I never dreamed of being a patient advocate, but then again, I never dreamed of receiving a cancer diagnosis, either. When I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in January 2017, I didn’t have any symptoms. I was told I had the “good” cancer or “the cancer to get if you had to be diagnosed with one” by my doctors. I took this information to heart, and accepted that cancer was now a part of my life, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.
It wasn’t until I ended my treatment, when I declared myself a survivor, that I realized I was completely wrong. I recognized there were choices I could have made regarding my treatment plan and there were still opportunities to take charge in how I was treated as a patient. Enter patient advocacy in the cancer world.
Everyone has a story, no patient or cancer is the same. We each have our own unique experience of how we move through the healthcare system beginning the day we’re diagnosed with the “C” word. I knew my story was unique because I was an AYA patient, or an adolescent and young adult, I was working full-time, and I was in graduate school. I dreamt of being published on places other than social media. I wanted an outlet where I was free to share my side of the story without having to hold back. A place where I could share not only the ups and downs of my journey, but my own insights of what it was like to be a young cancer patient. A place where I could advocate for other thyroid cancer patients – let them know what to expect, the questions they should ask of their care team, and how to best take care of themselves. Enter the Patient Empowerment Network.
Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) is an advocacy organization for cancer patients whose “mission is to fortify cancer patients and care partners with the knowledge and tools to boost their confidence, put them in control of their healthcare journey, and assist them with receiving the best, most personalized care available.” I discovered them through one of their tweet chats on Twitter using the hashtag #patientchat. I immediately reached out to see how I could get involved. Leadership discussed their strategic vision of having “empowerment leads” for different cancers that would create and curate content to educate other cancer patients and help them feel empowered. I was honored when I was told that I would pilot this program as the Thyroid Cancer Empowerment Lead, and my content would be read and shared by others.
The PEN Empowerment Lead program officially launched in March 2020 with the goal “to support health communities around important topics and provide navigation for the path to empowerment. Through various mediums, social media platforms and content formats, Empowerment Leads develop specific messages, seek out resources and contribute to amplifying the needs of specific health communities via guidance of an established editorial calendar.” For example, I’ve had the opportunity to write a variety of blog posts and participate in tweet chats on a number of different topics, including resilience, health literacy, telehealth, and what it’s like to be an adolescent and young adult (AYA) with cancer. It has been my greatest privilege to connect with other patients through this content, inspiring them to be their own advocate.
To find PEN’s current team of Empowerment Leads, visit https://powerfulpatients.org/about/#empowermentleads. Clicking on each person’s picture will bring you to their bio as well as content they have created, including recipe guides, interviews, comedy sketches, infographics, and more. Note also that each empowerment lead has a personal PEN email that you can use to contact them. PEN’s Empowerment Leads thrive on encouraging patients and their caregivers to feel more confident in voicing concerns and communicating with their healthcare team, and ultimately empower them to become advocates for themselves and their loved ones.
Joining PEN’s network of cancer empowerment leads has truly been inspiring. Although we’re all across the world, conversing with them via email and Zoom chats and hearing their stories and thoughts of how to resonate with more patients is what feeds my soul. PEN is constantly growing, with their goal of representing all cancers. For more information on how you can get involved, please contact Nykema, PEN’s Empowerment Lead Coordinator, at email@example.com.
As a caregiver and Care Partner Empowerment Lead with PEN, I constantly search for practical information to use and pass along to those I support. I offer support by listening and providing solutions to empower caregivers to improve their resilience. – Sherea
Carly Flumer is a young woman who was diagnosed with stage I papillary thyroid cancer at the age of 27. She recently received her Master’s degree from Boston University in Health Communication and received her Bachelor’s from George Mason University in Health Administration and Policy. While being diagnosed with the “C” word at such a young age was a surprise, as it would be to anyone, she found strength, support, and inspiration in sharing her cancer journey on social media. As a result of her health outcome, she looks to advocate for other cancer patients through education, research, and health literacy.