MPN Whole Patient Support Archives

MPN can unleash a whirlwind of unexpected emotions and experiences for patients and care partners. You are more than just a patient; more than just a treatment plan.

Whether your concerns are physical, emotional, nutritional, or spiritual, we can help.

More resources for Myeloproliferative Neoplasms (MPN) Whole Patient Support from Patient Empowerment Network.

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did You Avoid Obstacles to Receiving the Best Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Care

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did You Avoid Obstacles to Receiving the Best Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 In 1991, there were few myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) experts. Many MF, ET, and PV patients were misdiagnosed and often received dismissive care. MPN patient Nona Baker shares how her diagnosis with two MPNs – essential thrombocythemia (ET) and polycythemia vera (PV) changed her life.

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

See More from Best MPN Care No Matter Where You Live

Related Resources:

How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Hello and welcome. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, I’m a physician, a health advocate, the CEO of your GPS Doc, and the host for today’s Patient Empowerment Network program. I’d like to start by thanking our partners, MPN Alliance Australia and MPN Voice for their support. Today we’ll be doing an MPN patient question and answer session, talking directly to a patient living with an MPN for over 30 years. The goal is to help learn how to avoid obstacles to the best MPN care. Following this program, you will receive a survey and we’d be delighted to get your feedback, this helps inform future programs that we produce, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical care, so please be sure to connect with your healthcare team on what the best options may be for your medical care. I am proud and honored to introduce Nona Baker. Nona was diagnosed in 1991 with essential thrombocythemia, also known as ET, and then in 2004 with polycythemia vera also known as PV. Nona is a staunch patient advocate and the co-chair of MPN Voice where she counsels MPN patients around the world on how to connect to the best care. We are so happy that you have tuned in to learn about Nona’s journey and tips that she has for you and your family as you face an MPN diagnosis as well as how to navigate your care and gain clarity on your path to empowerment. Thanks for joining us, Nona.

Nona Baker:

Thank you and thank you to Patient Empowerment Network for giving me this opportunity to share my experience and hope for other patients as they navigate their way through the MPN diagnosis and treatments.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wonderful, so Nona in 1991, when you were first diagnosed, there were very few experts in MPN. Many MF, ET, and PV patients were misdiagnosed, and they often received dismissive care, because there were just so many unknowns at the time, and sadly, this was part of your journey and we’re going to learn a little bit more about that shortly. We received a number of questions about how you navigate treatment early in the course of your diagnosis, your initial diagnosis was actually more of an assumption, and I’d love for you to briefly speak more about that.

Nona Baker:

Thank you. It was a fairly scary time, I have to admit because so little was known about MPNs or MPDs in those days, myeloproliferative disorders, blood disorders, and my journey was very much a checkered journey, starting with being sent to an orthopedic surgeon, who I then had to go into physiotherapy for painful feet and insoles in my shoes. I was sent to a rheumatologist who took one look at my blood work and that’s when he said, I think you’ve got an alcohol problem. My husband actually was sitting beside me and he said to him, he said, I think you’ve got that wrong, she doesn’t really drink. And the doctor then turned around, they said, Well, maybe the machines have got it wrong, so that was quite a scary thing, it was…I knew there was something wrong, but I’d been what we call here around the hoses, and it wasn’t until I…the rheumatologist asked for a new set of blood work that he called me two days later that I’ve made an appointment for you to see a hematologist and his call was on a Saturday morning on Monday, two days later, and then I can tell you I was really scared.

Nona Baker:

Really, really scared. The other thing it did is I kind of didn’t trust what I was being told, the one thing I was told was there were only 12,000 known patients in the country, I’m not sure that gave me a great deal of confidence, but yeah, it wasn’t an easy start it was very scary.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow, I appreciate you sharing that, and I’m sure that many people with MPNs and other rare diagnoses can relate to that journey. Well, let’s take a look at your brief vignette that sheds a little more light on your unconventional path to care…let’s watch.

Wow, well, the good news is Nona, we have come a long way, but of course, we still have a ways to go. Would you agree with that?

Nona Baker:

I couldn’t agree with that more. I hear so many patients through my work with caring forums that we do from London, that go out around the world who go and don’t get the right information and get quite scared still by what’s going on, and I think things like we’re doing now today help empower people to know that they can actually claim ownership of their MPN and ask for and have a right… Well, certainly in this country to ask for a second opinion and get to the right care to meet their needs.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Absolutely, and you are speaking my language as a health advocate, I am always talking with people about the importance of using their voice, standing up for themselves and seeking information, and asking questions, so I love that you have opened our program with that. So with that, let’s go ahead and get our questions, the first question comes from Susan, and Susan asks, “After the initial shock of your diagnosis, were you worried about limited treatment options and specialists, and then what was your next step?”

Nona Baker:

Was I worried? Well, I was just generally anxious because it’s this thing of not being in control of one’s body and having to surrender that control to another person, so that’s the scary bit for me, and then I did something a little bit stupid in hindsight because it was the early days of the internet, man, I did Dr. Google, not a good plan, because particularly in the very early days, there was some really, really sort of dreadful prognosis is almost sort of go from right, you will…which, of course, here I am, 30 years on. And so, I think that I would be very cautious even now in using Dr. Google, I would go to safe sites where they are medically monitored because I think a little knowledge can be very dangerous.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is so true. And I just want to highlight that because in medicine, we often kind of jokingly talk about Dr. Google, but it really is a phenomenon, and while there’s this balance of patients with rare diseases being able to find information and empower themselves, but then as you mentioned, known a lot of the information on the internet has not been vetted, some of it is not scientifically accurate, and it can literally have you pulling your hair out as you read these accounts and start to really create more worry as opposed to creating action stuff. So, I appreciate you sharing that.

Our next question is from Alice and Alice says, “I’ve noticed among women, minority groups and underserved communities, that there’s often a dismissive tone or atmosphere when you speak up and share your concerns,” and she wants to know, “Nona, do you feel that being a woman played a role in your initial diagnosis?” And she also like to understand how to communicate concerns with the care team when you feel that you’re being dismissed.

Nona Baker:

That’s an interesting question, I have to be honest and say I didn’t experience that, but I’m well aware of that. And it goes on, and it’s really disempowering to feel that, so I have huge empathy to hear that. I think if I had experienced it, which I obviously didn’t experience it, my key tip here would be when going for an appointment with a clinician, take a notebook and a pen and write down what you want to ask them, and write down their answers, and preferably if you can take somebody with you, because then you have that opportunity afterwards to digest what you’ve been told, and that in itself is empowering because you can then make further choices.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I love that, Nona. Also, advice that I always give to clients, and you’re right, having someone with you and writing things down is so important, especially in these situations where you’re getting a diagnosis, there’s a lot of uncertainty. We know that a lot of the information that’s shared in medical appointments goes in one ear and out of the other, particularly if we’re anxious or concerned or worried, so having that second person in the room is so incredibly important. I appreciate that advice. All right, our next question comes from Charles. He says, some patients living with two MPNs have said that they’re living with two cancers,” and he goes on to say that he’s been confused as to whether MPNs are cancers or blood disorders. Do you feel comfortable speaking to that and setting the record straight based on how you counsel other advocates in this space, he also mentions that his wife is living with ET and PV as well, and that sometimes the language can be very confusing.

Nona Baker:

I absolutely agree. And interestingly, we did a virtual forum for…at the weekend and one of the research projects, there has been only impacting on families, and it’s very interesting that the language can be very…again, disempowering the word cancer, I think the conventional word cancer is almost…it’s a deaf nail, but actually, when I challenged on the medication, I had the word cancer was used, I went to my primary GP physician, and I asked him,” nobody’s told me I’ve got cancer. What’s this?” Because at the time, it was a blood disorder and it said cancer, and he said,” Do you know what cancer means, Nona?” He said, “It means a proliferation of cells, but these are confined to the bone marrow.” But what happened for us as patients, as we started off, or certainly I did with a blood disorder, and then the World Health Organization, because of this perforation of cells re-classified that as a neoplasm, a neoplasm is just another word for cancer. So, it hasn’t changed since I was diagnosed, but the words have changed. And the scariest is in the word neoplasm suddenly here in the UK, it’s been an advantage, because we have access to much better drugs than we would have had if we’ve just been a disorder. I can’t speak for other health authorities or other countries, because each country is different, but I think it’s just simplifying it.  Simplifying the language. That’s empowering in itself.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I agree, and language is everything, and I think the key is what you said, that while there is a proliferation and while some may use the word cancer that it is confined, and I think that that provides a lot of clarity. Alright, we also have a question from Julie. Julie says, “I was given the run-around early on in my journey and wasted valuable time,” and she wants to know, what are some questions or actions to take at the outset when ruling out MPNs?”

Nona Baker:

That’s a difficult question because I think everybody is different and every health service is different. I think if you’re in an area where the clinicians don’t necessarily know too much about MPNs, that can be problematic. We’re a small country here and we have access to some really good hospitals that specialize in MPNs. I think, again, it’s going back with your piece of paper saying, can we rule out that I’ve got an MPN and I’ve read about MPNs, I have the symptoms, whether it’s fatigue or whether it’s itch for PV or whatever the symptoms are, and I’ve seen that that can be a symptom of an MPN. And again, take a piece of paper, and say can we rule that out? You know, I think that’s empowering.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I agree. Nona and I think when counseling patients who have had misdiagnosis or long road to accurate diagnoses, what you just said is key, and a lot of times it’s a matter of opening up the minds of your physicians and your healthcare team, and like you said, if they’re not familiar with MPNs, then they may go down a path of giving you a different diagnosis, but if you’ve done a little research or if you have some concerns, just saying, could it be this…I know that you think I have this condition, but based on what I’ve read, based on what I’ve learned, could it be an MPN? And a lot of times just that suggestion is enough to kind of shift the conversation, so I think that’s wonderful advice. Alright, our next question comes from Edna. And Edna says that in your in yet you stated that you were diagnosed at 41 and that you are a busy mom and that you were working, and she wants to know, “How did you share this diagnosis with your children and how did it impact your work in your career?”

Nona Baker:

It’s a very interesting question, and I think my children, because I had sort of my mom’s painful feet and I have packets of mushy peas that used to be put on my feet because they were painful because of the obviously thick blood, and my younger son has done a lot of fundraising for MPN Voice, and he talked about how as an 8-year-old, he’d grown up with me having these symptoms that I haven’t done much about, and I know I’ve always taken the view for me, and this is only for me, that I don’t let my MPN define who I am. You know, I think it’s part of my life. It isn’t my life, because my fear would be after that initial anxiety and fear that if I allowed it to take over my life, it would actually really impact my younger…my young children…in terms of my work, I only work part-time. You know, the other thing is, yes, I got a lot of fatigue, but I think what I’ve learned over the years is to put your hands up and say, you know, I’ve hit a wall whereas I just take five minutes.

Nona Baker:

Just take that time. Whereas sometimes it’s difficult when you’re a mom with young children, and I think now, people tend to explain it a bit to their young children, when mom’s tired, it’s not because it’s anything you’ve done it, because I remember patients describing it to have children is…it’s like a car, when the oil in the car gets too thick, the car slows down and sometimes the car needs to stop, and she equated her blood as the oil in the car that sometimes it just slows down and then has to stop gets a bit of refueling, I thought that was a good definition for young children.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I love that, I love that, and I’m a pediatrician by training, so I love putting things in clear terms for kids, and I think that’s really important to just make it simple for them. I also really like what you said, Nona about the self-care part, I think that can be really difficult sometimes for even women who may not have chronic diseases, but certainly for women and moms who have chronic diseases and feeling that, feeling guilty when they take time for themselves, even if it’s in the context of their illness, and so needing to rest and explaining that and normalizing that mom needs to take a nap, I think is incredible, and I love that your son is involved in the advocacy work that you do for MPN. All right, we have a question from James. James says, “Are there specific lifestyle changes that you may, following your diagnosis that brought relief to any symptoms that you were having?”

Nona Baker:

Well, the first change I had to make was I used to smoke, and then my hematologist said to me that affects the red cell count, and that was the incentive to absolutely give up smoking there, and then that was my first lifestyle change, and I haven’t regretted it for a single day. Other lifestyle changes, not really, other than just becoming aware that you know to fight fatigue doesn’t help, sometimes you have to surrender to it, but definitely give up smoking and I… you know, I think that…well, nowadays people don’t smoke, but we’re talking 30 years ago, so…yeah, 30 years is pretty well since I’ve had a cigarette…

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Well, kudos to you for giving up smoking that…that is a challenge. So that’s wonderful. All right, we have a question from Janet. Janet says, I have noticed that many MPN patients develop a second MPN over time, and she wants to know. She wants to know, “Were you surprised about your PV diagnosis over a decade after your first diagnosis, or is this something that you were perhaps prepared for by your medical team?”

Nona Baker:

Well, my second diagnosis came by chance because I had a problem with fibroids, which necessitated having a hysterectomy, which so, the natural venesection was taken away, and then it evolved to a… I don’t know whether that’s the reason, but then I was diagnosed with PV, which means that I have PV with high platelets now is I think the way in my hematologist describes it, but it’s certainly under control with the medication and with venesection from time to time. So, was I surprised? I don’t think after my journey, I don’t think anything surprised me really, I sort of…I think, again, I took ownership of it and just got on with it, really.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Excellent, thank you, Nona. As we prepare to close, is there one tip or one piece of advice that you would like to give to individuals with MPN?

Nona Baker:

Don’t be afraid to ask a question, because I think living with a fear of something is really not good for one’s general health because fear and anxiety can, I think, impact a physical illness if you’re living with a lot of fear in a lot of anxiety, and I know this is easy for me to say because I’ve had a relatively easy journey, and I’ve met patients who’ve had a really, really tough time and I know through Pan-voice, people that were diagnosed either shortly after me or some before who had a bone marrow transplant, you know, their life is obviously better, but my goodness…what they went through to get where they are now. But I think the whole thing that we’ve been talking about really is just find that voice, and even if it’s not with the clinician, share it with a friend, you don’t sit on fear, share it with a friend, have a body, have an ally, and one of the things we do at MPN Voice, which actually I think has helped enormously, is we have a buddy program there where you would be…you will be matched with somebody who has been diagnosed for at least two years that can buddy you along emotionally, because I don’t underestimate the emotional impact that that affects a lot of us.

Nona Baker:

And I think we need to have that voice to say, yes, it is a bit of a shock, but I’m not going to let it define me and wreck my life. If you can do that, I think life will be easier.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is awesome. Don’t sit on fear. I’m going to carry that with me. Nona, I appreciate that. Well, that’s all the time that we have for questions. Nona, I want to thank you for taking this time to share your story with me and for everyone watching, and just to recap, we’ve learned that avoiding obstacles to the best MPN care means remembering that everyone’s journey is going to be different. We learned the importance of not allowing your disease to consume your life, and we’ve also learned the importance of using your voice because we are truly our own best advocates, it’s these actions that are key to staying on your path to empowerment. Thank you so much again for joining us, Nona, this has been amazing.

Nona Baker:

Thank you for giving me the time to speak to the patient community.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, thank you again for joining this Patient Empowerment Network program. 

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did You Cope with a Second MPN Diagnosis?

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did You Cope with a Second MPN Diagnosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients diagnosed with a second MPN, how can they cope or react to the diagnosis? Watch as MPN patient Nona shares her experience with her second MPN diagnosis as part of her patient journey.

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

See More from Best MPN Care No Matter Where You Live

Related Resources:

How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed

 


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

All right, we have a question from Janet. Janet says, “I have noticed that many MPN patients develop a second MPN over time,” and she wants to know, “were you surprised about your PV diagnosis over a decade after your first diagnosis, or is this something that you were perhaps prepared for by your medical team?”

Nona Baker:

Well, my second diagnosis came by chance because I had a problem with fibroids, which necessitated having a hysterectomy, which saw the natural venesection was taken away, and then it evolved to a…. I don’t know whether that’s the reason, but then I was diagnosed with PV, which means that I have PV with high platelets now is I think the way in my human toll describes it. But it’s certainly under control with the medication and with venesection from time to time. So, was I surprised? I don’t think after my journey, I don’t think anything surprised me really, I sort of…I think, again, I took ownership of it and just got on with it, really.  

MPN Patient Q&A: What Lifestyle Changes Did You Make?

MPN Patient Q&A: What Lifestyle Changes Did You Make? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Should myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients make lifestyle changes after diagnosis? Watch as MPN patient Nona explains lifestyle changes she made following diagnosis to improve her quality of life.  

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

See More from Best MPN Care No Matter Where You Live

Related Resources:

How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed

Key Considerations When Making Prostate Cancer Treatment Decisions


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

All right, we have a question from James. James says, “Are there specific lifestyle changes that you may, following your diagnosis that brought relief to any symptoms that you were having?”

Nona Baker:

Well, the first change I had to me was I used to smoke, and then my hematologist said to me that affects the red cell count, and that was the incentive to absolutely give up smoking there, and then that was my first lifestyle change, and I haven’t regretted it for a single day. Other lifestyle changes, not really, other than just becoming aware that you know to fight fatigue doesn’t help, sometimes you have to surrender to it, but definitely give up smoking and I… you know, I think that…well, nowadays people don’t smoke, but we’re talking 30 years ago, so…yeah, study is pretty well since I have a cigarette.  

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did Your MPN Diagnosis Impact Your Life?

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did Your MPN Diagnosis Impact Your Life? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patient, how can diagnosis impact your life? Watch as MPN patient Nona shares her experience as a working mom, and Dr. Nicole Rochester shares her perspective about self-care. 

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

See More from Best MPN Care No Matter Where You Live

Related Resources:


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

All right, our next question comes from Edna. And Edna says that in your…you stated that you were diagnosed at 41 and that you are a busy mom and that you were working, and she wants to know, “How did you share this diagnosis with your children, and how did it impact your work in your career?”

Nona Baker:

It’s a very interesting question, and I think my children, because I had sort of my mom’s painful feet, and I have packets of mushy peas that used to be put on my feet because they were painful because of the obviously thick blood, and my younger son has done a lot of fundraising for MPN Voice. And he talked about how as an 8-year-old, he’d grown up with me having these symptoms that I haven’t done much about, and I know I’ve always taken the view for me, and this is only for me, that I don’t let my MPN define who I am. You know, I think it’s part of my life. It isn’t my life, because my fear would be after that initial anxiety and fear that if I allowed it to take over my life, it would actually really impact my younger…my young children…in terms of my work, I only work part-time. You know, the other thing is, yes, I got a lot of fatigue, but I think what I’ve learned over the years is to put your hands up and say, “You know, I’ve hit a wall,” whereas I just take five minutes.

Nona Baker:

Just take that time. Whereas sometimes it’s difficult when you’re a mom with young children, and I think now, people tend to explain it a bit to their young children, when mom’s tired, it’s not because it’s anything you’ve done it, because I remember patients describing it to have children is…it’s like a car when the oil in the car gets too thick, the car slows down and sometimes the car needs to stop, and she equated her blood as the oil in the car that sometimes it just slows down and then has to stop gets a bit of refueling, I thought that was a good definition for young children.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I love that, I love that, and I’m a pediatrician by training, so I love putting things in clear terms for kids, and I think that’s really important to just make it simple for them. I also really like what you said, Nona about the self-care part, I think that can be really difficult sometimes for even women who may not have chronic diseases, but certainly for women and moms who have chronic diseases and feeling that feeling guilty when they take time for themselves, even if it’s in the context of their illness. And so, needing to rest and explaining that and normalizing that mom needs to take a nap, I think is incredible, and I love that your son is involved in the advocacy work that you do for MPNs.  

MPN Patient Q&A: What Questions Should I Ask If I Suspect I Have an MPN?

MPN Patient Q&A: What Questions Should I Ask If I Suspect I Have an MPN? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For patients who suspect they have a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN), what questions should they ask? Watch as MPN patient Nona shares her advice for approaching questions with your doctor, and Dr. Nicole Rochester explains how to empower yourself to shift doctor-patient communication.

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

See More from Best MPN Care No Matter Where You Live

Related Resources:

How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed

 

Key Considerations When Making Prostate Cancer Treatment Decisions


Transcript:

 Dr. Nicole Rochester:

All right, we also have a question from Julie. Julie says, “I was given the run-around early on in my journey and wasted valuable time.” And she wants to know, “What are some questions or actions to take at the outset when ruling out MPNs?”

Nona Baker:

That’s a difficult question, because I think everybody is different and every health service is different. I think if you’re in an area where the clinicians don’t necessarily know too much about MPNs, that can be problematic. We’re a small country here, and we have access to some really good hospitals that specialize in MPNs. I think, again, it’s going back with your piece of paper saying, “Can we rule out that I’ve got an MPN and I’ve read about MPNs, I have the symptoms,” whether it’s fatigue or whether it’s itch for PV or whatever the symptoms are, “and I’ve seen that that can be a symptom of an MPN.” And again, take a piece of paper, and say, “Can we rule that out?” You know, I think that’s empowering.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I agree. Nona and I think when counseling patients who have had misdiagnosis or a long road to accurate diagnoses, what you just said is key. And a lot of times it’s a matter of opening up the minds of your physicians and your healthcare team, and like you said, if they’re not familiar with MPNs, then they may go down a path of giving you a different diagnosis. But if you’ve done a little research or if you have some concerns, just saying, “Could it be this…I know that you think I have this condition, but based on what I’ve read, based on what I’ve learned, could it be an MPN?” And a lot of times just that suggestion is enough to kind of shift the conversation, so I think that’s wonderful advice.

MPN Patient Q&A: How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed?

MPN Patient Q&A: How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What can myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients do to improve communication when the feel like their concerns aren’t being heard? Watch as MPN patient Nona shares her advice for preparing for appointments, and health advocate Dr. Nicole Rochester offers advice on how to help calm anxiety at appointments.

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

See More from Best MPN Care No Matter Where You Live

Related Resources:

 


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Our next question is from Alice and Alice says, “I’ve noticed among women, minority groups and underserved communities, that there’s often a dismissive tone or atmosphere when you speak up and share your concerns,” and she wants to know, “Nona, do you feel that being a woman played a role in your initial diagnosis?” And she also likes to understand how to communicate concerns with the care team when you feel that you’re being dismissed.

Nona Baker:

That’s an interesting question, I have to be honest and say I didn’t experience that, but I’m well aware of that. And it goes on, and it’s really disempowering to feel that, so I have huge empathy to hear that. I think if I had experienced it, which I obviously didn’t experience it, my key tip here would be when going for an appointment with a clinician, take a notebook and a pen and write down what you want to ask them and write down their answers. And preferably if you can take somebody with you, because then you have that opportunity afterwards to digest what you’ve been told, and that in itself is empowering because you can then make further choices.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I love that, Nona. Also, advice that I always give to clients, and you’re right, having someone with you and writing things down is so important, especially in these situations where you’re getting a diagnosis, there’s a lot of uncertainty. We know that a lot of the information that’s shared in medical appointments goes in one ear and out of the other, particularly if we’re anxious or concerned or worried, so having that second person in the room is so incredibly important. I appreciate that advice.  

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did You Cope With the Initial Shock of an MPN Diagnosis?

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did You Cope With the Initial Shock of an MPN Diagnosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 A myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) diagnosis can come as a shock to many. Watch as MPN patient Nona shares her feelings and reaction following her diagnosis, and health advocate Dr. Nicole Rochester explains about finding reliable MPN information.

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

See More from Best MPN Care No Matter Where You Live

Related Resources:

How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed

 


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I am always talking with people about the importance of using their voice, standing up for themselves and seeking information, and asking questions. So, with that, let’s go ahead and get to our questions, the first question comes from Susan, and Susan asks, “After the initial shock of your diagnosis, were you worried about limited treatment options and specialists, and then what was your next step?”

Nona Baker:

Was I worried? Well, I was just generally anxious, because it’s this thing of not being in control of one’s body and having to surrender that control to another person. So that’s the scary bit for me, and then I did something a little bit stupid in hindsight because it was the early days of the Internet, man, I did Dr. Google, not a good plan, because particularly in the very early days, there was some really, really sort of dreadful prognosis is almost sort of go from right, you will…which, of course, here I am, 30 years on. And so, I think that I would be very cautious even now in using Dr. Google, I would go to safe sites where they are medically monitored, because I think a little knowledge can be very dangerous.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is so true. And I just want to highlight that because in medicine, we often kind of jokingly talk about Dr. Google, but it really is a phenomenon. And while there’s this balance of patients with rare diseases being able to find information and empower themselves, but then as you mentioned, known a lot of the information on the Internet has not been vetted, some of it is not scientifically accurate, and it can literally have you pulling your hair out as you read these accounts and start to really create more worry as opposed to creating action stuff. So, I appreciate you sharing that.  

Counteracting MPN Fatigue and Finding Adequate Rest

Counteracting MPN Fatigue and Finding Adequate Rest from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN Network Manager Summer Golden who lives with myelofibrosis, and her care partner Jeff, discuss how they handle her fatigue. From tracking sleep on smartwatches to choosing optimal dinner and travel times — they do not let fatigue boggle them down. Watch as Summer shares her personal experience with fatigue and provides tips to overcome. 

“We challenge you to find a way to make changes in your life that you get adequate rest. It’s really, really important.” 

 Want to connect with Jeff and Summer? Email them at question@powerfulpatient.org

Take Care of Yourself and Your Family’s Health

Building Resilience and Boosting Immunity

At a time when health is top of mind for everyone, despite the stressors, how can we ensure to emerge emotionally, physically and mentally resilient? Patient Empowerment Network Care Partner Manager, Sherea Cary sits down with distinguished guests, Sara Goldberger and Dr. Shivdev Rao to discuss building resilience and boosting immunity. Both experts define resilience, provide tips for boosting heart-lung health and provide useful tools for cultivating resilience.

Defining Resilience

Defining Resilience from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Tips for Boosting Heart and Lung Health

Tips for Boosting Heart and Lung Health from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Community Resources & Tools for Cultivating Resilience

Community Resources and Tools for Cultivating Resilience from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Oncology Social Worker Checklist

Resiliency Checklist During the Time of COVID-19


Sara Goldberger, MSSW, LCSW-R, has been an oncology social worker for 30 years. Currently she is the Senior Director, Program for the Cancer Support Community Headquarters. She has also worked in hospitals and community NFP settings. She is a member of several Advisory Boards is a frequent presenter and author. As AOSW strives to continue to advance excellence in psychosocial oncology, Sara hopes to play a part in efforts to educate, advocate, develop resources, expand on research initiatives, and create networking opportunities so that AOSW can improve the care of people impacted by a cancer diagnosis.

Turning Your Home Into a Sanctuary

In Five Simple Steps

These days, whether you’re spending more time there or you need a place to unwind after a long day, you need to feel like your home is your happy place. With the help of a few simple tips you can turn your home into your very own sanctuary.

1. Define your sanctuary

Think about where and when you feel the most comfortable and happy; then bring elements of that into your space. Whether you feel your best reading under a cozy blanket and low lighting, or painting in a sunlit room, consider your needs for the space. It doesn’t have to be complicated, says Professional Organizer Kristy Potgieter at KLP Organizing, LLC. Her philosophy is: simple is better.

2. Appeal to the senses

Sound, smell, and color can all evoke emotions. Play music that soothes you or makes you happy, use candles, oils, or incense to fill your space with your favorite scents, and paint your walls with neutral or calming colors. Even changing out your light bulbs can make a difference. Pink light bulbs give a warm, calm glow to your space.

3. Ditch the clutter

Clutter causes anxiety and stress so your best bet is to get rid of it. While clutter looks different to everyone, a good rule of thumb is to remove anything that doesn’t serve a purpose or make you happy. For the things you use on a regular basis, Potgieter recommends storing them in baskets and bins, which can be both decorative and functional. She also says keeping your kitchen counters clear is a simple way to make your home appear clutter-free.

4. Bring nature inside

You can place a vase of fresh-cut flowers on your table or bring in some house plants. If you don’t have a green thumb, a photo of the ocean, a wall painted green, a water fountain, some seashells, or a piece of wood are all okay ways to incorporate nature into your home. It can be as simple as opening a window and letting in the sunlight, which is a known mood booster.

5. Unplug from technology

You don’t have to ban technology altogether, but pick times, such as during meals and the hour before bed, to not use technology at all. Spend less time on social media platforms by deleting the apps on your phone and only using your computer to log onto those sites. You can also use the “do not disturb” settings on your devices to allow yourself some down time.

 

Whatever you do, remember Potgieter’s philosophy and keep it simple. Address the things that are most important to you and let the other stuff go. “The first thing I think of when making a home a sanctuary is really taking a look around and making sure all the things you see are things you love,” she says.

Daily Practices for Cultivating Awareness and Anchoring Yourself in Resilience

Resilience is our capacity to bounce back from the inevitable challenges of being alive. When challenges arise, our meandering minds can take us into various worrisome directions, leading to a host of negative emotional states and their subsequent adverse effects on our well-being.

Although we may not have control over the external factors in our lives or needless to say our genetic predispositions, we do have the capacity to cultivate inner psychological faculties that enable us to weather the storms of life with relative calm. For most of us, these internal resources are underdeveloped. They require intentional cultivation through the regular practice of actions that support their development. Among these inner resources are self-awareness, self-acceptance, and a secure inner base to fall back on.

What is Resilience?

What is Resilience? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Anchoring the Mind

Anchoring the Mind from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Focusing the attention on the natural breathing process and body cultivates self-awareness and tends to have a calming effect on the mind. By doing so non-judgmentally, we accept the process as it is truly experienced. This is not an advocation of apathy towards our lives. To the contrary, by shining the light of awareness on our experience and accepting it as it truly is, we are given a clarity from which to make any necessary course corrections in our lives.

Awareness of Breath

Awareness of Breath from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Awareness of Body

Awareness of Body from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

A secure base is supported by continually returning our attention to our breath and body when distracted by the meandering nature of the mind. By regularly practicing the activities here offered you can enhance your capacity to bounce back and calmly weather the fluctuating trials of life.


Broderick Rodell has a PhD in chemical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University. His search for self-betterment led to his passion for mindfulness. He considers himself a dedicated student and practitioner of yoga including contemplation, meditation, breath work, and mindful movement. Broderick believes that through individual evolution we can all tap into greater possibilities within ourselves.

MPN Patient and Care Partner Share the Importance of Staying Positive and Setting Goals

MPN Patient and Care Partner Share the Importance of Staying Positive and Setting Goals from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

In the midst of a crisis, it’s quite difficult to set goals. With so much changing rapidly, how can we keep focus?

PEN MPN Network Managers Jeff and Summer share tips for tapping into resilience, keeping focus and setting goals. Both share their rituals for staying focused and having fun.

Want to connect with Jeff and Summer? Email them at question@powerfulpatients.org

PEN-Powered Activity Guide

How Can You Best Support A Friend With Cancer?

What happens when someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer?

How do you find the right words to say?

What is the best way to support them?

And how do you cope with your own emotions and feelings at the same time?

In this month’s article, I am sharing advice that comes directly from those who have personal experience of cancer – either as a patient themselves or as a friend or family member to someone with cancer.  The following tips are some of the things that friends said and did that were most helpful to cancer patients at the time of diagnosis and treatment.

Firstly, acknowledge that this can be a hard time for you too

Hearing that a friend has been diagnosed with cancer may impact you in ways that you might not be prepared for.  You may have many different emotions to cope with. You may feel angry, sad, and scared that this is happening to your friend. You may even find the news hard to take in and feel numb.   Breast cancer survivor, Nicole McClean[1] describes her feelings of numbness on hearing the news that her best friend was diagnosed with the same disease:  “I didn’t know what to feel. I didn’t know what to say. Everything I had said to other people didn’t really apply because this was MY friend. Not a stranger that I was comforting. Not even myself that I had to give a pep talk to.”

But don’t make it about you

In the shock of hearing about a friend’s diagnosis, it can be tempting to slip into a place of dwelling on your own fears and anxieties.  Nicole cautions others not to make this about themselves. “Please don’t be a friend like me. Don’t be the friend who makes the person with the diagnosis have to stop her own grieving to console you,” she says. “This is her moment. Her time to BE consoled. I don’t ever want her to feel like she needs to console me or comfort me during this time. That’s no longer her role. It is now mine.”

Just ask what’s needed

“My number one tip,” says radiation oncologist, Dr Matthew Katz (@subatomicdoc),  is “just ask what you can do to help. It can be hard to predict and may vary at different times in the cancer experience.”  Breast  surgeon, Dr Deanna Attai (@DrAttai) agrees: “Ask the patient what do you need, ask if they just want some company to sit, listen and be present.”

Above all, advises author and advocate, Nancy Stordahl (@NancysPoint) “don’t try to be a fixer and please, avoid using platitudes. Don’t tell her she’s strong, brave or courageous. Don’t add to her burden by making her feel she must live up to some gold standard of “doing cancer right”. Let her be real. Witness her pain. Listen. Just be there.”

Listen, hear and do

“The steps to being a good friend and supporter are simple”, says Nicole, “Listen and do.”  The first part is listening. “Listen to her. Or just sit with her silently. But either way, give her space where she’s comfortable sharing with you what’s in her heart without that moment becoming about you.“  

John Moore (@john_chilmark), founder of Chilmark Research, echoes this when he says: “Listen, truly listen and they will open up in time to the fear they hold within – just how scary it can be at times.”

Julia, co-founder of online breast cancer support community @BCCWW agrees. “Listen and hear,” she advises,  “if they have bad days let them, cancer isn’t fun times. Flip side: if they feel good, believe them.”

And it’s ok to not know what to say sometimes.

“Something that I think is helpful is for friends and family to remember that it’s okay if you don’t know what to say to the person with cancer,” explains Lisa Valentine (@HabitgratLisa), ·who blogs at habitualgratitude.com. “Show up, say “I don’t know what to say, but I am here for you.” Take it from there. Showing up and listening usually takes care of what can happen next.”

HER2 breast cancer patient, Tracy (@tracyintenbury) suggests offering to go to “chemo sessions if the person with cancer would otherwise be attending alone.”  Metastatic breast cancer patient, Ilene Kaminsky (@ilenealizah) appreciated those who attended medical appointments with her “especially during the first months when everything seemed to proceed at the pace of tar, and again during critical appointments/ chemo days.”

Do what needs to be done

Don’t ask her what she needs, just do something that she needs,”  recommends Nicole. “Show up, and help out.” Chair of Cardiomyopathy, CR UK patient board and NCRI rep for kidney and bladder cancer, Alison Fielding (@alisonfielding) agrees: “Make specific offers of help such as lifts, company or chores rather than waiting to be asked.”

“Anyone who said let me know if you need anything wasn’t going to get an answer,” explains Ilene “so during difficult times, one or two of my friends would do my wash, change the sheets and put the clothes away. She’d bring me smoothies while I’d be knocked out from my pre-taxol Benadryl and knew exactly what I’d like.”

Clinical Professor of Pathology, Dr David Grenache (@ClinChemDoc), cautions following through with offers of help. “From experience: when you tell them you will do what you can to help, then follow through with that when you are asked for help.  You may have to drop a high priority task but when the call for help comes. Go!” 

Victoria (@terrortoria), founder and community manager of @YBCN_UK (which supports young women with breast cancer), recalls a friend who “made home made soup for me when I told her I couldn’t bring myself to eat things. She left them on my doorstep as I couldn’t bring myself to see people either for a time. It was a 90-minute round trip for her. She’d listened to how I felt and then helped me within my limits.”

This theme of cooked meals comes up again and again. 

“Cook meals so the person with cancer has something warm and nutritious,” recommends Tracy.  Maureen Kenny (@MaureenKenny1), a patient living with secondary breast cancer, agrees, saying “you can never go wrong with a cooked meal.”

After a long day in hospital, breast cancer patient advocate, Siobhan Feeney (@BreastDense)  recalls the day she came home to find “in the porch, cooked dinner, homemade bread, marmalade and fresh eggs.” A gift she says she’ll never forget. 

Alleviating the pressure of cooking and housework is a super practical way to help a friend with cancer. Sarah Connor (@sacosw), shares a story about her neighbor who “came once a week, took away a basket of dirty clothes, brought them back washed, dried, ready to put away. She didn’t know me very well. Still makes me tingle.”

Give thoughtful gifts

From warm socks and soft blankets to body lotion and lip balm, there are many gifts you can bring a friend who is going through treatment. Beverly A. Zavaleta MD[2], author of Braving Chemo, writes:  “Each time someone sent me a gift I felt a connectedness to the giver and to the “outside world,” which was a welcome escape from the cancer world that I was living in… when I received a gift, I appreciated the time that that person took to remember me, to think of what I might need and to choose, assemble or make the gift.”

Breast cancer survivor, Karen Murray (@murraykaren) recommends practical gifts like “hand cream (skin very dry after chemo), gel for mouth ulcers (also common), some nice sweets/fruit.”

Male breast cancer survivor, Dennis Keim (@denniskeim) suggests “a jar of Aquaphor might be a nice gift. Especially if their skin is getting hammered by chemo.”

“Help the cancer patient pamper themselves,” proposes Lisa Valentine. “You know your friend or family member well enough–get them something they wouldn’t get themselves because they would think it’s extravagant–i.e. the expensive chocolate or a pedicure.” What may seem like an indulgence can also be extremely practical. “Taking me for gel nails protected my ever softening nails,” explains Ilene Kaminsky.

Although be mindful that not everyone appreciates the same things. 

“I wasn’t interested in toiletries, candles. Wine gums – they mask the taste of a nasty pre-chemo antiemetic,” says Syliva (@SylviaB_). “People often think buying flowers is naff. I adored it when people bought me flowers. A couple of people bought spectacular flowering plants.”  Breast cancer blogger, Sheri[3] received the fabulous gift of a monthly subscription to in-home flower deliveries during treatment.

Help with treatment decisions

If you have already been through cancer yourself, your friend may turn to you for treatment advice. You can guide them to helpful resources  and share your own experience, but ultimately the final decision is theirs alone. Sometimes you may not agree about treatment decisions. This can be hard for both of you. Try to accept this and support their decision. “I think not being critical with someone’s choices is very important. Support should not be in spite of circumstances,” says Ilene Kaminsky.

Offer compassion and kindness

Two-times breast cancer survivor and patient advocate Terri Coutee[4] believes the best gifts you can offer a friend is compassion and kindness. “Hold a hand if you are with a friend or loved one in person,” she advises. “You don’t even have to say anything. Perhaps your warm, human touch is enough. Tell them you have no idea how they are feeling at the moment but want to support them in any way you can. Be sensitive to the fact they may only need someone to listen, not advise.”

John Hanley (@ChemoCookery) considers “small practical actions and warm, soothing, short reassuring words are perfect.” Words like “I’m going nowhere and I’ll be here shoulder to shoulder when you need me. A little note/text/card “Here for you 24/7 anytime.”A HUG, an Embrace, a hand, eye contact.”

Sara Liyanage, author of Ticking Off Breast Cancer [5]  reminds us that “a cancer diagnosis turns your world upside down and overnight you can become scared, emotional, vulnerable and anxious. Having friends and family step up and show kindness is a lifeline which can carry you through from diagnosis to the end of treatment (and importantly, beyond).”

Treat your friend like you normally would

Researcher, Caroline Lloyd (@TheGriefGeek), cautions us not to “make it all about the cancer, they are still a person.”  Writer and metastatic breast cancer patient, Julia Barnickle (@JuliaBarnickle) agrees. “I prefer to keep conversation as normal as possible for my own sake – I don’t want cancer to take over my life.”

Stage 4 melanoma patient advocate, Kay Curtin (@kaycurtin1) suggests you talk to your friend “like you would any friend. We haven’t suddenly become aliens who require a different style of language,”  she points out.  Sherry Reynolds (@Cascadia), whose Mom is a 15-year metastatic breast cancer patient, talks about how her mother “really appreciated it when people talked to her about regular things vs always talking about her cancer or asking how she was doing. She was living with her cancer, it wasn’t who she is.”

Know when to back off

“What I didn’t want, which is equally important, was people trying to encourage me to go anywhere or do anything,” says Syliva (@SylviaB_).“ I spent a lot of time on my sofa and felt guilty saying no to people who wanted me to go out.”

Knowing when to be there for your friend, and when to give them space isn’t always easy.  but it’s an important balancing act as a good friend.  In Tips for Being A Great Cancer Friend, Steve Rubin,[6] points out that “sometimes, the overstimulation from nurses popping in, PT sessions, and all the tests/drug schedules can become so exhausting that you just want to be left alone. Other times, the loneliness kicks in and you could really use a friendly face.”

It may take time to find the right balance, so let your friend guide you.   Nicole McClean shares her experience with her friend: “I haven’t spoken to her a lot. I didn’t want to become that sort of pesky, well-intentioned friend who searched for every little thing that might show how she was feeling at any particular moment.  Because I know that her feelings would change from moment to moment and sometimes… sometimes it’s just too much to have someone repeatedly ask you… “how are you really feeling?” even when you know they mean well. At this point, I am letting her guide me into how much she needs me and where she wants me to be.”  

At the same time, Terri Coutee advises gentle persistence:  “Don’t give up if you offer help and they don’t respond. Revisit your offer to do something for them with gentle persistence. One day they may decide they need your help,”  she says.  Maureen Kenny recalls “a friend who texted me every time she was about to go shopping to see if I needed/wanted anything while she was out. I rarely did but I always really appreciated her asking.”

Make your support ongoing

Support is not just one and done.  In the shock and drama of a crisis, friends rally round, but once the shock has worn off many disappear. True friends stick around long after the initial days, weeks and months of a cancer diagnosis. Ilene asks that friends continue to“remember birthdays, cancerversaries, and remember me on holidays. A card means a lot even to just say hi.”

Final thoughts

Many studies have found that cancer survivors with strong emotional support tend to better adjust to the changes cancer brings to their lives, have a more positive outlook, and often report a better quality of life. Research has shown that people with cancer need support from friends. You can make a big difference in the life of someone with cancer. [7]

“I personally loved just knowing I was cared for, says lobular breast cancer campaigner, Claire Turner (@ClaireTTweets). “A number of friends didn’t contact me or come and see me and that hurt, so simply be there in whatever way means something,” she advises.

“The truth is basic,” says Nicole McClean, “nobody wants somebody they love to go through cancer. Especially if they’ve been through it themselves. You want people you love to be spared this type of hardship. But you can’t protect them from it. You can only help them through it. Be there for them in the ways that they need.”

Tailoring your help to what your friend needs and enjoys most is the best way to be a friend to them. As four-times cancer survivor Sarah Dow (@he4dgirl) points out “the answers will surely be as varied as we are, both in life generally, our experience of cancer, and our connection with our friend.”


[1] Nicole McClean. My Fabulous Boobies.

[2] Beverly A. Zavaleta MD, The Best Gifts For Chemotherapy Patients

[3] Life After Why

[4] Terri Coutee, DiepCJourney

[5] Sara Liyanage, “What To Do (And What Not To Do) For Someone With Breast Cancer”

[6] Steve Rubin, The (Other) C Word

[7] American Cancer Society, “How to Be a Friend to Someone With Cancer”