different things, and it seems like PTS tends to be a combination of different conditions. For me it’s anxiety, and depression. That is what people tend to see of my PTS. My therapist that I have here in Colorado Springs told me that she sees me as having anxiety with no other symptoms which was rather aggravating because I knew there was other stuff. It is definitely a daily challenge.

I heard an analogy one time and I really liked it and I hope it doesn’t offend somebody but if it does I’m sorry but it has helped me with my PTS and stuff. PTS is like cancer, you treat it and work to get ride of it and once it is gone there is a lot of relief and you try to move on with your life the best that you can but in all actuality it seems like there is no 100% cure and that it is always in remission. There can be any number of different things that can happen and it comes back. Sometimes it comes back but is very minor and is easily managed and sometimes it seems like it comes back with a vengeance and tries to kill you.

What has your experience been like tracking your moods, quality of life, and PTS symptoms on PatientsLikeMe?

I have really enjoyed tracking my mood and quality of life when I make sure to update it regularly. It may sound kind of weird but when I put how I’m feeling that day or in the moment with a small description of what is going on then somehow I’m not able to lie, or make it sound not as bad. I’m blunt and sometimes brutally honest. Which is really nice and refreshing since I tend to lie to myself about how I’m feeling.

I know there is a way that you can print out how you have been doing to bring to your therapist but I haven’t actually done that yet. I guess I am still trying to tell myself and the world that everything is ok and that there is nothing going on with me until I can’t stuff my emotions anymore and I explode. I guess I’m still afraid of that stereotype that society has drilled into me that if you have mental health issues then you can’t be trusted around “normal” people.

 You mentioned journaling as a way of handling your anxiety. Do you have any other coping strategies for people with PTS, depression, or anxiety?

I really enjoy journaling. It’s kind of like another way of the whole mood tracking and quality of life tracking. I can’t really lie when I’m writing it down.

I did run into a little bit of a big question. I filled up one small notebook that I used. It’s small enough that it can fit in my back pocket so I keep it always with me. But then there is the thought about what if somebody gets a hold of it and uses what I wrote against me or reads it, what would I do? So I thought about burning it or shredding it so nobody would ever be able to read it. I talked about it with my therapist and I wrote a small disclaimer in the front cover that basically states whatever is in here was how I felt at the time and I have addressed how I was feeling have resolved it to the best of my ability.

But anyway bicycling has been my biggest go-to besides journaling. I have created a coping card that is small enough to fit in my pocket which would help if I actually kept it on me and looked at it constantly. But some of the things on it are talking with trusted individuals which unfortunately seems to be growing smaller and smaller. But anyway walking, deep breathing/quiet time, looking up inspiring quotes, reading my Bible, listening to music, taking pictures of nature, take a shower, use my stress ball, and getting to my safe place, and thinking, which might seem weird but tends to be in a tree. I don’t climb the tree but I find a pine tree that is full enough that if I walk far enough into it nobody will be able to tell that I’m there. I guess you could say hiding from the world and thinking.

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

I have really enjoyed connecting with other vets on PatientsLikeMe. But I must admit more importantly than connecting with other vets is connecting with other individuals with PTS/anxiety/depression because even though everybody has their own story, you can end up in a darker place if you start comparing stories.

For instance when I was deployed I wasn’t allowed off base because I was an IT guy and kept the network for my squadron running and computers running. But with an accumulation of events while deployed and after my deployment I have been diagnosed with PTS but one of my best friends that I met here through the Wounded Warrior Project has a spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and PTS from being blown up when he was out on a convoy in Afghanistan. He is worse off than me and I used to tell myself that he is the kind of person that deserves the help that I receive because he has seen and been through some much worse stuff than I have.

I don’t have a spinal cord injury, or a traumatic brain injury. But we help each other, I share with him some thoughts that I have that I must admit I tend to be ashamed of because they aren’t the kind of thoughts that I would normally have had before everything and more times than not depending on the situation he has had the same thoughts or if he was in my situation would have the same thought, and we challenge it together. Just sharing how you feel with another individual that might be feeling the same way or something similar no matter how different your stories are is a really powerful thing. So really the biggest thing is just the fact that you are connecting with somebody that has a similar diagnosis. Really, diagnosis doesn’t even really matter— just somebody feeling similar to you. Somebody that you can relate with.

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#CervicalHealthMonth: Member Laurie opens up about living with cervical cancer

Posted January 8th, 2016 by

Every year, more than 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer. And every January, the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) kicks off Cervical Health Awareness Month. In honor of #CervicalHealthMonth, we asked Laurie (lroz57), who joined PatientsLikeMe in 2012, to tell her story.

Laurie was given a 50/50 chance of survival when she was diagnosed back in 2003, and endured a difficult treatment experience. Here’s how she describes it:

I was diagnosed on 12/18/2003 with Stage 3B cervical cancer. The tumor was as big as a tennis ball, and in the vaginal wall. I had 28 ext. radiations, 2 int. radiations and 3 low-dose chemo treatments. Talk about burns! Now I have more radiation damage than I thought possible. But as I tell people, ‘I’m alive!’”

Throughout it all, Laurie has committed to staying positive and active — bicycling, exercising at the YMCA and volunteering for the National Patient Advocate Foundation.

As for her experience on PatientsLikeMe, she shares, “I love connecting with others in my position. You never know what you might learn.”

If you’re living with cervical cancer, the NCCC has lots of ways to get involved, including a #CervicalHealthMonth twitter chat on January 12. And if you want to reach out to Laurie, or connect to the other 214 PatientsLikeMe members with this condition, strike up a conversation in the forum!

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Meet John from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 6th, 2016 by

We’d like to introduce you to John, another member of your 2015-2016 PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors. Shortly after being diagnosed with ALS in January 2014, John decided to retire from his 37-year career in IT. His new focus? Learning everything he possibly can about his condition — and plenty of fishing.

Fueled by what he calls his “zeal for knowledge” about ALS, John has been proactive in researching programs and clinical trials that might benefit him. He’s already participated in studies at Massachusetts General Hospital, the ALS Therapy Development Institute, and Bronx VA Medical Center.

Here, John talks about the importance of being his own advocate and shares some advice for newly diagnosed patients: Keep asking questions!

What gives you the greatest joy and puts a smile on your face?
I have a passion for fishing and then cooking dinner for my family and friends who like seafood. 2 hours from catching to dinner table is what I call fresh fish. Dinner usually starts with a glass of wine and fishing tales of the whopper that got away.

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 obstacles that life has placed in front of me have given me relentless energies to not give up. I push myself and sometimes too much and others need to understand that while I appreciate their assistance there are times that I just want to do it myself.

How would you describe your condition to someone who isn’t living with it and doesn’t understand what it’s like?
ALS is a neuromuscular disease where I experience progressive muscle weakness and frequent fatigue.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone newly diagnosed with a chronic condition, what would it be?
Research the disease, the treatments being offered need to be in your best interests. Ask questions because doctors do not have all the answers, and if you don’t like the answers ask and see another doctor.

How important has it been to you to find other people with your condition who understand what you’re going through?
The understanding of what you are going through is paramount to understanding what’s happening to you.

Recount a time when you’ve had to advocate for yourself.
A clinical trial in Japan showed a treatment that showed promise for ALS patients and corroborated by some local doctors. Since the FDA did not yet approve it my doctor was too conservative to recommend it. I went to another doctor and am glad I did.

How has PatientsLikeMe (or other members of the PatientsLikeMe community) impacted how you cope with your condition?
PatientsLikeMe is a valuable resource to see what others are experiencing and what treatments they are trying. Additionally, the tracking of lab results and tests is a great tool to see progression and if treatments are having an effect.

How can PatientsLikeMe be more valuable to the patient community?
PatientsLikeMe can be more valuable by awareness, not all medical professionals are aware of this valuable tool to patients. The more data we have the better the product.

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“Do not give up, find a reason to keep going.” – An interview with ALS member Lee

Posted January 4th, 2016 by

Humor and a passel of grandchildren keep Lee (slicky) going. He’s been living with ALS for nearly three decades and refuses to let his condition get the best of him. Now retired, he delights in his family and is very active in our forums – welcoming new members, doling out information and sharing his positive attitude with others.

We recently had the chance to catch up with him. Here’s what we learned…

1. Tell us a little about your life. You’re retired – what are you most passionate and interested about right now?

I have been fighting this disease for 27 years, it has been a rough road, but I am so grateful for the time I have been given. I worked up till 10 years ago, then I retired because I could not do my job anymore. My passion in life right now is to enjoy my family, and to live long enough to see a cure. I like watching TV, playing video games, do as much Tai Chi as I can.

2. You say in your profile, “If you think you’re going to die, you will so I keep going.” You’ve maintained a very positive attitude. What helps you do this?

I have always felt that a patient must try to keep as positive as possible, otherwise depression sets in and that is not good mentally or physically for the body. It is hard to do that with what we go through but once you get over the shock and fear of the diagnosis, you will start trying everything to slow down the progression and to find ways to cope. I use humor to keep going, even though the pain is horrible I refuse to give up.

3. You also mention your grandchildren. What’s your favorite thing about being a grandpa?

I have 8 grandchildren ranging from 2-14: 4 girls, 4 boys, my oldest grandson had stage 4 brain cancer a couple years ago went through 56 weeks of chemo, he is now in remission. I figured if he could beat it, I can beat mine. They are the world to me and the reason I keep fighting, I want to live long enough for them all to be old enough to remember their papa. I have an 11-year-old granddaughter who has been able to flush my feeding tube since she was 7, she is my mini nurse, I call her little bit. I am blessed to have them all living in a 20-mile radius of me so I see them frequently. I think my favorite thing about being a papa is making them laugh and watching them play and grow.

4. You’re quite active in the forum. What does it mean to you to be able to connect with other PALS?

I really enjoy PatientsLikeMe, I welcome every new patient that joins, I try to help and answer any questions and questions they may have, and I ask them questions. I have talked to patients all over the world, every patient is different, we have lost a lot of the ones who were on this site for a long time and it is always sad to see another one pass, I do not know most personally but feel they are part of my family because we have been in contact for so long.

5. What would your advice be for someone newly diagnosed?

My advice for newly diagnosed patients would be just because the doctor gives us 2-5 years to live does not mean we have to die in that time frame. I have known patients that get the diagnoses of ALS then they go home and give up, those patients do not last long. Stay as active as possible, exercise but not so much it hurts or tires you out, keep your weight up, seems to help slow down the progression, if you’re going to get a feeding tube do it before you need it and before you get to weak in your breathing, it will be an easier operation if you are healthier. I have found that if you start on a bipap breathing machine if only a hour a day before you really need it, it will give your lungs a bit of a rest, and could prolong your life. Get into a stem trial or drug trial if possible, and most important do not give up, find a reason to keep going, set goals for yourself, when you reach those goals make more, we all have to have a reason to keep going. I take lots of vitamins, do they work I do not know for sure but I am still here after 27 years so it is not hurting me, one of the main ones is CoQ10, and coconut oil I hear is very good for patients.

 

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“You may not like it, but make the MOST of it.” – An interview with IPF member Nikki

Posted January 1st, 2016 by

When Nikki (Nimiha) was diagnosed with IPF in 2010, she was already a survivor of both ovarian cancer and a heart attack. Staying positive and up-to-date on new information is now this retired RN’s best defense – and she’s been sharing it with her IPF family on PatientsLikeMe since March.

We had the chance to connect with her recently, and here’s what we learned …

1. Tell us about your life. What are your hobbies and interests? How do you most enjoy spending your time?

I was born 71 years ago in a town named Escondido, in Ca. My mother had been a Wave in the Navy in Washington, D.C. where she met my father, a career Marine. It was war time and he was transferred to Camp Pendleton Marine base in Oceanside, where he was immediately sent overseas to fight. I was an only child with no family living close by so my Mother and I were very close. My father went up through the ranks and was up for Brigadier General, and was honored to take over training the 7th Marines at Camp Pendleton in 1962. Two weeks later he died of a heart attack and my mother and I were forced to change our lives as well as our homes and lifestyle. She moved us to a town ten miles from where I was born. I went to college at PALOMAR Jr. College where I majored in boys. I married my husband, George, in August of 1963, and became a mother June 1964. You know the plan to wait a few years just didn’t work for us. You remember I said I majored in boys. Seems I didn’t know how to count and messed up the birth control pills ‍‍. I became a stay at home mom and our son was born four years later. Amazing how quickly you learn to count when needed. As my children grew, I became restless and went back to school. I discovered I wanted to become a nurse and take care of others so that was what I did. The kids were growing up and we were all going to school. I graduated with my R.N. in 1979 and became an oncology nurse specialist. That progressed to orthopedic nurse, home care nurse, then a MDS coordinator. I retired in 1996 after my son became ill with testicular cancer. He healed, my father-in-law died, I had ovarian cancer and one Thanksgiving night after everyone went home I suffered a heart attack at 53. During the next year I had seven stents that failed, had a triple bypass and did really well until last year. Then I caught the lingering cold everyone was catching, but mine wouldn’t go away. On my birthday I finally went to the doctor after four weeks. I was placed on ABT’s inhalers, and steroids. One week later I returned unable to breathe. It was at that time I was told they heard crackles and the X-ray showed IPF scarring. I had purchased a cruise to Hawaii for our Christmas present, but was unable to go. I was on oxygen and not feeling better. The 13th of Jan. I was in the hospital with pneumonia. My life of playing bingo, gaming at the casino’s and cruising was over as I knew it. I was still able to read, enjoy my backyard, and the glorious sunsets and the multitude of hummingbirds I feed. My life was changed but not over. I was able to enjoy the little things that made me happy. I was lucky to have my husband of 52 years with me, my daughter and my ten-year-old grandson as well. They are all my daily blessings and sources of enjoyment. Don’t get me wrong, it is not always sunny, but we are managing, one hour at a time. I have my moments full of tears, but, also joy in the little things. I try to deal with what cards I have been dealt with grace. Some days are better than others.

2. You’re very supportive to others in the forum. In a recent post, you said to another member, “We care, we know, we too are frightened by our diagnosis. Don’t feel alone, that no one cares. We may not be there physically to hold you in our arms, but you have many arms around you that DO CARE.” How have you, in turn, felt supported on the site?

I try to visit the site on a daily basis and interact with my family here. If they don’t post for a while I fret and worry. They fill my need to help others to help myself. This place is my safe place. I truly believe we are family and here to help each other. I am free to tell those who understand how miserable it is on some days. They understand and perk me up with their prayers and responses. I love that we are free to share everything or nothing. This is another part of home!

3. As a former RN, how do you think your past experience informs the advice you give to others?

Most often I have to censor myself because of my prejudices toward the medical profession today. I feel I know enough to give good information and resources if needed. I am not afraid to tell it like it is. We are not here for the fairytale version of what is happening to us. We are here for truth and knowledge that what we feel is normal or not. I listen to everyone and what they say to learn for myself. I hope they can feel the love that is offered even though there is such little hope at this time. I think the main thing I give is knowledge and comfort. At least I hope so.

4. Tell us about your diagnosis. What did you do/feel in the moments following it?

Like I said, it was very sudden when it finally showed up. A few years before before I was symptomatic, it was mentioned and I recall ignoring it, saying we would worry about it when we needed to. I was breathing and living a normal life and was truly not interested in it since it was incurable and not affecting me at the time. I think I knew last year when I was diagnosed my easy time was gone. I never wondered why me, never got mad. Why not me! I think what has affected me most is I promised my grandson to take him to see the glaciers in Alaska. I cannot afford the medical supplies that includes any longer and I hate that I didn’t take him sooner. I would love to book a cruise right now, but can’t afford to lose all that money if I get worse. I investigated it earlier last month and renting the portable concentrators that go high enough and the extra batteries and the scooter make it seem so much like a dream. I think the day I realized my dream to see my grandson’s face when he saw Glacier Bay and the calving was over was the day I felt the worst. I felt my dream die and even now it brings tears to my eyes and pain to my heart. My advice to my friends and family here is do what you need to do while you still can. Don’t let this disease kill your dreams if you can still do them. DO THEM IF YOU STILL CAN.

5. How would you best describe the feeling of living with IPF to someone who doesn’t have it?

I find it can be overwhelming depending on the day and what you want to get done. I am no longer independent and able to plan ahead. I need help with shopping because the cart won’t hold my oxygen and the weeks worth of groceries. I spend several days visiting different doctors every week between me and my husband, rather than going out to do what I want. I look good, feel pretty good for all that is wrong with me, I just can’t breath good. I tend to tire more easily than before and sometimes it is hard for people to understand. Like I say, I look well just sitting there with the cannula and oxygen tank or 50′ of tubing I walk around the house with. I have a love hate relationship with the oxygen. I am grateful for it making my like livable, but hate the way it looks, the constant noise and the dry nose and mouth.

Most people don’t know anything about IPF. I TELL THEM IT IS A TERMINAL DISEASE WHERE YOUR LUNGS QUIT EXPANDING AND COMPRESSING. They have two new medicines that may help prolong life with a better quality. Nothing out there to my knowledge will cure it. A lung transplant is a possibility for some but not me. I have already had my chest cracked when I had my bypass. I am too old and too fluffy to get one. So I live each day the best I can.

6. What advice would you give to a newly diagnosed person?

TALK, JOIN, DISCOVER ALL YOU CAN. THIS IS YOUR LIFE, KEEP UP WITH NEW INFORMATION. MOST OF ALL LOVE YOURSELF AND BE HAPPY YOU CAN CHANGE THINGS TO MAKE THEM BETTER with your attitude! You may not like it, but make the MOST of it.

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

Posted December 28th, 2015 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. What inspires you to keep a positive attitude?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Your data doing good: The POEM Study

Posted December 4th, 2015 by

When you share your health data, we all learn

Every minute of every day, people are sharing their health data on PatientsLikeMe. Some of you are focused on tracking how you’re doing over time. Many want to make sure the next person diagnosed can learn from your experience. All are contributing to the greater good, because what you share helps researchers see what patients really need.

During #24DaysofGiving this December, we’ll highlight some of the most important things we’ve learned from data that members like you have selflessly shared, and all the good your data donations are doing. Here’s a great example: the POEM Study, which showed that the secret ingredient to managing your health may just be patients like you.

PatientsLikeMe was founded on a simple idea: when patients connect with each other and share their experiences, they can learn how to better manage and treat their disease and improve their outcomes. Over the years, members proved this is possible time and again. But would a rigorously-conducted scientific study confirm what we already thought to be true?

Our partner UCB wanted to work with us to find out. They helped to build and grow the epilepsy community on PatientsLikeMe back in 2010.  At the time, they were thinking about patient services that you might not expect a pharmaceutical company to focus on, things like information, advocacy, and education. In 2011, we worked together on a pilot study with people living with epilepsy. We learned that people who joined PatientsLikeMe felt that they better understood their own seizures. They even reported improved adherence to their medications. The results also underscored a significant piece of understanding about this particular population; prior to joining the site, one out of three epilepsy patients had never met another person living with this condition.

As the community grew, so did our understanding of what matters to these patients. Then in 2013, we found another partner who wanted to help create a new study focused on an even more specific group: veterans living with epilepsy, an often isolated and stigmatized part of the community. The question we were trying to answer was this: could a network like PatientsLikeMe, with its epilepsy-specific tools and resources, help those who found out about the site from their doctors improve their ability and confidence to manage their condition?

Along with UCB we collaborated with the VA Epilepsy Centers of Excellence in a six-week study of veterans using PatientsLikeMe. The evidence showed that by sharing their health data and connecting with each other online, these patients’ outcomes improved. The nearly 100 veterans who took part in the study grew more confident that they could take care of themselves, and did a better job of managing their care. The results were published this year in Neurology, a leading scientific journal in the field.

It all started with one partner, one community and a whole lot of data sharing. And now, five years later, there are nearly 10,000 epilepsy patients using PatientsLikeMe and helping one another to live better every day. You are the secret ingredient to helping others better manage their health. Thank goodness it’s not a secret anymore.

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

Posted November 19th, 2015 by

Jacquie today.

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

Jacquie in September of 2013, shortly before her diagnosis.

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

Tell us a bit about your life.

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

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

Jacquie with her boxer, Roman.

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

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

Jacquie and her father on her wedding day.

How has your life changed since your diagnosis?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting “Patients Included” right Part II: Planning a patient-centric event

Posted November 18th, 2015 by

You may remember Part I of this blog that focused on the experiences of two PatientsLikeMe members who attended the Kidney Health Initiative’s (KHI) workshop, “Understanding patients’ preferences: Stimulating medical device development in kidney disease,” back in August. KHI is a partnership between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Society of Nephrology (ASN). We recently spoke with patient Celeste Lee and Frank Hurst, MD, Medical Officer, Renal Devices Branch with the FDA, about the planning and consideration it took to make this event “Patients Included.”

While this was the first patient-centric event KHI has held, they’ve worked to include the patient voice in all aspects of the initiative. Kidney patients and kidney patient organizations are represented on the KHI Board of Directors, and this past year the KHI Board of Directors formed a KHI Patient and Family Partnership Council (PFPC) made up of only patients and their caregivers. The PFPC helps provide strategic guidance on how to engage and include patients, their families and care partners in KHI activities.

Celeste has had kidney failure from an autoimmune disease since she was 17. She’s been an advocate for decades and is now focused on patient-centered care. Celeste is also a board member on the inaugural PFPC and helps review potential projects from a patient and family member viewpoint.

“The way KHI works is that it brings everyone to the table – researchers, industry professionals, patients – and we ask what is it that we can do to improve research and clinical trials and ultimately, patient lives. We do this through specific projects like this workshop,” she says.

Involving patients from the get-go

As part of this particular workshop, KHI wanted to hear patients’ ideas and preferences on new devices to manage kidney disease. Before anything, though, they had to create an event that would provide the greatest value to patients that attended in person.

When we asked Frank and Celeste what goes into planning an event like this  they shared how they think it can be centered around the patient:

“Involving patients early helped us to realize the need to broaden efforts to educate patients on the topics of interest prior to having the workshop. This proved to be a critical step in the planning process,” says Frank.

“We realized it would save time to educate prospective attendees about the new devices via webinars before the workshop,” explains Celeste. “We ended up taking a three-step approach that started with a quick engagement video talking about what we wanted to do. We distributed this throughout the whole kidney community. At the end of the video, there was an invitation to sign up for the webinars. After the webinar we said – now we are going to have a day and a half workshop and we will provide travel grants. Over 50 travel grants were given, funded by KHI so patients could come from all over the country.”

Frank notes, “Although patients are medical device consumers, they rarely have an opportunity to influence products that come to market. The success of a new medical device is based on many factors, including the usability by patients. KHI provided a forum, which allowed stakeholders to hear about ideas and potential solutions directly from patients.”

Looking at it from all angles

While the main consideration was making sure KHI had set clear expectations to patients who attended from the onset, there were additional logistics to consider for the workshop to be as patient-centric as possible. The workshop agenda was arranged around patient treatment schedules and incorporated dietary considerations when planning the menu. Because some attendees are on dialysis or live with transplants, they needed volunteers on hand. KHI planners also made sure to ask for patient feedback throughout the entire event and had scribes in position to record it. This feedback was ready to be shared at the workshop’s closing and will be sent out in an executive summary as well.

“Patients especially enjoyed the small group sessions,” Frank says. “These were multi-stakeholder breakout discussions which tackled important questions such as unmet needs, device areas that need improvement, making clinical trials more patient-friendly, and assessing ways for patients, industry, and regulators to communicate and share feedback.  These sessions included many lively discussions where patients felt empowered to share ideas and come together to propose solutions.”

Patient advice for a patient-centric event

Celeste has simple advice for other organizations that want to have this level of patient inclusion in their events. “I think you start off with a really good planning team that includes patients so that they’re there to help figure out the challenges of bringing that population together. Most importantly – you need to prepare people to be a part of it. You’re not going to get anything of value if people come in cold. It’s about the patient being able to draw on their experiences to help move research forward so if they understand what’s expected of them going in, then the outcomes will be more valuable.”

Frank adds, “It is also important to consider the spectrum of the disease, and ideally include patient representatives from across the spectrum as they could have very different needs.”

“Then,” Celeste says, “the next step is getting them to share the developments within the greater community. Once patients are educated and engaged, they become empowered.”

For a look at the KHI’s 3-step plan, check out this presentation they shared with us! And of course, don’t forget to visit the site and connect with the more than 1,000 other PatientsLikeMe members living with chronic kidney disease.

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Getting “Patients Included” right Part I: Two members attend a Kidney Health Initiative workshop

Posted November 4th, 2015 by

Back in August, the Kidney Health Initiative (KHI), a partnership between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Society of Nephrology (ASN), held a workshop called “Understanding patients’ preferences: Stimulating medical device development in kidney disease.” But this was more than a workshop – it was an event centered around the idea of “Patients Included” – a movement started back in May to involve more patients on the planning committees, stages, and in the audiences of medical conferences.

Sally Okun, our Vice President of Advocacy, Policy and Patient Safety spoke at the event and notes how patient-focused the entire workshop was in that “nearly 100 people among the approximately 150 who gathered for the event were patients living with and managing kidney disease every day, many joined by their caregivers.”

“The patients were very open in the discussions and direct in their questions. Many talked about their experiences with hemodialysis and how difficult it is to live a normal life when one has to be at the dialysis center three days a week for many hours,” she says. “In contrast to the conventional treatment approach, the newer developments for hemodialysis at home were very interesting, and in general, patients felt more in control.”

She concludes, “The KHI did a remarkable job focusing this meeting on patients and their caregivers, and providing resources to cover travel expenses. They should be commended and looked to by others as an example of getting ‘Patients Included’ right.”

PatientsLikeMe members Samantha-Anne (internettie) and Laura (Cherishedone) both received stipends to attend the workshop. We asked them about their experiences and here’s what they said:

Why was it important for you to attend this workshop event?

S: It is important to me as a patient to have a voice in my care and treatment. It was particularly important to me to attend this workshop because I wanted to be a voice for the patient who has not yet arrived at the need for dialysis or transplant and to ask what we can do to prevent chronic kidney disease (CKD) from progressing if possible. I know that not all cases can be prevented, but there are some that can. In my situation, my CKD was caused by the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If the consequences of using these drugs for such a long period of time had been made clear to me and if I had been offered some alternative treatments I may have made different treatment choices.

L: I have always been strongly committed to advocating for myself and others, and being given the opportunity to participate and then bring back the information to others whose lives are impacted by CKD and/or end stage renal disease (ESRD) equips us with insight to better advocate for ourselves.

Is this the first event like this that you’ve attended?

S: Yes, this is the first time that I was offered the opportunity to have a voice in patient care. It certainly will not be the last.

L: I have attended National Kidney Foundation (NKF) meetings with other patients and also participated on NKF committees (Patient and Family Executive Committee).

How did you feel about the focus on patient-centricity at this event?

S: I was thrilled to know that someone cared about what patients have to say about their own care. I think that with the advent of the Internet and patients having more access to information that they are more involved in their own care. Patients know more and want to know more about what illnesses are affecting their bodies and they also want to know what they can do to prevent some of these conditions from happening in the first place.

L: The patient-centricity was one of the most valuable components of the meeting. I am one to be very involved in giving back, but I would guess that for many, their disease leaves them feeling isolated. For this population to meet others who are not only surviving but thriving is very important. My hope is that many participants were encouraged to not let their CKD/ESRD define them, but rather to use it as a vehicle for being empowered and encouraged to live each day to the fullest extent, not be left feeling like a victim to the disease.

Did you feel like they supported you and listened to you while you were there?

S: I absolutely felt like I was listened to at this workshop. I had an opportunity to talk to so many people on all different levels of health care. I had wonderful conversations with Paul Conway (AAKP), Mark Ohen (Gore), Denny Treu (NxStage), Sally Okun (PatientsLikeMe), Prabir Roy-Chaudhury, MD, (ASN) Frank Hurst, MD (FDA), Francesca Tentori, ME (ARCH), and F.P. Wieringa, PhD (DKF). We all had the shared topic of kidney disease to discuss but I was amazed at how many people I had other areas in common with. Paul Conway knew my new hometown of Waterville, Maine, and Denny Treu was familiar with my former home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I feel like my love of research and my desire to learn new things and to share my experiences made this conference a catalyst for me to not only offer my view but to be asked to participate in conversations that I would not be privy to otherwise. I felt like I was engaged in the process and made to feel that my opinion was valued.

L: Most definitely!

What stood out to you as an attendee?

S: What stood out to me the most was that these doctors and vendors really wanted to hear what the patients had to say. I never felt like someone was asking for my opinion just to be nice or listening just to be polite. They seemed fully involved in what we, the patients, were saying. Being heard, as a patient, is honestly such a rare thing that to have people in places that can make life-changing decisions about our care hear what we have to say, is amazing.

L: Hearing about research that is ongoing as well as new technologies was very empowering, and left me feeling very encouraged about options available to those of us who have reached ESRD.

What was the most interesting takeaway for you?

S: As a patient the most interesting takeaway was that what I think and what I say really does count. As a person who loves research and used to do surveys and metrics for a living, the most interesting takeaway was that taking the time to craft a meaningful survey for patients is important. Turning data (survey results) into action (making a difference for the patient) is key.

L: Hearing about research that is ongoing for new technologies and ways to treat ESRD was most exciting.

What was it like to be able to interact with other patients who were attending?

S: It always helps to know that you are not alone. Even though we all have our own individual paths and we all fall on different places on the CKD continuum, we all have so much in common in how we feel and how we need to be heard. We can laugh at things that other people just would not understand. Kidney disease is not funny, but there is always some humor to be found in any difficult situation and being with like-minded people is good for the soul. Every single patient in that room is a hero. We all have a lot on our plate but we mustered up the strength to get ourselves to that conference to not only help ourselves but to help all those who come along after us. I know I was completely energized by being around everyone and at the same time could feel the drain of the illness that I deal with every day. It was worth every bit of energy it took to be there in Baltimore and I feel incredibly grateful that I was offered the opportunity to attend the conference. I made sure to thank everyone who played a role in getting me there and also to thank the other patients for sharing their stories and their thoughts and ideas.

I have been in my new community, Waterville, Maine, for about 2 1/2 months now. Going to the KHI conference in Baltimore made me realize that I need to be involved in my new town. I found a group walk in the downtown area (Waterville Walks! hosted by Waterville Maine Street), I attended a public health meeting as a member of the community (Healthy Northern Kennebec), and I participated in a workshop down in Hallowell, Maine at the Harlow Gallery (Healing Through Art: Confronting Your Inner Critic). My goal is to find out as much as I can about the resources that are available in this area. I understand that input from members of the community really is important and that the people asking for the input want to hear what people have to say. I am not surprised that so few people attend these community events thinking that they will be boring or useless, but I am doing my part to let everyone I cross paths with know that there is a lot to do out there, that there are unlimited ways to get involved, and that if you keep looking and put in some effort the resources can be found. I am grateful that the KHI conference has opened so many doors for me.

L: I love the interaction with other patients, and the opportunity to both learn and encourage others. I think it was important for many patients to feel they both have a voice and that our collective voices were not only being heard, but welcomed.

Stay tuned for Part II of this blog when we chat about what kind of planning it took to make this event as patient-centric as possible with those who ran it. And don’t forget to visit the site to connect with Samantha-Anne, Laura, and the nearly 1,000 other PatientsLikeMe members living with chronic kidney disease.

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