14 posts tagged “TOA”

Women’s Health Week: Ginny reflects on motherhood and “the perfect storm” of epilepsy and mental health conditions

Posted May 19th, 2017 by

In honor of National Women’s Health Week, Team of Advisors member Ginny (Mrslinkgetter) shares what it’s like to live with multiple health conditions – including major depressive disorder (MDD), generalized anxiety disorder and epilepsy – as well as grief following the death of her son (who also had epilepsy and major depression). On PatientsLikeMe, hundreds of members report living with epilepsy along with depression and/or anxiety.

“I’ve had anxiety from my earliest memories,” she says. In her early 30s, she also began experiencing MDD. She was dealing with a move, very active children, and worsening migraines, pain and other symptoms.

“It was the perfect storm,” she says. Read on for more of her story, plus her tips for women dealing with multiple health conditions in their family.

My name is Ginny. I had 12 years of misdiagnosis, until I was appropriately diagnosed with epilepsy, psoriatic arthritis, major depression and anxiety.

In the middle of dealing with my own health issues, my son was diagnosed with epilepsy. I felt overwhelmed – extreme exhaustion beyond the norm for a mom and wife.

When I started Topamax, a seizure medication for my epilepsy, it raised my anxiety and I told my neurologist I had to have a depression/anxiety medication. While Topamax increased my anxiety, it also helped to lower my seizures and helped me regain my ability to think. Seizures were robbing my ability for complex thought. I still take Trokendi XR, a form of Topamax. Everyone’s response to these medications is unique, so talk with your doctor about how they affect you, especially if you have suicidal thoughts.

As a mom, I was unable to see how much my depression was impacting my parenting until I was on medication (Cymbalta) and started feeling less anxiety and depression. One month later I was traveling alone and I suddenly realized that I felt zero anxiety on the plane, elevator or city taxi – I felt freedom for the first time, ever!

“I realized my spouse and kids had a less than effective mother than they could have had during some of those years. I do not dwell on this since I cannot turn back the clock. I use this to tell other parents: I did the best that I could during those years – part of the time I did not even realize that I had depression and anxiety.”

Doctors and specialists were reluctant to diagnose me with depression. I was even placed on a depression medication at one time “to help with the migraines.” I was concerned because I did not want to be thought of as “crazy.” If my doctor had been more honest and said she felt I was depressed and I should try this medication, it would have been wiser. A doctor who can say, “sometimes depression also causes physical symptoms” – true fact – helps the patient to understand this and make informed health care decisions. 

“Being a mom when you have many physical and emotional issues is very challenging. I often put my children’s needs first. I got to the point when I knew I had to take care of my needs.”

When I did this, I knew I was doing the best for all of us. I could not take care of them if I was too depressed, too anxious or in too much physical pain. I teach this to other parents, at well.

My son’s anxiety was noticeable even at age 3. He was diagnosed with it formally at age 11, but not placed on medications for depression and anxiety until after his first two suicide attempts at age 15.

Sam’s mental health issues seemed intermingled with his epilepsy. They can be bi-directional, meaning they can occur before or after one another, according to Dr. Andres Kanner, who has studied how they’re related. Depression is the psychiatric disorder that occurs most frequently with epilepsy (affecting 20 to 50% of people with epilepsy, depending on epilepsy type). Learn more here. The suicide risk in people with epilepsy is more complicated. If you or someone you know expresses suicidal thoughts, please seek help through crisis resources like these.

Sam’s health issues taught me that we are so much more than a list of conditions. He taught me how to deal with – as well as how to advocate for – a person trying to cope with these life-and-death conditions. I learned how to speak to him and the importance of including people – a child, teen or adult – in decisions about their care.

I became an advocate at the national and state level so that our representatives could begin to understand what patients and families endure.

I found a program through the Epilepsy Foundation and asked if he wanted to apply to go to Washington D.C. to talk to senators and congressmen. He got in and we went. That began our lifetime odyssey.

People around the world learned about Sam’s life and death because others went on telling his story through the Epilepsy Foundation and the websites we went on. People had watched him grow from a little boy to a 20-year-old man. At 16, Sam used his artwork to help others with depression to find hope and help by creating Preventing Teen Tragedy.

I cope with my grief through continuing to help others. I had a non-profit for six years that worked with the Epilepsy Foundation. I was trained as a grief specialist. I use portions of Sam’s story with my clients at work as a Mobile Crisis family partner. I also talk to others online.

PatientsLikeMe has been a safe place for me to come and share, first while Sam was still alive. Now, having a safe place to come and read and talk has been such a great coping method for me. I cannot always share about my son fully in other places because people become uncomfortable. Sam died of suicide on his fourth attempt. 

“People forget that when a mother talks about her son, it is not about his death, it is about the fact that he lived. I have lost so many of my friends because they do not know what to say so they just stay away from me because they are not comfortable.”

Mental illness is not a weakness. Depression and anxiety are conditions of an organ in our body and should be treated as such. I can come to the website and know that others have answers to help me through the rough times. I do not need to weather this journey alone.

My tips for women and moms living with mental health conditions: 

  • Take care of yourself through a healthy diet. Depression may cause under- or over-eating. Do your best to work on changing how you eat.
  • Exercise, even when you don’t feel like doing it. I am 54 years old, work a 12.5-hour shift four days a week and do not feel like working out a lot of the time. I am adding in yoga, stretches, walking, and whatever else I can to keep moving. This helps all of my conditions.
  • Involve children in eating well and exercise. We used to kayak, play tag, walk and do what we could to stay active. When I felt moody around the kids I would tell them, “OK, it is time to walk the grump.” Before we would reach the end of the road, all of us would be in a better mood.

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Let’s make fibromyalgia visible today

Posted May 12th, 2017 by

Fibromyalgia awareness day

“I get so angry when friends come over to visit, after I haven’t been able to get out of the house for a month, and tell me how good I look. Or the idiots who ask you how you got the handicapped parking tag when you look so healthy. People just don’t see how difficult this disease is.”

-PatientsLikeMe member living with fibromyalgia

“I am so tired of the ‘but you don’t look sick’ comments.”

-PatientsLikeMe member with fibromyalgia

“I feel like I shouldn’t talk about it because I don’t expect it will make a positive impact on me if I do.”

-PatientsLikeMe member with fibromyalgia

This is the reality for those living with fibromyalgia – and since May 12 is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day, the fibro community is rallying to make this condition visible. The National Fibromyalgia Association has reported that it is one of the most common chronic pain conditions in the United States, affecting an estimated 10 million adults, with around 75%-90% of the people living with fibromyalgia being women.

Because fibromyalgia is an invisible illness, explaining it to others can be even more difficult. That’s why 2015-2016 Team of Advisors member Craig (woofhound), who is living with fibromyalgia, wrote an open letter to the “normals” describing what it’s like to live with a chronic pain condition while dispelling myths that often surround it.

Letter to the normals

 “We really do care about you and really wanted to visit, but if we listen honestly to our bodies we can’t afford the toll of that visit. We know that makes us come across as ‘flaky’ especially if we’ve had to cancel at the last minute, but if you understood this condition you would see that we don’t really have the choice”.

 

Check out Craig’s full open letter to the normals here.

 

So, how can someone with fibromyalgia improve their quality of life? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a few things that people living with fibromyalgia can do – namely, exercise.

  • Get active – The CDC suggests physical activity can help improve symptoms of fibromyalgia, including pain, sleep problems and fatigue. It can also reduce the risk of developing other chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. However, physical activity can be extremely challenging for those living with chronic pain, so the CDC advises to start slowly and gradually increase your activity level. It can be as small as doing some stretches in bed each morning. They also have a list of recommended exercise programs which you can read more about here.
  • Self-management education – learning more about your condition can help you gain better control over managing your symptoms. Joining sites like PatientsLikeMe to learn about yourself and others like you can help you better understand life with you condition. The CDC also has a list of recommended self-management education programs.

There are more than 3,000 topics in the fibromyalgia forum tagged with “exercise”. Join the discussion!

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Meet Hetlena from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 31st, 2017 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meet Ginny from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 26th, 2017 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Meet Cris from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted January 19th, 2017 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meet Christel from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted November 29th, 2015 by

We wanted to take a minute to introduce you to Christel, one of your 2015-2016 PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors. Christel who was 12 years old when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, shares openly that she spent a lot of her teens and twenties ignoring its existence.

But 32 years later, Christel has made peer support and advocacy her focus. She’s founded a psychosocial peer support conference for adults with diabetes (and caregivers, too) and co-founded an advocacy organization for easy and effective diabetes policy advocacy. Christel also writes a popular patient blog, ThePerfectD.com, and speaks publicly about her experiences.

In a recent interview (below) she talks about societal stigmas surrounding diabetes and how important it is to connect with others who share this condition.

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?

Society thinks that diabetes is a punchline; something that shouldn’t be taken seriously.

We need to stop making fun of diabetes. All those pictures of desserts with the hashtag #diabetes? People with diabetes aren’t laughing. In fact, it only perpetuates the ignorance.

Those who are diagnosed often don’t get the proper education and care they need, and don’t talk about it, as the stigma surrounding diabetes due to misinformation prevents us, as a society, to address how to support people with this disease.

Until that changes, the increase of diabetes diagnoses will continue. The latest statistics show that 1 in 3 U.S. adults could have type 2 diabetes by 2050 if we don’t change our attitude and educate the public on what diabetes is, what it isn’t, and what can be done. (And the number of type 1 diabetes diagnoses are also increasing, although we don’t know why.)

What needs to happen? Education, compassion, and a willingness to speak up when someone makes a joke about diabetes.

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

29 million Americans have a diabetes diagnosis (that’s 11% of the population!) and 86 million more have a pre-diabetes diagnosis, yet there is a lack of true awareness about what the disease is and the gravity of a diabetes diagnosis.

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disease. Individuals diagnosed have issues with the insulin they produce; not enough insulin or a resistance to the insulin they do have. People with Type 2 can manage their diabetes a number of ways: diet, exercise, oral medications, and insulin – or a combination of any of these.

Type 1 diabetes (which I have) is an autoimmune disease, and we comprise about 5% of the diabetes community. My body attacked the insulin producing cells in my pancreas, so I must inject insulin to manage my glucose levels. Without insulin, bluntly stated, I’m dead within a few days (if not sooner).

Even with insulin, I walk a fine line every day attempting to keep my blood glucose levels in range. Too much insulin in my body and the consequences can be immediate: mild impaired cognitive function to seizures, coma, or death. But too little? The consequences can be just as devastating: long-term complications and/or the poisoning of my body through ketoacidosis.

I’ve oversimplified these two main types (there are other types of diabetes!), but here’s what shouldn’t be oversimplified: insulin is not a cure, you cannot “reverse” or “cure” diabetes (you can maintain), you don’t get diabetes from being fat, you don’t get diabetes from eating too much sugar, and if you ignore your diabetes, the complications are deadly.

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

Grieve.

It’s perfectly acceptable to fall apart and mourn the life before your diagnosis – and your caregivers should do the same. You can ask: “Why me?” and shake your fist at the sky.

There will be plenty of time to be brave and courageous and inquisitive. Get the grief out of the way first. Don’t put it off or deny it as I did, years after my diagnosis, because grief is inevitable.

But don’t get stuck in your grief. Find others who can help and support you and guide you through your next steps in the journey.

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

Diabetes can be a lonely disease. For years after my diagnosis, I didn’t know another person with type 1 diabetes and wished that I could talk to someone about the daily challenges and the fears.

The Internet opened up my world and gave me confidantes, compatriots, and support from all over the world. Without the ability to get help online and share my thoughts and experiences, I truly believe that I would not be living well with diabetes today.

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Meet Gus from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted November 24th, 2015 by

Say hi to Gus, another member of your 2015-2016 PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors. Gus is someone who’s been very competitive and focused, has always felt that there was nothing he couldn’t accomplish or overcome, and spreads positivity wherever he goes. So when he was diagnosed with familial ALS, positive SOD1 gene – unknown variant, in May 2013, it’s been difficult both mentally and physically.

But even though it takes every bit of his energy, he refuses to waver. Over his 30-year career in the automotive industry, Gus enjoyed helping people – and now he’s bringing that calling into his new role as an Advisor and how he lives with his condition. He looks forward to bringing his positive energy and thoughts to anyone and everyone.

Here he talks about his greatest obstacles and has some sage words for those newly diagnosed.

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

Being told you have an incurable disease sets you back ten steps. I thought, I had it all figured out and then this happens. I had worked so hard and was mastering my craft, teaching others through examples and walking them through the processes. I talk about my career because I was focused and determined to succeed. Not only for my family, but all those who believed in me through vision and aspirations. I enjoyed having fun, and being with those who enjoyed life. I miss the Friday night dinners and dancing until midnight. My workouts, running 4 miles every other day with my son releasing the tension and anxiety, it would clear my mind and would help me refocus my thoughts and follow-throughs. And how my family felt, their thoughts and concerns hurt the most. I believe whatever happens in the future will be even better, why do I say that because I have faith and their is no other person like me, Mr. Optimistic, bad habits are hard to break. I believe what we are doing now will create the compassion and awareness world wide. We are not alone.

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

I would say, listen and take it all in. Give yourself as much time to absorb everything. Understanding everyone is different and reacts differently. Your caregiver or partner will have as much or more input, simply because your thought process will take time. Have an open line of communication and don’t hold anything back, your concerns and how you are feeling mustn’t be held inside. Together and with family support will help you get through this. Have an open mind to trying different types of medical treatments. Your diet, is critical, and a holistic approach would benefit greatly.

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

It’s very important, simply because you can share your treatments or how you are dealing with it. Patient to patient interaction is vital and paramount, sharing your thoughts and concerns are key. Just talking to someone with the same illness you feel a sense of ease. It hard to describe but they know and understand exactly what’s happening. And for me, it’s half the battle I thought at the beginning it would be difficult but it’s not. So, I will run into the next question just a bit. PatientsLikeMe, and how wonderful this amazing site/ forum has helped me connect with those living with the same illness. Sharing our thoughts and treatments, and stories great stuff.

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

As I mention earlier, this site/forum is my medicine where I can share how I’m feeling everyday, your physical body and mind. It’s the best thing out there, no other site or forum compares to this site. Sharing your stories and what treatments have worked or not, getting real answers and asking the tough questions only to be answered by those living with this illness. A site, filled with so much information and helping you follow your own health chart. And tracking and inputting your conditions will help others on the site as well. Your words uplift others like no one else can, because they see themselves in you. I call it sharing your “wins” and then counting them each and everyday, reminding yourself of what you have accomplished. Positive in and positive out.

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Meet Allison from the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors

Posted November 20th, 2015 by

Meet Allison, one of your 2015-2016 PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors. Allison is living with bipolar II, has been a PatientsLikeMe member since 2008 and is a passionate advocate for people living with a mental health condition. Refusing to let her condition get the best of her, she partners with her family to self-assess her moods and tracks her condition on PatientsLikeMe where she’s been able to identify trends. She also gives back to others through her advocacy work on the board of directors of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Dallas, where she lives, and currently with the Dallas police, helping train officers with the Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) program. Additionally, she works with the Suicide Crisis Center of North Texas helping to implement a program called Teen Screen and has shared her story of living with mental illness to groups and organizations all over the state of Texas. She even testified to the Texas State Legislators about the importance of mental health funding.

A former teacher, Allison is going to graduate this November with a master’s degree in counseling. Sharing about her journey with bipolar II has enabled her to live a life of recovery. This has also fueled her to empower others to share their own stories.

Below, Allison talks about her journey, advocating for herself and reaching out to others.

How has your condition impacted your social or family life?

Living with bipolar/mental illness has had a huge impact on every part of my life, social, family and work. My family has had to learn (along side me) how to cope with my changing moods. My moods do not change instantly but they can change within the day, week or month. When something triggers a mood change for me, and that trigger can be unknown, my physical demeanor can change. When I show physical signs of changing, such as withdrawing and I am starting to isolate (a sign of possible depression) or when my speech picks up and I start to lose sleep (a sign of hypo-mania) my family will ask how I am feeling, without being judgmental, as a way for me to self evaluate my moods. I have lost many friendships due to my depression. When I have isolated for months at a time some of my friends have stopped coming around. Nobody calls. It seems like I have nobody in the world to turn to and that just adds to the darkness of depression. I have learned it is my responsibility to let people know what I am going through so that they can be there for me when I need them most. The hardest part of this is letting people know that I live with this thing called bipolar and I need help from time to time. It is very frightening to be vulnerable because I do not know if people will be willing to stay with me through the ebb and flows of my illness.

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

There have been a few times that I have had to advocate for myself while living with bipolar/mental illness. The one time that I will never forget and took the biggest toll on my well being was dealing with my insurance company. There is a medication I take that is VERY expensive and there was not (and still not) a generic form of this medication. There is however a medication that is in the same family/class as the one I need to take. The problem is, I DID take that other, much cheaper, medication for an extended amount of time and found myself in a mixed episode (when I was hypo-manic as well as depressed at the same time) and I was close to hospitalization. My doctor wanted me to try a medication that was fairly new on the market. To my surprise it was the medicine that worked for me. I became stable and life was good for a long time. Earlier this year (2015) my insurance company wanted to put me on the older medication, due to the price of the current drug. I explained the problems and asked that they reconsider their decision. I was devastated when then informed me that I would HAVE to go back to the old medication or pay out of pocket for the newer medication. My husband and I decided to dig deep into the wallet for a month and purchase my medication while attempting to appeal the insurance companies decision. We lost the appeal so I went back to the medication they chose for me (because I could not afford the monthly cost of the newer drug). It was no surprise when I started to feel the effects of the cheaper medication and felt like I may end up in the hospital because the depression was getting too bad for me to live with. I made another appeal and this time they told me the expensive drug was out of stock but when it became available I could have it. With relief in the air I dug into my wallet, yet again, to purchase another month of the newer drug to get me started until it became available. To my dismay they told me it was STILL on back order from their distributor. I am fortunate enough to have a friend who is a pharmacist in that part of the country, so I called and asked her. She did the research and found out it was never on back-order, but there may have been a recall for a different dose many months earlier and that should NOT have effected my request. I immediately contacted my insurance company with the facts I found out through my research and without question, I had my (expensive) 90-day prescription delivered to my door the next day with signature required. There were no questions asked. It infuriated me that I had to do that much work and put my mental health / well being in jeopardy for the sake of the dollar. Not everyone can advocate as I had to do, so when I can I will step up and help those who struggle and do not see a solution to their problem. I know how that feels because there was a period of time I did not feel there was an answer to my problem until I had to be creative and advocate.

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

Words cannot explain the importance and the role PatientLikeMe has played in my well-being while living with bipolar and mental illness. I do not even recall how I found PLM in 2008, but when I did I started my work right away. I started charting and graphing. I have to say, part of it was because it was fun to see up and down on my graphs after a few days. Then it was a challenge to get 3 stars. When I fell to 2 stars I was frantic to get my 3 stars back and then it started to really come together for me. I started to see my actual mood cycles. After a few years I started to recognize my mood cycle in March and it is a time of year my doctor and I start to become proactive ahead of time. After all of these years I cannot possibly remember when I took a medication or why I stopped taking it. Now I am getting much better at giving myself better details about each medication, which in turn helps the community, as a whole, learn more. PLM has supported me emotionally by standing by my side as I do fundraising walks in my community for mental illness and suicide prevention. PatientsLikeMe has made generous donations on my behalf, sent team shirts for us to wear and in return I have been able to spread the word about PLM and what a difference it makes to me and thousands of others. I feel honored and blessed to be on this year’s team of advisers. I want to help make a difference in the lives of others, like PLM has done for me.

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Recapping with our Team of Advisors!

Posted June 19th, 2015 by

Many of you will remember meeting our inaugural Team of Advisors from when we first shared about this exciting team last year! This group of 14 were selected from over 500 applicants in the community and have been incredible in their dedication and desire to bring the patient voice directly to PatientsLikeMe. As the team is wrapping up their year-long term as advisors, we wanted to make sure we update the community on all the hard work they’ve done on your behalf!

First Ever In-Person Patient Summit in Cambridge
Your team of patient advisors travelled from all over the country to join us for 2 days here in Cambridge. They met with PatientsLikeMe staff, got a tour of the offices and began their collaboration together as a team!

Blog Series
The advisors have also been connecting with the broader community as part of an ongoing series here on the blog! This is an impressive group and we hope you’ll read through to learn more about the team.  Some of the interviews featured so far include profiles on BeckyLisaDanaEmilieKarla, Deb, AmySteve, Charles, Letitia and Kitty. If you haven’t had the chance to read their stories and what they’re passionate about yet, feel free to check these out!

Best Practices Guide for Researchers
As part of their mission, this group discussed how to make research more patient-centric and ways that researchers can learn to better engage with patients as partners. Out of this work, the team developed and published the ‘Best Practices Guide for Researchers’, a comprehensive written guide outlining steps for how researchers can meaningfully engage patients throughout the research process. You can hear more about the whole process in this exciting video from some members of the team as they discuss their experiences with the creation of this guide:

Community Champions
The advisors have been wonderful community champions throughout the year, providing invaluable feedback about what it’s like to be a person living with chronic conditions and managing their health. This team has weighed in on new research initiatives, served as patient liaisons and been vocal representatives for you and your communities here on PatientsLikeMe. Whether it was sitting down with a research team to give their thoughts on new projects, discussing their experiences with clinical trials, giving feedback about medical record keeping or opening up about patient empowerment – this group has been tireless in representing the patient voice and PatientsLikeMe community!

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Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Kitty

Posted June 18th, 2015 by

Kitty represents the mental health community on the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors, and she’s always ready to extend a helping hand. She’s a social worker who specializes in working with children in foster care, and below, she shares how her own journey with major depressive disorder (MDD) has helped her truly connect with and understand the needs of both her patients and others.

About Kitty (aka jackdzone):
Kitty has a master’s degree in marriage, family and child therapy and has worked extensively with abused, neglected and abandoned children in foster care as a social worker. She joined PatientsLikeMe and was thrilled to find people with the same condition who truly understand what she’s going through. She lost her job as a result of her MDD, which was a difficult time for her. Kitty is very attuned to the barriers those with mental health conditions might face, and has great perspective about how to be precise with language to help people feel safe and not trigger any bad feelings. Kitty is passionate about research being conducted with the patient’s well-being at the forefront, and believes patient centeredness means talking with patients from the very beginning by conducting patient surveys and finding out what patients’ unmet needs are.

Kitty on patient centeredness:
“To me, it means that it’s all about the patient from start to finish. In the beginning, it’s talking with patients, conducting patient surveys and reading any written material that would be helpful in order to find out what patients are most wanting and needing and not getting. In healthcare, this would translate to a doctor engaging with a patient in a way that is especially helpful for the patient. This may require asking a question a certain way in order for the patient to answer truthfully and to feel that their doctor really cares about them as a person. (I was fortunate enough to have had one primary doctor like this for many years and it makes a huge difference!) It puts the focus on that particular patient at that moment and requires empathy and understanding (and not just going through the motions) in determining what is best for that patient.

In the area of research, the same is true. Research of this kind is done to improve the client’s physical and/or mental life in some way. Any research should be done with the patient’s well being at the forefront. Questions should be asked in a way that will lead the client to be very open about their experiences. The client should be fully informed regarding any research in which they participate and be asked at the end if there is anything that has not been covered that they have questions about. They should be informed of the results of the research afterwards and perhaps be allowed to give their thoughts about the findings.”

Kitty on being part of the Team of Advisors:
“A year ago, when I read that PatientsLikeMe was putting together a Team of Advisors, I didn’t hesitate to apply. I wanted to be part of something that had helped me a great deal during a part of my life when I was the most depressed and struggling. When I was eventually chosen to be on the team, I was and have continued to be very honored. I feel such a strong affiliation with PatientsLikeMe and want to be able to help others in anyway that I can. During this past year, I’ve been able to participate in helping to compose a patients’ rights handbook and be interviewed by a researcher regarding how patients view clinical trials. Being on the Team of Advisors has given me the chance to become an advocate for myself and others. It is something that means a lot to me and something that I enjoy doing–and I think it’s something I will continue to do in whatever capacity I can throughout my life.”

Kitty on helping others:
“From the very first day that I joined PatientsLikeMe several years ago, the website has meant a great deal to me. Most of the people in my life did not really understand what I was going through. At times, they thought I really could have done more, but that I was just being lazy. When you are suffering from MDD, this viewpoint from others only increases your depression. I didn’t know where to turn. What I found on PatientsLikeMe were others who were also suffering from MDD and were experiencing the same symptoms and challenges as myself. As I began posting on the site about what I was going through and how depressed I was feeling, I felt somewhat better just by being able to express myself and even more so when others with MDD began reaching out to me with advice and encouragement. I can really say that this made all the difference to me in the world.

After awhile, I made it a point to also reach out to encourage others. I noticed that some people seemed to be very depressed on a daily basis with very little hope and I felt I had to reach out to them in some way. I began responding to their posts. A lot of times I just said that I was sorry that they were feeling bad, as I didn’t know what else to say. I hoped that just this much would encourage them. I didn’t want to be overly upbeat if that wasn’t how they seemed to be feeling, because I felt this was a disservice to them. I felt that the more I could just be there for them right where they were and with how they were feeling the more I could be of help.”

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Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Letitia

Posted June 12th, 2015 by

You might recognize Letitia from her Patient Voice video and her PIPC guest blog, but did you know she’s also a member of the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors? Below, read what she had to say about living with epilepsy, her views on patient centeredness and all of her advocacy work.

About Letitia (aka Letitia81):
Letitia is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Florida and a National Certified Counselor specializing in mental health and marriage and family issues, who was diagnosed with epilepsy at a young age. Letitia consulted with doctors across different disciplines both nationally and internationally and did not find an effective treatment until she found out about epileptologists on PatientsLikeMe. Through consultations, she realized she was a good candidate for brain surgery and she underwent left temporal lobectomy August 16, 2012 and has been seizure free ever since. She successfully weaned herself off of Keppra this month under her doctor’s supervision.

Letitia is very passionate about giving back to others, and recently met a young epileptic girl and inspired her to undergo the same life changing surgery, and so far she’s met with great results. In addition to helping the young girl and her family, people contact her regularly from all over to consult about their or a loved one’s seizure condition and she’s always willing and delighted to help. Letitia is passionate about research and believes in the power of research to positively change the quality of life (mind, body and spirit), for those living with epilepsy and other chronic conditions.

Letitia on patient centeredness:
“It means that the treatment is individualized based on the patient’s (or research participant’s) unique condition/situation as well as their opinions regarding their health.”

Letitia on the Team of Advisors:
“Being a part of the team of advisors has been an invaluable experience! It has allowed me to work with other “rock star” patient advisors and PatientsLikeMe staff that are just as passionate as I am about changing health care, including research to be more patient-centered for all patients. This experience has also given me exposure that I did not imagine before to share my story, encourage, and inspire patients and caregivers. Additionally, I have been able to network with professionals from many disciplines about the value of the patients’ voice! I have heard from many patients and caregivers from different parts of the country and the world! They reached out to me with questions, for guidance, to thank me for sharing my story, and to share their stories with me. I am so humbled that they felt comfortable sharing their stories with me and looked to me as an “expert” for advice. I guess I should not be too surprised by this since I am not only a patient that can relate to their experience, but I am also a professional counselor. I have been blessed with the gift of showing empathy and compassion to others in my career. Finally, this experience, particularly working on the best practice guide for researchers fits nicely into my current professional endeavor of pursuing a Ph.D. in counselor education, with an emphasis on counseling and social change. Social change involves advocacy and creating innovative ways to improve humanity!”

Letitia on advocacy:
“I am very passionate about advocacy work! Advocacy has been a huge focal point in my role as a professional counselor. I am currently a clinical manager for a large mental health and substance abuse agency and I teach and mentor my staff about the importance of advocacy work. Advocacy is one of the many reasons I stay involved as a patient on the PatientsLikeMe website. Additionally, I have been able to partner with other organizations such as Partnership to Improve Patient Care (PIPC) and the US News & World Report to share my story with diverse audiences. Ultimately, these experiences have allowed me to help other patients and caregivers see the value of advocacy in patient-centered health care, and I am so grateful to be a part of this powerful movement!”

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Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Charles

Posted June 8th, 2015 by

We’ll be featuring three Team of Advisors introductions on the blog this month, and first up is Charles, a veteran Army Ranger who is also living with MS. Below, Charles shared about his military background, his thoughts on patient centeredness and how he’s found his second family in the Team of Advisors.

About Charles (aka CharlesD):
Charles has a diverse background. He served three years in the US Army 75th Ranger Regiment parachuting from the back of C-130 and C-141 aircraft. He built audio/video/computer systems for Bloomberg Business News. He worked as an application systems engineer in banking, as a computer engineer at the White House Executive Office of the President (EOP), and as a principal systems engineer for the US Navy Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) program. He is currently a contractor providing document imaging Subject Matter Expertise (SME) to the IRS. Charles was diagnosed with MS in July of 2013. MS runs in his family on his mother’s Irish side – he has one uncle and two male cousins with MS.

Charles on patient centeredness:
With experience in website design, Charles believes patient centeredness is a lot like user centeredness when designing a web site or a portal: “Information is organized according to the patient (or the user’s) view of the world. Questions that the patient most needs answered are listed front and center. The design is based on addressing the needs of the patients (users). Info is organized cleanly and logically with possible visual impairments, color perception problems, and cognitive issues of patients (users) always in mind. Research should focus on areas that will make the most difference to the patients. Ask them. Survey them. Get to know the ‘voice of the patient’ just like we look to capture the ‘voice of the customer’ in user-centric design.”

Charles’ military background:
“I joined the US Army in 1986. I did basic training and AIT at Fort Jackson, SC. After that I was off to 3 weeks of jump school at Fort Benning, GA. Then I went to the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP) again at Benning. I was then assigned to HHC 75th Ranger Regiment.

I spent 3 years with the 75th training for a lot of pretty cool missions. We trained a lot for airfield seizures. Basically parachute onto a foreign airport or airfield, wipe out all resistance, take the tower, and make way for our big planes to land shortly after. We had early generation night vision goggles (NVGs). I drove a Hummer full of Rangers off the back tail ramp of a pitch black C-130 that was still rolling after touchdown while wearing NVGs. They were no help at all inside the plane since they only amplify existing light. If you are pitch black you are still blind. It is a wonder that I did not kill anyone or damage the C-130 that night.

So I joined up right after Grenada and I got out right before Panama. I never saw any combat. These days I volunteer my time with, and financially support, a veterans group called gallantfew (www.gallantfew.org), started by retired Ranger Major Karl Monger.”

Charles on being part of the Team of Advisors:
“Being on the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors has been a wonderful privilege and an excellent opportunity for me. As a person with a brain disease, it is not always comfortable talking with others about my illness. When the Team of Advisors first met up together in Boston, I knew that I had found my second family. I was together in a room where every single person there was struggling with one or more diseases, many of which can be fatal. In fact, one of our team members, Brian, died after serving for only a few months. It was such a warm and welcoming environment. All of us were able to speak openly with each other and with PatientsLikeMe staff and we were heard. Each story, no matter how painful, resonated with the whole group.

All of us in the first PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors shared many of the same goals. We are an extremely diverse group, but we all bonded immediately. What we want is to help conquer the diseases that have caused problems in all of our lives. We want to improve the relationship between researchers and the patient community. We want to help health care providers to better understand the patient perspective. And we want to make the world a better place for the next generation and for all generations to come. PatientsLikeMe embraces those goals and we embrace PatientsLikeMe. Together we are taking on all diseases.”

Charles on healthcare for veterans:
“As a veteran, health care issues are very important to me. I have seen so many veterans return home with wounds to body and mind. Many are shattered and have no idea what to do with themselves next. Some turn to drugs and alcohol, others to fast motorcycles or weapons. Suicide is rampant among newly returned veterans. The VA is woefully underfunded to take on the mission of supporting wounded and traumatized veterans. In the halls of Congress, the VA is seen as a liability, an unfunded mandate. Many veterans are denied the coverage they so desperately need. Many active duty service members are forced out with other than honorable discharges for suffering from PTSD or TBI. This limits the liability of the VA to support the veteran after separation. A good friend of mine who died recently put it this way. He said to me, ‘The military operates on the beer can theory of human resources. Picture a couple of good old boys out for a good time. They go down to the local liquor store and grab a nice cold six pack of beer. They go down to the lake, they each pop the top and they each start chugging a wonderful ice-cold beer. When they get through the first beer, they crush the can and throw it away. They grab another and another until the beers are all gone.’

I didn’t understand how this related to the military. He explained, ‘The brand new ice-cold beer is like a new recruit. The military sucks everything they can out of the person until all that is left is the empty shell. Then they toss that out and go grab another one just like the last one.’

We don’t deserve a health care system that treats returning veterans as empty shells. We can do better, but the current system is clear reflection of the value system at play in Congress. Funding for weapons programs are highly protected. Funding for the people who wielded those weapons systems is not. My answer may seem a bit cynical, but that is how I see the current state of affairs.”

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Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Steve

Posted May 29th, 2015 by

A few weeks ago, Amy shared about living with a rare genetic disease in her Team of Advisors introduction post. Today, it’s Steve’s turn to share about his unique perspective as a scientist who has been diagnosed with ALS. Below, learn about Steve’s experience with ALS research, his views on patient centeredness and what being a part of the Team of Advisors means to him.

About Steve (aka rezidew):
Steve is a professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was diagnosed with ALS in the fall of 2013 and his symptoms have progressed with increased debilitating weakness in his arms and hands. He was excited to join us as an advisor to lend his expertise on research methodology to the team. He has authored or coauthored an impressive 6 books, 91 peer reviewed publications, and 26 published chapters. When we talked about giving a background on research methods to the team, Steve said ‘I can teach it.’ He is passionate about helping teach others and believes “as a scientist who has been diagnosed with ALS, I regret having this disorder but I am eager to use my unique perspective to promote and possibly conduct relevant research.”

Steve’s view of patient centeredness:
“The obvious perspective is that patients should have some voice in decisions regarding what research should be conducted, what the participants in research should be expected to do, how participants in research should be selected, and how results of research should be communicated.”

Steve on being part of the Team of Advisors:
“Being a member of the Team of Advisors has helped me understand a wide array of perspectives on patient-centered research based on my interaction with fellow patients who have various health problems and who have various levels of knowledge about research. I am impressed with the consensual consolidation that has emerged from the Team’s dialogue about research.”

Steve’s experience with bibrachial ALS and research on ALS:
“A diagnosis of ALS can be associated with several different configurations of symptoms. Some PALS (Patients with ALS) begin with problems in their feet and legs, some begin with difficulty talking and/or swallowing, and some, like me, begin with weakness in their hands and arms. Also, some PALS start relatively young and have other PALS in their family. And, some PALS have dementia. We all lose our ability to breathe eventually and our array of symptoms broadens, but our initial experience can be very different. I am surprised and disappointed that the medical community has not done more to identify our subtypes and to track our progression within our subtype.

Developing a PALS taxonomy would help doctors provide support to PALS that is most relevant to our needs. It would also help us share our experience with fellow patients and learn from each other. An ALS taxonomy would also be extremely relevant for research on treatments. Ongoing research on ALS using rodents with SOD1 mutations may yield an effective treatment someday, but for now PALS would feel more supportive of this research if it used models that reflect the different taxonomies of ALS. We would feel even more supportive if more research allowed us to participate in studies that focus directly on medicines that could help our ongoing progressive terminal illness.”

More about the 2014 Team of Advisors
They’re a group of 14 PatientsLikeMe members who will give feedback on research initiatives and create new standards that will help all researchers understand how to better engage with patients like them. They’ve already met one another in person, and over the next 12 months, will give feedback to our own PatientsLikeMe Research Team. They’ll also be working together to develop and publish a guide that outlines standards for how researchers can meaningfully engage with patients throughout the entire research process.

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

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Getting to know our Team of Advisors – Amy

Posted May 13th, 2015 by

We’re been introducing the PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors on the blog over the past 6 months, and today, we’re happy to announce Amy, a member living with a rare genetic disease called Fabry. Below, she shares about the importance of being aware of patients as individuals, and how she’s learned to live (and thrive!) with Fabry.

About Amy (aka meridiansb):
Amy is currently on the Patient Advisory Board for Amicus Therapeutics where she serves as a patient voice for researchers as they work to develop a new drug for Fabry Disease. Amy is a great champion to have in your corner, with a self-reported ‘wicked sense of humor’, and passion for connecting others to the right resources and information. She has experience advocating for others as a medical social worker, and believes in the importance of getting to know a patient population, writing materials that they can relate to, and understanding how managing their condition fits into their life as a whole. Her tip for researchers and healthcare professionals: “Remember, not everyone fits into neat categories. Those that fall outside of what’s typical can be an invaluable resource when researching a particular condition.”

Amy on patient centeredness:
“Patient-centeredness means that above all else, you have an awareness of the patient as a unique human being, because diseases don’t exist on their own, they happen to people. It means not always doing what is easiest for the doctor or researcher, but what is appropriate for the individual. It means being open-minded and adaptable, not everyone fits in a neat little box. It means not treating people like they are stupid just because they don’t have a medical degree. People know their own bodies, and live with their condition day in and day out and if doctors and researchers don’t listen they can miss crucial information that can help many. These days people have access to a lot of information, and they want to be treated like partners in their care not problems to be solved seen only through the filter of illness, and certainly not like a nuisance because they have an opinion about things.”

Amy on the Team of Advisors:
“Being a member of the Team of Advisors at PLM has been an incredible experience. Having had to quit school and work due to illness, I felt at times that everything I had achieved was for nothing and that I had nothing to offer to this world, which was beyond discouraging. Being a part of the Team of Advisors has given me a meaningful way to use my knowledge and experience to help shape the way physicians and researchers interact with patients. The first time I sat in a room with the team and the wonderful people at PLM I felt a sense of hopefulness that it was all happening for a reason. It taught me that even when your path is diverted by something out of your control, you can find a new path; there is good to be found in every circumstance even when you can’t see it right away. I feel lucky to have served on the Team of Advisors with such a diverse and passionate group of people.”

Amy on having a rare disease:
“Having any illness can be confusing and overwhelming, but when 95% of the doctors you see haven’t even heard of your disease, it can be exasperating and daunting. Having a rare genetic disease, Fabry, has presented me with an even greater need to advocate for myself and others with my same condition. I’m lucky enough to have a background working in hospitals as a medical social worker, so I am no stranger to advocacy and I have no problem speaking up; but this isn’t the case for everyone. Upon my mom’s diagnosis, and then my own, I quickly jumped onto message boards and support groups for Fabry, only to find there are many more questions than answers. I am lucky to have access to a geneticist that is familiar with Fabry, but most people don’t. Because our disease is so rare, many people are hundreds of miles from anyone else with Fabry. In person support groups aren’t really an option, so the internet and learning from each other on social media is crucial. I spend a lot of my time gathering questions from other people with Fabry and working them into my appointments, then reporting back to the message boards. Others do the same, and together we find our way to new tools to manage our lives with Fabry, new things to ask our doctor’s about, and new resources to call upon in trying to figure out this disease. In addition, I try to support others in being assertive with their doctors. I think we have been deeply conditioned in our society to respect authority and education, which is not inherently bad, but it can create an obstacle to honest communication with our health care professionals. It can be really intimidating! You try telling a person with 8-12 years of medical education and years of practice experience that you would like to teach them about a medical condition they don’t already know about! Some egos are better equipped than others to handle the learning curve required in having me as a patient. I ask a lot of questions and I expect good information in return. I always come from a respectful place, as I don’t expect every physician to know about Fabry, but I expect them to be open to learning about it. Some are more than willing and some aren’t and I’ve had to “break up” with my fair share of doctors who weren’t willing. But really, if they don’t care to continue growing as a provider, then I don’t really want them as my doctor anyway. So really, you have nothing to lose by setting high standards for your providers. But you have a lot to lose by remaining in the care of a doctor that wants to treat you like everyone else. You are not just like everyone else! You can miss out on valuable information that can seriously affect your care. So speak up, be respectful, but be assertive. And if you don’t feel that your needs are being met, cut your losses and find someone that does. You are the only one that can make those decisions for yourself! And if you need some moral support, just message me!”

More about the 2014 Team of Advisors
They’re a group of 14 PatientsLikeMe members who will give feedback on research initiatives and create new standards that will help all researchers understand how to better engage with patients like them. They’ve already met one another in person, and over the next 12 months, will give feedback to our own PatientsLikeMe Research Team. They’ll also be working together to develop and publish a guide that outlines standards for how researchers can meaningfully engage with patients throughout the entire research process.

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

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