Health Educator Turned MPN Patient Speaks to Importance of Specialized Care

Health Educator Turned MPN Patient Speaks to Importance of Specialized Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patient and health educator Julia Olff helped others navigate the healthcare system before her diagnosis with myelofibrosis and later with ET. Watch as she shares her unique experience and how finding MPN specialists can help patients in receiving optimal care.  

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Transcript:

Julia Olff:

Well, as a health educator and as a former hospital administrator when I was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, I feel like I had a particular reaction to the diagnosis that might be different from others who didn’t work in healthcare. I was both fascinated, which may sound really bizarre, that I was being diagnosed with an illness that I did not feel. Also, an illness I had not heard of, although I knew about some of the treatments that might be proposed because of my work as a health educator. So, I feel like I kind of went into health educator mode and health navigator mode, and that gave me a leg up in terms of knowing very early on, that once my ET transformed to myelofibrosis, I knew that I needed to see an MPN expert. And because I worked on health education because I worked in hospitals, I understood that I want, I needed to see a physician who had a depth of expertise, who had a volume of patients, who had a lot of experience with the drugs that existed. Although, in 2008, there was no approved, drug for myelofibrosis, but I knew I needed to go to the place where there was…

Where I had a better chance of getting the latest treatment, and I was diagnosed by a community oncologist who was lovely and one of the nicest people, and one of the nicest physicians I’ve seen, but it was clear he was not steeped in MPNs, because he treated patients across a spectrum of cancers. So, in that way, I think I started out in a different place, I also know that hospitals and healthcare can be very overwhelming, and I had a bit of the language and the world and some of the sort of…I understood a little bit more, I think about what my physicians might have been sharing with me, and if I didn’t, I felt empowered and not that this is easy by any stretch and it continues to be a challenge, but I knew that I needed to ask questions. I knew that I needed to read more about my illness, I knew I needed to vet my doctor as well, and I also figured out over time that as I was going to have this illness, hopefully in the sense that I hope I continue to live well with myelofibrosis and stay alive, that I was going to be seeing an MPN expert for a long time.

So, I think that influenced my point of view, I kind of take it as a job, so as to my personality, so I have a health notebook, I need to have one from the very beginning, I knew I couldn’t remember everything, I had to write it down. I knew I had to track what I was feeling so I could share it with my doctor, and I knew that from being a health educator, I think no one told me to do those things, and certainly, physicians don’t really know to tell you that, so I think in a lot of ways, I was approaching my illness in a very serious manner because I had experience in healthcare, and the last comment I’ll make is, I think from navigating the system, navigating health insurance, I knew a little bit from my experience as a caregiver already, and also from a health educator, I understood this is another area where I needed to empower myself or ask questions, or not take some of the information that may have been shared with me initially as on face value, that it was okay to ask more. As I said, I’ve had this illness for 13 years, I’ve also been caregiving for an adult child with illness, and every time I call the insurance company to ask a question about an explanation of benefits or why something isn’t covered, and learn a tiny bit more, and I add that to sort of my toolkit. 

MPN Patient Shares Importance of Understanding Benefits of Professional Therapy

MPN Patient Shares Importance of Understanding Benefits of Professional Therapy from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myelofibrosis patient Julia Olff shares her experience with seeing a professional therapist via telemedicine as part of her MPN care.

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Julia Olff:

When I was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, I learned how important it was to continue therapy, so I had already started to see a therapist several years before that for a set of long-term issues in my life. But what I found over time, and I continue to find is the therapy has really helped me cope with not just some of the parts of my personal life that I’m still working through, but really helps me having a chronic illness, and I know from attending patient conferences, reading about myelofibrosis that there is…for one, a significant population of folks who suffer from anxiety with myelofibrosis. And that’s true for other blood cancers and chronic cancers, where there’s this, that there are ups and downs where you’re going through a period of stressful treatments, possibly followed by periods of monitoring or less treatment, and there’s always that fear of or worry about what may happen next, when might I develop a more serious mutation that will affect my prognosis, could I progress any time? Or there’s a smaller percentage of folks with myelofibrosis who can develop acute myelogenous leukemia, that’s always there. And I think therapy really helps for those sorts of outlook, long-term mindfulness, living in the present and gaining perspective about some of those fears. And I think the other part of therapy that’s so beneficial as it relates to having myelofibrosis is kind of learning to cope on a day-to-day basis, learning to think about yourself and your self-esteem that can get lost when you are feeling unwell for long periods of time. I’ve had months where I was deeply fatigued in terrible pain and doing a lot less and having to say no to my kids, I can’t do that, I can’t go here.

I remember going to back-to-school nights for my kids when they’re in high school, and I’m moving so slowly that I’m getting a teacher asking me, “Are you okay, do you need help?” And that can affect your sense of self, especially as you give up activities or work. I’ve reduced my workload significantly, and all to say is there is this dynamic of who you are as a person, that therapy I’ve found can help me get through so that I don’t lose who I am that helps really sustain my mental outlook.

What MPN Side Effects Can Be Monitored With Telemedicine?

What MPN Side Effects Can Be Monitored With Telemedicine? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients, what are some side effects that can be monitored via telemedicine? ExpertDr. Jamile Shammofrom Rush University Medical Center shares the types of symptom monitoring that can be carried out virtually – and shares a specific piece of MPN monitoring that she recommends be performed regularly in-person for ideal care. 

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Dr. Jamile Shammo: 

MPN patients can be monitored remotely because clearly, a big part of their monitoring relates to symptom assessment, and so there are certain symptom assessment forms that we would do in the clinic just as well as we will do online or via virtual visits. So these can be done, again, when two people are speaking to one another, so granted these have to be performed, and then like I said, talking about the labs would also be done in a virtual fashion, the only piece that is missing, like I said, would be the physical exam, for that reason, I feel like that part has to be assessed at certain intervals that would have to be determined by the treating physician, but symptom assessments is a very big case of taking care of patients who have MPN. That certainly can be done virtually.

An MPN Expert’s Top Three Tips for a Telemedicine Visit

An MPN Expert’s Top Three Tips for a Telemedicine Visit from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

As a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patient, what steps can be taken to prepare for telemedicine visits? ExpertDr. Jamile Shammofrom Rush University Medical Center provides her key tips to help ensure an optimal telehealth visit. 

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Dr. Jamile Shammo: 

When preparing for a televisit, I think it’s so important to know whether or not you would have a connectivity issue. A lot of times I’m trying to connect with the patient and then we realize that their phone isn’t equipped to handle the televisit and that is kind of disappointing to find that out a minute before you try to connect then that visit becomes a telephone encounter, which is again, less satisfying for some patients. I mean it does the job, but again, it doesn’t provide me with the exam…part of the exam that I’d like to do, at least in that way. So, I think prepare yourself and make sure that your device is able to connect and actually most clinics will have a person that may be able to help you navigate through the televisit pieces that would help you get through and connect with the provider, and then obviously with an MPN or any other visit, patient with a heme malignancy, it would be helpful to make sure that you have a blood draw or if your physician would like to have a blood draw in my case, I always like to have a CBC beforehand or perhaps a chemistry or maybe ion studies or what have you, to have that so that there will be something to discuss and make sure that your physician has had those results before you have the visit. 

Sometimes it is also disappointing that the patient thinks I’ve received those results when I actually haven’t and I have no control over that, so that would be the other piece. All of us do our best so that we can make sure that all those pieces are in place so that we can conduct the visit. And I know it’s a lot of work on everybody’s part. But in the end, what matters is that we are providing the best care possible in those very challenging times. 

What Opportunities and Challenges Does Telemedicine Present for MPN Patients?

What Opportunities and Challenges Does Telemedicine Present for MPN Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients, what does telemedicine offer in terms of opportunities and challenges? Expert Dr. Jamile Shammo from Rush University Medical Center shares situations when telemedicine versus in-person visits can help provide optimal MPN patient care.

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Dr. Jamile Shammo: 

I think the medicine has provided a tremendous opportunity for us to take care of patients in general, MPN patients in particular during the pandemic. We obviously wanted to minimize the exposure of patients to COVID during the pandemic, but patients who have MPN as well as other hematological malignancies needed to have CBCs frequently to make sure that the treatments that they were on were safe, that they were doing what they were supposed to do in terms of controlling their counts. So, then there was no escaping that. And they also needed to get ahold of their doctor, so being able to do both, perhaps away from the hospital in some type of clinic and being able to connect with the physician online to discuss the results of the CBC that they had obtained in perhaps a less populated lab was tremendous. And granted, this had made it feasible to care for patients during the pandemic. But now that we are sort of emerging from the pandemic, people are realizing that perhaps those technologies are there to stay, and perhaps there’s a subset of patients that may still be able to benefit and take advantage from those resources, so we are learning as we go who may be able to continue to do this. 

I have to say though, that that may not be for every patient, and I still feel like there’s a particular type of MPN patient that will benefit from seeing the physician and having a full exam once every so often. And we can talk about the particular application that that may be, but granted telemedicine has certainly provided a tremendous advantage during COVID.  

So, when I think of the patient that might benefit most from seeing the physician via televisit, for example, it would be someone who perhaps has a stable disease. Someone who I may want to monitor perhaps every three to six months, someone who may have stable counts, and we’re just talking to about their symptoms and monitoring those types of things every so often. And perhaps I look at the labs and you can discuss their symptoms and whether or not they have splenomegaly and issues like that. Someone who may already be on a stable dose of medication and we don’t have to do any dose adjustments and even if we have to do those adjustments, perhaps we could do labs a little more frequently, so that would be all right too, but someone in whom I would like to initiate in treatment, someone in whom the disease may be progressing a little too quickly, someone who I may want to do an exam and assess their spleen, I suppose you could send them to an ultrasound facility and obtain an MRI or a CT, or an ultrasound of the imaging study that is. But there’s nothing like an actual exam of the patient. You are thinking about the disease progression, so those sorts of patients in which the disease is actually changing its pace, you may want to take a look at it, the full smear look and examine the skin for certain TKI and signs and symptoms of low platelets and that sort of thing. Look in the mouth for ulcers and things of that nature. Those are the patients that I feel like would benefit the most from seeing their physician of course, the patient who has questions and that that could be probably beyond what a televisit could do. I think those would be the types of situations where you would like to have a physical presence and discuss things that would be of extreme importance to the patient’s physical health, psychological health, and of course, labs that you may want to obtain beyond the regular CBC that a standard lab could obtain outside of your institution. There are specialized labs that not every leg outside of your own tertiary care center may be able to provide, and that is something that we need to all the time. Let’s say a patient may require a bone biopsy, well then you have to have them physically be in your place, and then you might as well, then see them, examine them and do all of the labs, and that’s the other thing that we would like to do is perhaps to bundle all of the tests that you would be minimizing the exposure of patients to frequent visits so that you would be again, lessening the exposure, potentially infections.

What Impact Does Telemedicine Have on Clinical Trials for MPN Patients?

What Impact Does Telemedicine Have on Clinical Trials for MPN Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients, what impact does telemedicine have on clinical trial access? ExpertDr. Jamile Shammofrom Rush University Medical Center explains the current environment for clinical trial access and her perspective on how trial access should be approached in the future for improved MPN care. 

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Transcript:

Dr. Jamile Shammo: 

So, there’s no doubt that COVID has certainly impacted our ability to enroll patients on clinical trials. There have been a lot of governing bodies that have created various rules and regulations around that to facilitate enrolling patients on clinical trials, and I think right now we are seeing that this has become feasible, such that we are able to enroll patients yet again on the clinical trial. So, now I think that we have the vaccine that is available, it has become a little bit more feasible and possible to do so. So, this should not stop us. I think we should continue to seek better treatments for MPN patients actually the only way to do so is by you know, only patients on trials, because we certainly don’t have a perfect way to provide care at the moment, we always need to come up with better ways and that would be one way to do so. 

The MPN community truly should partner with their physician and learn as much as possible about their disease and about available treatment options, and perhaps show some support for available clinical trials because this is the only way that we can perhaps understand how we can do a better job in treating patients who have MPNs.