48 posts tagged “Team of Advisors”

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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Meet Laura from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted December 22nd, 2016 by

 

Say hello to Laura (thisdiva99), another member of your 2016-2017 Team of Advisors. Laura chatted with us about what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder and why she thinks it’s essential to find and connect with others who live with the same condition: “It is of the utmost importance to connect with other Bipolar Warriors. Mental illness can be very isolating.”

Laura also shared some details about her background as a professional opera singer. She’s performed all over the world and has even won a Grammy! Get to know Laura and read her advice for others who are living with chronic conditions.

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

Hearing the laughter of my husband, my nieces, and my nephews brings me ultimate joy.

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 in living with bipolar disorder is having to pretend that I am “OK” all the time. People with mental illness often find that they must hide their symptoms, and live in a quiet kind of agony of the mind, so that their friends won’t leave them, or so that they can keep their jobs. Living with bipolar disorder means constantly proving to the world that I am capable and worthy, that I am more than a bag of symptoms I constantly try to keep behind my back. I have been pretending to be OK for so long now that sometimes I don’t know where the pretending ends and my true self begins. I believe that education is KEY in bringing an end to stigma. Speaking openly about something lessens the fear and misinformation surrounding that thing.

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

Bipolar disorder is an illness of opposites. I can go through weeks or months of crying constantly, sleeping all the time, and then escalate to feeling nothing at all. I want to die just so that the sadness and nothingness will stop. Then I swing up into mania, where I need very little sleep, I over-schedule myself and include myself in too many projects, and get more angry and frustrated. Eventually I want to smash everything around me, including my own head. When I’m lucky, I have brief periods of stability between depression and mania.

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

You are worthy of love. You are worthy of feeling better. You did nothing wrong. You do not “deserve this.” You are not being punished. You just need to work with your family, friends, and treaters to find love and peace in yourself again.

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

It is of the utmost importance to connect with other Bipolar Warriors. Mental illness can be very isolating. Even though I have many friends and family who want to help (and often do!), sometimes you just need to speak with someone who knows what the bipolar roller coaster is like.

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

Not too long ago, I had to advocate for myself with my mother. My parents are my greatest allies and have been through everything with me. But my parents have also instilled in me the need to “pull myself together,” because “the show must go on” (we are a family of performers). Recently, my mother became exasperated with how I was feeling, and how I was reacting to my illness. I had to stop and tell her that even though I love her more than anything, bipolar disorder is not something that can be shoved to the side. It is not an illness that can be put in a box and left until it is more convenient. It infiltrates my brain every second of every day,  and I will never stop working with it, and trying to live with it. Advocacy is really just about education, and I think that that is something that we can do every day of our lives.

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

PatientsLikeMe has shown me that I am capable of far more than I truly believe. It is so incredible to me that while other members of the community deal with horrible circumstances throughout their day, they can still take the time to offer me comfort or encouragement if I need it. PatientsLikeMe reminds me that I am allowed to be vulnerable or fragile at times, but that does not define me. It is part of the greater scheme and strength of having a chronic illness.

What are three things that we would be surprised to know about you?

  1. I am a professional opera singer. I have performed all over the world, recorded film scores, sung backup for James Taylor, sung at Superbowls and Red Sox games, and I am a Grammy award winner.
  2. I started reading when I was three years old, and I never stopped! I love the written word…especially Victorian Literature.
  3. I am a total geek…I love all things Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, and on and on and on!

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

I love PatientsLikeMe, and I love helping people. When I was given the opportunity to combine those two things through the Team of Advisors, I jumped at the chance! It is so humbling and fulfilling when people bring you into their lives, and every encounter teaches me great lessons. My mother likes to say to me, “You have a big mouth; use it for good!” I hope that being a member of the Team of Advisors is doing just that.

 

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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).

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Meet Kimberly from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted December 8th, 2016 by

We’d like to introduce you to Kimberly (firefly84), another member of your 2016-2017 Team of Advisors. Kimberly lives with autonomic neuropathy and describes what it’s like to manage a condition that is at times invisible, how she tackles each day by taking “baby steps” and focusing on the moment at hand.

Before becoming ill, Kimberly worked as a registered nurse and discusses the challenging transition from “caregiver to the one needing care.” As someone who knows firsthand what it’s like on both sides of the patient/care team relationship, Kimberly shares why it’s important to her to help change the system and, in doing so, leave “a lasting impact that will benefit all generations to come.”

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?

Prior to getting ill, I was working as a Registered Nurse in all areas of the hospital and had recently started doing home health and hospice as well. Suddenly I went from caregiver to the one needing the care. It’s been hard giving up the control factor. Healthcare professionals in general make horrible patients because we think that we should dictate our care. To a certain extent that works, but it also doesn’t allow you to just be the patient. Instead of sitting back and letting people take care of me, I have continued to take on multiple roles; ones that I probably shouldn’t be, but ones that I don’t know how to let go of. There are days when having medical knowledge is wonderful and it has saved me doctor appointments by calling in and saying that we need to adjust medications. But then there are also days when I wish I didn’t know anything about medicine, because then this condition wouldn’t be quite as scary.

A portion of this condition is invisible, so there are some days that I look fairly healthy. The whole “ill patient” scene needs to change. We need to be seen as real people, with lives that are affected in every aspect. We have spouses, families, financial responsibilities, and we still want to contribute to society. We didn’t pick our conditions; our conditions picked us. This isn’t how any of us saw our lives unfolding. These are the cards we got dealt. Society needs to be more accepting of chronic illnesses and understanding that every day is a challenge.

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

Automatic…think of the things your body does automatically. Now take those things (blood pressure, heart rate, sweating, temperature regulation, digestion) and put them into a blender. What comes out the other side? A mess…that’s how I think of it. The “rest and digest” (parasympathetic) and the “fight or flight” (sympathetic) nervous systems no longer communicate with each other. Think of the adrenaline rush and pounding, racing feeling in your chest if you were in an accident…that is what happens to me if I’m in small group with mildly increased noise levels. My body has become incredibly hypersensitive and totally unpredictable. This means that my heart rate and blood pressures basically do whatever they want, whenever they want (high or low). I lost the ability to sweat on 90% of my body, so anything involving outdoors is out of the picture once it is above 65 degrees. My worst symptom that is the most visible to people around me is flushing. Think of how hot a sunburn gets…now think of having that heat and redness for 16-20 hours per day, every day. Many things trigger it (showering, washing my hands, walking by the stove, having the sun shine on me). The hardest thing is that none of my symptoms are predictable, so I always have to plan ahead for multiple scenarios. That’s me…the blender scenario!

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

Take a deep breath. Focus on this moment, and this moment only. We can’t live in constant fear of what hasn’t happened yet. There are so many unknowns; do your research, find a support system. Hold tight to family and friends as they will be your rocks going forward. Always have one or two people that you can call when you’re having a bad day and cry your eyes out for no reason at all. Finally…baby steps; this is my mantra. Sometimes going one day at a time is too much. So you go one moment, one second, one minute, one hour, and eventually you will have gotten through the day…with BABY STEPS! As long as you can find one positive thing each day, you can get through anything. Sometimes it can be something as simple as the sky was blue today or maybe your pain improved for an hour. Don’t set big goals because if you don’t achieve them you feel like you have failed, but if you set small obtainable goals, then you have succeeded and most of all, you have survived.

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

Navigating healthcare is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. You get told that you have an illness, hopefully get a referral to a specialist, maybe get an official diagnosis, and then you’re on your own. Nobody tells you how to deal with insurance companies, how to expedite prior authorizations for procedures or medications, how to establish a good rapport with your healthcare team, or where to find resources and advocates. You are taken to the edge of a cliff and then told good luck. At least that has been my experience with several of my health issues.

Having worked within the healthcare system has given me an enormous amount of knowledge regarding how to successfully navigate the twists and turns. I wanted to join the Team of Advisors because I get so angry when the healthcare system fails patients time after time. I want to help change that, because it isn’t fair to anybody. We really can change things, but it has to be one step at a time. Advocating for community members and anybody with a condition is a lot like organ donation. Yes, we’re doing this for everyone right now, but we are leaving a lasting impact that will benefit all generations to come. That’s my reason!

 

 

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Meet Jim from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted December 1st, 2016 by

 

We recently announced the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors, and now we’ll be introducing each member so you can get to know them better as they kick off their year-long term. First up is Jim (jangrilah), a member of the MS community. Jim is a new grandfather, a husband and an international executive and leadership development and change management consultant.

He sat down with us recently to talk about finding appreciation in the “upside-down” reality of life with MS. Below he shares his experience advocating for himself and how he built a strong relationship with his doctor.

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

Family 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?

Mobility challenges limit what I can do/where I can go. In the U.S. things are pretty good; overseas, people tend to recoil from any appearance/behavior that strays from the “norm.”

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

MS produces a wide variety of often invisible but strange and obtrusive sensations and symptoms that aren’t described in the owner’s manual that came with your body. Creates a new normal and a new sense of reality, and makes life a bit like being an undercover spy.

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

Take a deep breath. Learn what you can about the condition, but mostly keep your head about you: don’t allow the shock to drive you crazy and/or make you feel that things are worse than they actually are. Learn to appreciate the upside-down ways in which it can help you focus on what’s REALLY important to your quality of life, and take an interest in the unusual ways in which your body can change from day to day, even moment to moment.

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

Actually, this hasn’t been very important for me. I’m much more interested in how the things MS makes me experience give me new/unusual perspectives on life and relationships that others can learn from.

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

The oncologist who diagnosed my Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia was highly recommended to me by my GP based on his clinical expertise. But he came initially across to me as arrogant, cold, in a hurry, and not the least bit interested in helping me absorb the news emotionally. At the beginning of our second appointment, I took him aside, praised his clinical expertise, insisted that, even so, we could only proceed together if he listened to something I had to say, and then — after he signaled his willingness to hear me out — described the kinds of interaction/treatment I would need him to work on if he wished to continue treating me. Over the next several months, I “taught” him how I wanted him to interact with me; he worked at learning, and we eventually became good friends.

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

It has alerted me to possible new treatments and mobility solutions.

How well does PatientsLikeMe communicate its mission and activities to members and stakeholders?

I somehow missed some of the most unique and valuable things that PLM brings to the table, so I’d like to see the Team of Advisors work with PatientsLikeMe staff to enhance and clarify PatientsLikeMe’s messaging.  

How should PatientsLikeMe make the most of its Team of Advisors? 

A lot more could/should be done to set the Advisors up as a true TEAM (as opposed to a collection of individuals serving as sounding boards) who adopt and pursue their own projects in collaboration with PatientsLikeMe leaders/staff to undertake valuable enhancements to the site and its patient community that might not yet be on PatientsLikeMe’s radar.

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

I have personally benefited from interactions with PatientsLikeMe members but also have observed ways in which the site could provide better support and more reliable information. Also, numerous family and friends have harped on how much they admire how I handle my various conditions: I figured the Team of Advisors might be an opportunity to see if I actually had anything to offer that might be of value to other patients.

 

 

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PatientsLikeMe Welcomes Next Patient Team of Advisors

Posted November 14th, 2016 by

 

CAMBRIDGE, Mass, November 14, 2016PatientsLikeMe has named 11 members to its patients-only 20162017 Team of Advisors, which this year will focus on elevating the patient voice. Team members will share their stories, participate in community initiatives, and give real world perspectives to our industry and research partners.

“Each year, our Team of Advisors has proven an invaluable source of inspiration and support for the PatientsLikeMe community,” said PatientsLikeMe CEO Martin Coulter. “We look forward to learning from this year’s team as we partner to identify how we can change healthcare for the better.”

More than 500 PatientsLikeMe members submitted applications for this year’s Team of Advisors. Those selected represent a range of medical and professional backgrounds and ages. They are living with a cross-section of conditions, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), autonomic neuropathy, bipolar disorder, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), lung cancer, lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson’s disease. Members named to the team include: Cris Simon, Gary Rafaloff, Ginny Emerson, Glenda Rouland, Hetlena Johnson, Jacquie Toth, Jim Seaton, John Blackshear, Kimberly Hartmann, Laura Sanscartier and Lindsay Washington.

John Blackshear is living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and looks forward to the opportunity to share his story with others, and collaborate with PatientsLikeMe and other members of the Team of Advisors. “My experience with PatientsLikeMe has been filled with exploration, information and conversation. My health journey has been positively impacted through my connection with other members, by the various tools for tracking and logging health data, and by opportunities just like this – to participate in an advisory capacity.”

The 2016-2017 Team of Advisors recently kicked off their 12-month collaboration with PatientsLikeMe in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and will convene several times during the upcoming year. This is the third Team of Advisors the company has formed. The 2015 team focused on redefining patient partnerships and established new ways for the healthcare industry to connect with patients to deliver better care. In 2014, the inaugural group provided feedback to the research team and discussed ways that researchers can meaningfully engage patients throughout the research process.

About PatientsLikeMe

PatientsLikeMe is a patient network that improves lives and a real-time research platform that advances medicine. Through the network, patients connect with others who have the same disease or condition and track and share their own experiences. In the process, they generate data about the real-world nature of disease that help researchers, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, providers, and nonprofits develop more effective products, services, and care. With more than 400,000 members, PatientsLikeMe is a trusted source for real-world disease information and a clinically robust resource that has published more than 85 research studies. Visit us at www.patientslikeme.com or follow us via our blog, Twitter or Facebook.

Contact
Katherine Bragg
PatientsLikeMe
kbragg@patientslikeme.com
617.548.1375


Patients as Partners: Allison shares her insight on teaming up with organizations

Posted June 15th, 2016 by

Allison (center) receiving the 2015 “In Our Own Voice” Presenter of the Year award from the Dallas Police Department

This year’s Team of Advisors has been sharing how they use the Partnership Principles in their health journeys. Today, we hear from Allison, who’s living with bipolar II. Allison is a volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Dallas and also runs support groups for the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA). See what she has to say about the two principles that she relies on most in her relationships with these organizations, and what she’s learned along the way: “I realized I could use MY voice to help others.”

Can you tell us a little about the different organizations you’ve partnered with?

I have been working as a volunteer with NAMI Dallas. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I was on the NAMI Dallas board of directors. NAMI has affiliates in every state. They have programs for family members and for people living with a mental illness. I am a volunteer scenario trainer for Dallas Police Department. The scenario training is part of a 40-hour class that the officers take, focused on Crisis Intervention Training. I am certified to run support groups for DBSA (Depression Bipolar Support Alliance).

How did you initially get involved?

After being diagnosed with bipolar, I wanted to find other people who were living with similar conditions. I started attending support groups and taking classes at my local NAMI and DBSA organizations as a way to find support and learn about my mental illness. After attending many NAMI meetings I was asked if I would go to training to become a support group leader. Shortly after starting new support groups I was sent to St. Louis for training to become a teacher for their program Peer to Peer.

I also took a class that NAMI offers called, “In Our Own Voice.” This class helped me put my life story together so that I can organize my thoughts to share my story with others. After a few years of teaching and leading groups I was asked to tell my story to a group of firemen. The firemen and women were new recruits and I was there to give them some insight about mental illness and ways to be helpful when faced with mental illness calls. That talk was the beginning of something new for me. I realized I could use MY voice to help others.

I have been volunteering with the Dallas Police Department each month by doing scenario training. We create scenarios the law enforcement officers encounter on a regular basis. Our goal is to teach them new ways to work with people who show signs of mental illness. At the end of the week I share my life story with class of officers. It is an amazing experience when I have the chance to work with them and then share my story because they have no idea, all week, that I am a person who lives with mental illness. I was awarded the 2015 In Our Own Voice presenter for the Dallas Police Department, and that was a very memorable moment for me.

What are the dos and don’ts you’ve learned about how to effectively share your story so people will listen?

I have learned to share my story only when people are interested, if I am asked, or if I feel I will be helping someone by sharing my experiences. The most helpful thing I did to get me started telling my story was to take the “In Our Own Voice” class through NAMI because it helped me learn how to organize my thoughts. As time has progressed I have learned how to tailor my story for the specific audience I am speaking to.

Allison volunteering as a scenario trainer for the Dallas Police Department

Have any of the Partnership Principles you developed with the Team of Advisors helped you in your work with organizations like NAMI or the police department?

I would say “Respect each Partner” is something that resonates with me as I think of my journey. I have learned when I need to say no to a speaking engagement if I am feeling overwhelmed. I feel very fortunate that the wonderful people at the police department understand and respect me enough to not push me to over extend myself. They are actually better about making sure I am not overextending myself than I am.

“Reflect, evaluate and re-prioritize” is another partnership principle I live by. I have learned it is okay to move on when a relationship is no longer working for the good of both parties. I remember how difficult it was to step down from my position on the NAMI Dallas board of directors. I had been serving for over two years and felt that I wanted to put my energy into my training. I realized in order to stay healthy, I cannot overextend myself, and that meant giving up something if I wanted to take on a new role.

What advice do you have for other patients who want to learn more about partnering with organizations?

Be creative! I NEVER imagined what attending support groups was going to do for me. I would never have met some of my closest friends or had the opportunities to work with some of the best organizations if I didn’t go to that first meeting. Each time I tell my story, it helps me work on my recovery to a healthy life. I encourage everyone to try something new and see where it takes you. You will probably be surprised.

 

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Patients as Partners: Cyrena talks empathy and assertiveness

Posted June 6th, 2016 by

We’ve been talking to 2015-2016 Team of Advisors about the Partnership Principles they put together and how they use them in their personal health journeys. Next up is Cyrena, who’s living with bipolar II and lupus and recently completed her PhD in pharmacology. Below, she talks about managing multiple conditions, getting on the same page as her doctors, and the need to be both empathetic and assertive in your relationships with your care teams. Plus, stay tuned for more from Cyrena soon!

 What I’ve learned: Know your needs, make shared decisions

As a graduate student in pharmacology with an interest in mental illness and immunology, I usually find myself in a unique position in the “hot seat.” I don’t view my physicians as all-knowing entities. I am not a physician, but I have a knowledge base, both about disease processes and my own body. What I bring to the table is just as important as what they bring, and therefore I view my interactions as a partnership on mostly equal footing. (After all, I don’t have prescribing privileges!)

Studies at the PhD level require a level of stamina and mental acuity that aren’t always present in patients with lupus and bipolar disorder. When I am with my physicians, I have to express that my needs are likely different than the typical patient. I can’t have medications that dull my thinking or alertness. I have to keep things moving along, so even if I have a flare I may be able to slow down but I can’t completely stop and rest. Once we are on the same page regarding my needs and expectations, we are in a position to make shared decisions that work best for my health and my studies.

Having both a mental and immune illness has been an eye-opening experience. Because psychiatry and mental health is essentially isolated from other areas of medicine, I have had to be the foreman in the factory, making sure that all the parts go together and everything works as it should. I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder longer than lupus, but in almost every encounter outside the psychiatric setting, it is basically an afterthought. I have to assert its importance in my health and wellbeing and try to bridge the silos. Part of my research involved the effects of the immune system on mental health, so I am intimately aware of the relationship between the two in my case as well as in the scientific literature. Fortunately, I have a psychiatrist who is well versed in the relationship between mental illness and physical chronic illness, so I am not completely alone in my struggle.

“Clinical folks are people, too. I am an empathetic and assertive patient, and I am sure that has eased my relationships with clinicians throughout my illness experience.”

 

For those who shoulder multiple illnesses and significant career expectations, it is critical for the patient-clinician partnership be clear on how treatment will impact those expectations, and that what is “most important” can change at any point. At the same time, recognition of the new or ongoing limitations of illness and perhaps being willing to reevaluate the history of illness and treatment plan, even if it may result in career setbacks.

Partnering four ways: Advice from one patient to another

First and foremost, know who you are and what you want. The clinical environment can be intimidating, and when you’re sitting in the patient’s seat, your mind can completely blank out and you find yourself going along with whatever they tell you to do.

Secondly, know who they are and what they want. Clinicians have goals as well, and if you are managing multiple conditions, those goals may be in conflict with one another. Be prepared to advocate for yourself in the event of pushback, but also acknowledge and appreciate when their goals align with yours.

Third, stick up for yourself. If you don’t like something, whether it’s a treatment plan or the clinician themselves, be willing to say “no.” I have no problem walking away from a clinical environment that does not suit my needs or will not work with me. I recognize that others may be limited in their choices by geography or insurance plans, but voting with your feet can send a message that comments or complaints may not.

Fourth, recognize the limitations of your clinicians and the medical system. Your appointments aren’t 15 minutes because that’s what the physician wants. They hate it too! There are forces outside the patient-physician relationship that are invisible to the patient but omnipresent in the office visit. My mother is a nurse, my research advisor was an MD, and I spent a little time in medical school. I am aware of the pressures on the other side and try to give most clinicians the benefit of the doubt. A little empathy goes a long way. It may not seem like it, but clinical folks are people, too. I am an empathetic and assertive patient, and I am sure that has eased my relationships with clinicians throughout my illness experience.

 

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Patients as Partners: John and David share their clinical trial experiences

Posted June 1st, 2016 by

We’ve been hearing from members of the Team of Advisors about how they’ve used the Partnership Principles in their health journeys. Recently, we sat down with John (Dockstoy), living with ALS, and David (Davidgewirtz), who’s living with lung cancer. John and David are both interested in research and have been involved in a few clinical trials. Below, they share their firsthand trial experiences, offer up some advice for others, and talk about the importance of collaboration and mutual respect with their care teams along the way.

Can you tell us a little about the clinical trials you’ve participated in?

John: I took part in trials at:

  1. Massachusetts General Hospital (September 2014) – phase 2, randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled Multicenter Study of Autologous MSC-NTF Cells in Patients With ALS
  2. Bronx VA – Brain and nerve stimulation for hand muscles in spinal cord injury and ALS
  3. Weill Medical College of Cornell University – Safety of Capryclic Triglycerides in ALS: A Pilot Study

Team of Advisors member David, living with lung cancer

David: I was diagnosed with stage four metastatic lung cancer just about five years ago. June 2011. Since that time my only form of treatment has been targeted therapies which were available to me through clinical trials. The first clinical trial I received the drug Erlotinib known as Tarceva for three and a half years. The second clinical trial I am now on for about fifteen months targets a mutation that is responsible for resistance to Tarceva. The Clovis pharmaceutical company makes the drug with the code name C01686 which does not have FDA approval and Clovis recently disclosed that the drug has been withdrawn from future development. Both drugs have enabled me to live a very high quality of life and unless told nobody would know I had a terminal disease.

Clinical trials require the patient to be an active participant in the treatment modality. For me both clinical trials required that I have monthly visits to the clinic for blood work and scans every two months. The routine of my CT scans include my chest, abdomen, and pelvis plus a whole body bone scan. Normally I spend six hours at the hospital to compete these tests. That I am monitored very closely is a double edged sword. The downside is the frequency of scans exposes me to significant radiation which overtime is also associated with cancer. There is also generalized anxiety that comes with this routine. When you’re done with one cycle which includes a discussion with the oncologist about the radiology report, you automatically start to think about the next cycle. The silver lining in this cloud is that detection of new disease is caught very early and more often treatable than not – a really good benefit, which takes some of the sting out of the routine.

Have any of the partnership principles helped you get involved in these clinical trials?

John: I believe all principles apply. Respect is key; and alignment and teamwork from both parties involved.

David: “Know your needs” was the principal driver of why I entered a clinical trial. This principle requires that the expectations of the patient (me) are aligned in a partnership with the goals of the oncologist. In my situation there was a shared expectation of the value of clinical trial. In collaboration with my oncologist we discussed the likely benefits, side effects and the efficacy of the trial as a treatment plan for my advanced stage lung cancer. We shared the belief that the benefits of the trial far exceed the risks associated with taking Tarceva. We shared the value that (1) I would receive state-of-the-art treatment with the expectations that the drug Tarceva would (2) not not only control my cancer, but would extend my progression free survival of my disease.

How do you decide if a clinical trial is right for you?

Team of Advisors member John, living with ALS

John: Timing is a critical decision factor. What I mean by that is many clinical trials have two-year and three-year exclusion criteria. Also, location — most trials do not reimburse for travel or nominal reimbursement. You must believe that the trial will have a benefit, not only to you but for those to follow.  

David: In collaboration with caregivers the patient must know his/her needs in terms of the benefits and risks of entering a clinical trial. This requires that the care team fully explain the benefits of the trial versus the risk of participating. A phase one trial poses the most risk to the patient with an uncertain outcome. In contrast, a phase three trial poses the least. For example, my first clinical trial was a phase three trial where I was given the drug Tarceva with expectation that my medium progression free survival would be 12 months. In my case I did not progress until 3.5 years. Truly a great outcome despite some manageable side effects or risks.

A patient also has the opportunity to enhance the understanding of their disease. All types of clinical data captured in the study helps organizations like PatientsLikeMe market data to pharmaceutical and insurance companies who are stakeholders needed to fast-track new drugs from the bench to the clinic. In the end, your participation along with others may save or prolong the quality of your life. This possibility was the primary driver for me to enroll in another clinical trial that has kept my cancer in check, now five years, with minimal side effects.

What advice do you have for other patients who want to learn more about participating in clinical trials?

John: Research, research, research! Scour the Internet for details, speak with friends and family, ask your doctor what they think and what they see on the horizon for new trials. Be prepared to look at what’s next in clinical trials so as one completes you can start up another.

David: The decision to participate in clinical trials encompasses many of our PatientsLikeMe partnership principles. For example, where you are in your treatments phase may dictate what principles are more important than others. If you are at the start of your treatment, then you must have a very good understanding of what a clinical trial can do for you — how much more quality time the treatment offers. You can only arrive at this decision point if you and your care team have a shared understanding of the benefits of participating in a clinical trial versus pursuing a different line of treatment. Through my experience with clinical trials you are well served if you operate under the assumption that participation is a shared responsibility. Alternatively, if you reach a milestone in your treatment where you must go to another line of treatment then it is critical to reflect, evaluate and reprioritize if your current care team is the right team to meet your needs. Finally, regardless of the phase you enter a clinical trial, you must self-educate yourself

That means you have done some basic research by:

  1. Reading about relevant clinical trials on sites like the National Cancer Institute, which has a listing and description of all clinical trials in the U.S. and worldwide.
  1. Preparing yourself for entering a clinical trial by visiting the government website that explains what patients and caregivers should know about participating in clinical trials.
  1. Participating in organizations like PatientsLikeMe that have communities where patients share their treatment experiences, side effects and their success and failures. Personally, these organizations have empowered me through emotional support and knowledge of other clinical trials that may become options for me while I travel on my journey.

 

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Patients as Partners: Gus and Maria talk partnering with your caregiver

Posted May 11th, 2016 by

The 2015-2016 Team of Advisors recently introduced the Partnership Principles. They’ve been sharing personal stories about these principles in action to kick-off conversations on partnering with all sorts of people — medical students, clinical trial coordinators, and “normals.” Today, Team of Advisors member Gus along with his wife and caregiver, Maria, share about their special relationship and how they work together as a team.

How has it been managing your dual roles of husband/wife and now patient/caregiver? What is the biggest challenge in this?

Gus: I believe the hardest thing has been always feeling I was in control and didn’t need anyone’s help or assistance. But how the tables have turned, I lean on my wife more than ever before, with the understanding I try every day to be as independent as possible. I truly see how tired my wife gets and how frustrated this illness has made her feel. I respect her time and appreciate everything she does for me. I sometimes push her towards taking a time out and spending time for her. She needs time for herself and to unwind from all of this.

The listening part sometimes gets very difficult, because I see things and don’t communicate them correctly. It’s so difficult and so frustrating because I just want to get up and fix it. I feel like things are getting better, I try so hard to shut my mouth and then listen.

I sometimes feel bad because I want or need help but I don’t want to bother or ask for it. She will always ask me if I need help and I just say no. I feel bothered inside and hurt because she only wants to help me. But I’m working on it every day.

Maria: Gus and I have always worked together. He always tried to make life as comfortable as possible for us all these years. Other than my continuing to work full-time and having to make sure that he has all he needs, my biggest challenge is making sure Gus is getting the proper nutrition and is made as comfortable as possible so that I don’t have to worry too much about him while I’m at work.

What are some new things you’ve learned about each other throughout this?

Maria: Gus is probably impressed with how I’m slowly becoming more patient. Since he has always been the more patient and nurturing one, I am now somehow finding myself being more like him. And I continue to be amazed by his spirit. Even after such a devastating diagnosis as ALS, he was only down temporarily. Although he isn’t able to do very much physically, he continues to be the head and shoulders of our household. He keeps us going strong.

Can you describe the ways you partner? What works and what doesn’t?

Gus: Living on the same page of life, what does this mean? Having an understanding and knowing when to ask for help and doing the simplest things you can do.

Sharing responsibilities sometimes can be tricky. Our bodies may not function but our minds are just fine. Not making a mess and doing your best in every way possible. And no nagging, this is the worst thing possible. And don’t take her or him for granted because we need each other for support and good health. Counting your wins and telling yourself you got this. Sharing your positive thoughts and negative feelings when possible, not holding things inside. Sharing your wins and losses.

Communicating and openness in all ways will make things so much better. I tell my wife everything, good or bad I don’t have anyone else who understands me better than she does.

Maria: Currently I have just been going full speed ahead – on autopilot – dancing as fast as I can. There are a million things I could come up with but I haven’t yet figured out what works and what doesn’t – still trying. My only tip is to continue to stay as informed as possible regarding ALS research and things people have tried to live more comfortably with the disease. Also to help your partner have a better quality of life by trying to find things that will naturally relieve some of the discomfort brought on by ALS.

What’s the most important piece of advice you can give to other couples in your situation?

Gus: The first word that comes to mind is patience (and more patience). There are no right or wrong ways of doing things, it’s just how both of you react and what action or plans have been discussed. First comes the falling or not being able to use your hands or walking without use of a walker. It’s different for everyone, but the most important part of this process would be communicating and understanding each other’s feelings and how this illness will change everything. It’s hard, and very challenging for my wife, coming and going I can only imagine the feeling or heartache she endures. To have compassion and empathy really helps.

Maria: Stay optimistic – one never knows how ALS will progress. We have found that with the proper physical therapy and nutrition (Gus has chosen to go with massage therapy, acupuncture, and a gluten-free diet) he continues to get around using a walker. And if his swallowing or breathing starts to feel compromised, he lets his acupuncturist know and he’s good for a few days.

Final thoughts from Gus: Take every day step-by-step, don’t feel helpless or sadness, your attitude and thoughts create a better environment for both of you and your family. For me it’s called positive in and positive out, every word or action matters and your facial expression matters the most. You must become a good poker player, not showing what’s in your hand. Because when you show discomfort or anger your better half will feel like he or she is to blame. Yes, it’s tough and not easy, but what can you do, go with it and create the best situation possible.

It’s a fact we all struggle with something. No matter what the issues are, they’re important to us. Some of us may have financial debt issues, and others health concerns, and anything else you could think about. When you are ill, sometimes the solutions are a bit more challenging. And that’s where our partners and caregivers come in. The simplest things are now the hardest or a bit more challenging in completing our tasks. Some of us may not have partners or caregivers, so then what? How do we cope with the issues at hand, where do we go for help? Finding the answers to our questions sometimes may be difficult and strenuous. There are many sites and forums that can assist us like PatientsLikeMe, and other blogs sites associated with partners and caregivers.

Families may not have the resources available to them, finding the information provided will make a difference one patient at a time. Finding help and support is vital – every day someone requires assistance. I believe everyone deserves a helping hand when possible, no matter what. So when your loved one becomes ill and funds are low, they need a place and solutions to their questions and concerns. Sending them to a site may not be the answer, but speaking to them makes it better. Just having someone to listen and allowing them to vent their frustrations is so important. It’s our duty as civilized human beings. Giving back to those who can’t and providing the information is key.

 

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

Posted May 5th, 2016 by

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

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

How do I advocate for myself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Do I have the right diagnosis?

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

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

 

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