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.

Five Ways the PEN Network Manager Program Can Support Your Cancer Journey

Our Network Manager program is here to support patients and families around important topics and to provide navigation for the path to empowerment. Our network managers are highly passionate empowerment ambassadors volunteering from around the U.S., engaging with the PEN network of cancer patients and care partners, and serving as a direct channel of empowerment.  

1. Utilize the PEN Text-Line

By texting EMPOWER to +1-833-213-6657, you can meet someone with your same condition  and  receive personalized support from our Network Managers. Whether you’re a cancer patient, or a  friend or loved one of a cancer patient, PEN’s Network Managers will be here for you at every step of your journey.

2. Watch PEN Videos

Taking a proactive role in your well-being as a patient is of utmost importance for optimal health outcomes. And PEN videos are a trusted source when seeking out information from cancer experts, patients, care partners, and PEN Network Managers. Whether you’re a newly diagnosed patient, care partner, long-time cancer patient, or other concerned patient advocate, PEN videos provide a valuable way to learn about cancer patient stories, testing information, questions to ask your cancer specialist, how to support and be supported as a care partner, ensuring that your patient voice is heard, and more.

3. Read PEN Blogs

Our PEN blogs are a rich source of support information on a wide range of topics for cancer patients and care partners. The blogs serve as another way to gain knowledge and advice for navigating and coping with your cancer journey. Some recent topics have included mental  health advice, financial support resources, nutrition and exercise tips, COVID-19 vaccine guidelines, patient stories, caregiver advice, genetic testing, and cancer news updates.

4. Download and Use Our Activity Guides

Initiated as a patient and care partner tool at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our PEN-Powered Activity Guides continue as a way to stay connected and to relieve stress during your cancer journey. Packed with information and support resources, the Activity Guides provide content including clinical trial information and experiences, patient stories and lessons learned, advice from care partners, healthy recipes, music playlists, coloring pages, and more. If you’re a busy cancer patient or care partner, the Activity Guides are easy to print to take with  you to read during travel and waiting room time for cancer care appointments.

5. Learn About Our PEN Network Managers

If you don’t have time to watch a video or to read a blog right away, you can browse our list of PEN Network Managers. You can easily see the community that each Network Manager serves  and read a short bio about their experience as a cancer patient or care partner.

By taking advantage of our PEN Network Manager resources, cancer patients and care partners can gain knowledge and confidence to navigate their own cancer journeys.

Equity Rx Crowdsourced Resource

Download Resource

PEN_Equity Rx Crowdsourced Resource

Download Resource

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

How Can Healthcare Systems Better Approach Whole Person Care?

How Can Healthcare Systems Better Approach Whole Person Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Healthcare systems can take steps toward better whole person care. Dr. Nicole Rochester and Aswita Tan-McGrory share solutions that can help overcome trauma and lack of trust to work toward healing.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

So we’ve talked about all the things that need to happen in an ideal world, but as you described earlier, the system in which healthcare is provided in our country is dysfunctional, it’s broken, and so as someone with your background, what are some of the solutions? What are some of the things that healthcare systems and organizations can do with all these limitations that we’ve all been talking about today?

Aswita Tan-McGrory, MBA, MSPH:

This actually came from my colleague who’s a psychiatrist, and we did a webinar together, and she mentioned this, and I just really loved it as a solution which is talking as a pathway to healing, when we think about…a lot of what I heard today, the big thing is a lack of trust between a patient and a provider or a patient and a healthcare system, there was so much trauma in our communities that we don’t talk about, and so I would say that like…

One solution is, we as a system need to talk about these challenges more openly or more…I mean I have this sign behind me it says, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable to talk about racism.” But I think also within our own communities, we need to talk more about the challenges, the things that we just sort of tolerated that are not okay anymore, and getting mental health care, acknowledging that we are disproportionately attacked when we go out on the streets, all of those things, we need to more openly talk about, and that is a pathway to healing, which I think this country really could use. And so my solution is simple but difficult, but probably cheaper than any other solution that I would offer to fix the issues. I think we just need to start there, yes, we can do many things, but I think talking about this as a pathway to healing would go a long way.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow. Talking as a pathway to healing. That is powerful.

Advice From a Cancer Survivor for Better Whole Person Care

Advice from a Cancer Survivor for Better Whole Person Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 How can better whole person care be achieved by patients and healthcare providers? Dr. Nicole Rochester and Sasha Tanori discuss ways that care can be improved to work toward optimal patient care.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

How Can Cultural Competency Play a Role in Your Care?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

If you had some advice that you could give from a patient’s perspective, and maybe you’re talking to a policy maker or healthcare providers, but how can we do better in this area as it relates to whole person care, culturally competent care?

Sasha Tanori:

I would definitely say take your patients more seriously and not just like one-offs, okay, bye. A lot of the time, they just do a couple of tests and they’re like, “Oh well, we can’t find anything, so let’s just move along,” and there needs to be more conversation as well.

A lot of the doctors will come in and talk to you for like you said, 15 minutes, and then it’s like, “Okay, you know, well, we can’t find anything wrong, so just go.” And it’s like, “No, let me explain everything, let me explain how I’m mentally feeling, how I’m physically feeling, how stressed out feeling, how emotionally I’m feeling.” And there are just so many different layers to just one, if you come in and say, “Oh, well, my hip hurts.” Okay, but why I explain more to it, not just okay let’s do an x-ray and you leave. Like there needs to be a lot more conversation going on between the patient and the doctor, there needs to be a lot more understanding where it could also be stress as it relates to work, it could be stress related to family, to love the ones…to kids, to spouses, there are so many different things on top of that, that’s more than just, you know, “Hey, you know like, I just need a prescription,” and you can go. There’s so much more conversation needs to be have then I really wish that a lot more healthcare providers would have that conversation with them, I know they don’t always have the time, they’re busy, but at least a little bit more compassion, a little bit more understanding, going about when it comes to patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I appreciate that, and you’re right. The time is an issue. And I will tell you as a physician and as somebody who has tons of physician friends, it causes internal conflict within the doctors, because I don’t know any doctor that got into this for any reason, primarily, other than to help patients, and so to be placed in these situations where you know that you’re falling short of providing the care that your patients need is actually quite disturbing.

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the effects of stress, anxiety, and depression on physical health? Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Broderick Rodell discuss how personal experiences and environmental conditions can impact patient health and a prostate cancer study that examined prostate cancer cells in Black patients.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

Advice From Cancer Survivor to Better Whole Person Care

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

We know that stress and anxiety and depression and all of those things impact your physical health, and as I said earlier, I think traditionally, there’s been this ridiculous disconnection between our minds and our bodies, and we know a lot more now, in fact, there’s a study, there are many studies, but there’s a study specifically looking at prostate cancer by Dr. Burnham, a researcher. And what they found in this study is that they looked at prostate cancer cells from African American patients and white patients, and when they treated these cells with stress hormones, they saw that the Black patient’s prostate cells would begin to up-regulate the genes and the proteins that are known to make that cancer more resistant to therapy. And so it starts to look at the role of stress and stress hormones, and we know that there’s increased stress among minority communities, among… sorry, urban communities, those who are otherwise disenfranchised, so from your perspective, can you just share a little bit about the connection between stress and physical illness and maybe how you approach that in the work that you do?

Dr. Broderick Rodell:

So, these various patterns we don’t operate, we have a framework that we all operate from, and it’s beneath the surface of our conscious awareness. And so our subconscious mind operating system is there, but that operating system comes from our conditioning, we’re conditioned by our families, by our local communities, our societies. And so, the various structures that are in place are facilitating our conditioning and from our conditioning we…that our conditioning creates our perspective, the framework that we operate from, that’s determine…that’s going to determine how we relate to our experiences. And how we relate to our experiences can be gracefully, or it can be stressfully, just to put it in those two different terms, and so that stress that is created based on how we’re relating to our experiences has a historical perspective, and so we have to address those issues. We can address our familial issues that has a historical relationship and say that maybe the relationship that my mother and father or grandparents had towards their own health is not necessarily to be the most optimal way to do that. And they may have had those ways of relating to their experience, based on their conditioning, based on the suffering that they’ve experienced, environmental conditions that were conducive for that mental framework that they’re operating from, and so we have to work towards transforming that, and again, the place where we have the most power in ourselves, “How can I change myself?”

I have to advocate for myself, and so how do we increase that by increasing our education and learning about ourselves and learning about our mental models that we’re using to relate to our experiences and transforming those mental models to reduce unnecessary stress and tension? Because when we’re under unnecessary stress, we have our epinephrine cortisol, these hormones that are increasing in our body, that’s going to suppress our immune system. It’s going to cause damage in our blood vessels, organs are not going to function optimally, and I think that we’re going to keep finding out more and more about this. I was interested, as you hear that about the prostate, prostate cells in African Americans, why would that be the case? You’ve got generations of hyper-vigilance for historical reasons, cultural reasons, or social reasons. Then, of course, that’s going to get passed on from generation to generation, a sense of hyper-vigilance, a sense excessive amount of stress hormones was floating around in the bloodstream, and it’s going to have a significant influence on how the body is capable of dealing with various illnesses – be it cancer, be it cardiovascular disease, or any other disease that’s associated with, or probably all disease that’s associated with stress these days.

In particular, with cancer it’s very interesting, that relationship and why are these cells dividing and rapidly producing in the way that they’re doing, and how is that related to stress? I don’t think it’s…no, simple relationship there. You can’t just say, “Stress causes cancer.” I’m not saying that at all. But there is a correlation, there is a relationship, and if the thing that we can tackle, we can’t change our genes, but what we can do is change our relationship to our experience. Transform that to reduce the amount of stress or suffering and maximize well-being, and that’s the kind of work that I try to focus my attention on and what comes out of that is, “Okay, I need to work on how I relate to my experience,’ but also “How do I create favorable conditions in my internal system, in my body through the food, in through the exercise that I do, through the literature and I expose myself to, etcetera?”

How Can Cultural Competency Play a Role in Your Care?

How Can Cultural Competency Play a Role in Your Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Cultural competency, also known as cultural humility, can help provide better care. Dr. Nicole Rochester and Sasha Tanori discuss barriers to diagnosis and Sasha’s experience as a Mexican American patient in the healthcare system.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

Advice From Cancer Survivor to Better Whole Person Care

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Sasha, from your perspective, and you mentioned you’re a Mexican American, you mentioned that there were significant barriers for you in terms of getting a diagnosis, having to leave your community. So I love for you to share more about that, this idea of cultural humility, cultural sensitivity, and how that played out or maybe didn’t in your experiences with the healthcare system.

Sasha Tanori:

Yeah, I live in the lowest poverty line of California, so there’s not very much out there at all in my area. Just to get my diagnosis, like I said, I had to leave out of my community to go get the community…to go get the diagnosis. Sorry. And when I did that, it was…a lot of it had to also do with your…for me personally, it has to do with like generational. My father doesn’t believe in diagnosis, diagnoses, to him, it’s like every time I kept coming to him and complaining about this issue, he was just like, “Oh, you’re exaggerating.” Or it would be like the typical [passive], “You’ve got to go and put some Vicks on it, and you’re fine,” type of response, and I kept bugging him and bugging him, and he didn’t believe me, nobody believed me because it’s just such a…like I said, I live in a…what’s the word I’m thinking of, I’m sorry. I live in a community that they don’t take things like this seriously from Mexicans. If a white girl was to go to the hospital and say, “Hey, I’ve got bruises.” It’s like, “Okay, let’s do testing right away.” But I kept…and it is a lot of my generational, I think, trauma from my parents or from my dad mostly, that I didn’t even believe myself, it’s just like…

I kept putting it on the back burner. I kept thinking, “No, there’s nothing wrong. No, there’s nothing wrong. No, there’s nothing wrong.” And I wish that I would have advocated for myself a lot sooner. I wish that I would have taken my own problems more seriously because I didn’t…I didn’t think anything was wrong either. I just kept ignoring it, because that’s just how my mind was trained from my community, from my parents or my dad mostly, and finally, once I was able to… Once I started getting really, really serious, I still didn’t get the help, I needed it right away, it was now kept pushing it back on, “You need to lose weight,” or “You’re anemic,” or “You have this blood disorder, so take this medicine.’ Like nobody really took anything I was saying serious, because I also didn’t take it serious, my community doesn’t take it serious, my dad doesn’t take it serious, and that all just comes back to being Mexican. That’s just how it is when you’re Mexican, you don’t really take any of the serious issues serious, you go to work, and you take care of your family. And you put yourself on the back burner.

You put yourself last. And it was really hard. Yeah, but now that I’ve been through everything I’ve been through, I’m seriously, so passionate about making sure that people, especially Mexicans realize, “Hey, whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’re going through, whether it’s physical, emotional, mentally, it needs to come first, no matter what.”

What Is the Importance of Culturally Competent Care?

What Is the Importance of Culturally Competent Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Culturally competent care is another way to work toward health equity. Dr. Nicole Rochester and Aswita Tan-McGrory discuss barriers to providing culturally competent care and ways to address the issues.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

Advice From Cancer Survivor to Better Whole Person Care

How Can Cultural Competency Play a Role in Your Care?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

We know that due to structural racism, due to inequities, not everybody has access to fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy foods, not everyone has access to green spaces, nice parks where they can go outside and have safety and exercise, and that’s something that we’re being made increasingly aware of is how these social determinants of health impact healthcare. So I want to move and start to talk about the importance of culturally competent care, or I like to call it cultural humility, I don’t know that we can really ever be competent in someone else’s culture. But I want to talk about how those come together, this idea of being respectful and sensitive and aware of an individual’s culture and how that connects to some of the health inequities that we experience. So, Aswita, I know this is an area of expertise for you, so I’d love for you to chime in.

Aswita Tan-McGrory, MBA, MSPH:

Yeah, I mean, I would love it if every physician or nurse or PA started the conversation, what has been the biggest challenge for you in the last six months? If you ask that question, I mean, well the patient will be like, “Oh my God.” And not around just medical issues, they all align, right? If you don’t have housing, you’re going to have medical stress, like Broderick said. I’m just calm listening to you, so I’m going to guess that you have is really positive vibe that’s probably missing for many of us because we aren’t practicing the things that you encourage. And so I would just say that it’s really difficult in the system like I said, we set up, and we mentioned 15 minutes, doctors don’t feel like they have time to ask that question, but you’re doing it in other ways, we implement social determinants of health screening. Well, that’s really that question, right? But you formalize it because it’s not happening, so now it becomes like a screening question. And I will just say that we’re very narrow-minded in our view. I think I have seen a change in the very beginning when we started the work in our center in 2006, a lot of pushback was around thinking about what happens in the patient outside of our walls. It said,  “Well, I didn’t go to medical school to solve the problem of housing, I didn’t go to medical school to figure out how to get somebody on benefits.” And I think the healthcare system realized it doesn’t matter what you do in the hospital, it will be undone when they get home to a situation where they can’t maintain it, they can’t provide that support, they don’t…

They’re stressed out, they have mental health issues, so I think they’re finally getting there. But I think just acknowledging that the person in front of you has different experiences based on language, education, gender, ability, sexual orientation…I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think you just need to own it, we’re working on it. So I do it better than others, but I don’t know any healthcare system, honestly, that’s nailed this to the way that we probably should, so…I’m with you, Broderick. We don’t do this very well, and most of my job includes dismantling these systems that we built to benefit the people in power and leave everybody else behind, and so that’s been really the focus in our work.

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is whole person care, and why is it important to address? Dr. Nicole Rochester, Dr. Broderick Rodell, Aswita Tan-McGrory, and Sasha Tanori discuss the factors that whole person care examines, obstacles of healthcare systems, and how to advocate for optimal care.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

How Can Cultural Competency Play a Role in Your Care?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?

How Does Stress Correlate to Our Physical Ailments?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

So let’s start with a definition of whole person care. Whole person care is defined as the patient center, optimal use of diverse healthcare resources to deliver the physical, behavioral, emotional, and social services required to improve the coordination of care for patients, their well-being, and their health outcomes. So I’d like to start with you, Aswita, and I’d like to know your thoughts on whole person care, and why do you think that this has been such a taboo subject for so long, and also why is it important for us to address whole person care?

Aswita Tan-McGrory, MBA, MSPH:

I think that part of the problem is that our healthcare system is very, very fragmented, so if we think about…we have primary care, then we have specialty care, then we have care in the hospital, and oftentimes there’s no communication, or communication is sort of inconsistent between those pieces. And so we as a healthcare system don’t promote this idea of whole person care, where you would really look at a patient, see them, see them in their environment, oftentimes, we’re seeing patients in our own institutions and we really don’t know anything about what we’re sending them home to, right? Unless we ask or we screen.

So I actually think it starts with how we build our systems in many ways, as a very sort of system that doesn’t really work to encourage thinking about the patient in the whole way, and that means the primary care physician being part of the care team with specialty care, getting that conversation just from an implementation perspective, I think this is a real challenge in our system, there’s other things as well, but I think that’s a big piece towards how do we ensure that for the patient…and I’m sure all of us have had our own experiences in healthcare where we are like, “They’re not talking to each other. Well, why does this doctor not talk to my primary care doctor? Aren’t they like logging into the same system?” And then if you go outside of your system, it’s even more challenging, so.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, and I can relate to every single thing you said as both a physician and as a former caregiver, I will say as a pediatrician, I felt that this idea of whole person care, even before it was really a thing that’s kind of incorporated in our practice out of necessity, and we know that it’s important for the health of children to be involved in what happens to them at school and what happens to them in their child care setting, what’s happening in their homes.

And so that was kind of my reference point, but when I became a caregiver for my dad and kind of stepped into the world of adult medicine, I experienced exactly what you describe, Aswita. Just this fragmentation providers not talking to one another, and just a lack of appreciation for the importance of our environment and the things that we’re exposed to in our homes than in our communities, and how that is so intricately connected to our health. So I really appreciate that.

Aswita Tan-McGrory, MBA, MSPH:

Yeah, I want to just tag on something you just said is, I work with a lot of pediatricians and pediatric hospitals, and they are the angels in our system, if I can say so, you…and they definitely have cornered that market of really thinking of social determinants of health or the whole system for their pediatric patients in a way that I think adult medicine is just catching up on. So I’m totally in agreement, like what you said, and I think it’s because you’re working with kids, you can’t not talk to the parents, not think about what is the school like you know so you’re forced to because of that environment, but that’s really a model that we should be using for all of our patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, completely agree. Sasha, what are your thoughts about whole person care and where are your providers gotten it, right, maybe where have they gotten it wrong?

Sasha Tanori:

For me personally, I can’t speak on every Mexican American, but at least for me personally, it’s definitely been a struggle because where I come from, it’s a very like low demographic, we don’t have a whole lot of resources and stuff like that. So getting care is…it’s not the easiest. I’ve had to go to several doctors before I even got diagnosed, and I didn’t even get diagnosed in my hometown, I had to be sent to San Diego because they had no idea what was going on. They were like, “We don’t know what’s wrong with you. Go home.” They kept giving me misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis, and especially with being a plus-sized Mexican American, they were just like, “Oh, if you lose a couple of pounds, you’ll be fine.” And I show up at the hospital with bruises on my body and they’re like, “It’s because you’re overweight.” And I’m like, “That doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense.” So yeah, it was definitely difficult trying to find a good healthcare professional who would listen to me, and I had to leave out of my Imperial Valley, out of my demographic to go find the help because…

And even then, they were kind of like, “Well, it could be this blood disease, it could be this, it could be that.”  And they were like, “Oh well, is anyone in your family…you’re Mexican, is there anyone in your family who has this type of illness, do they have diabetes, or this or that?” And I was like, “No, just help me. Don’t worry about them. Don’t worry about my family. Don’t worry about them. Worry about me.” And finally, I think after two months or something of just going to doctors’ appointments, after doctors’ appointments, they finally were able to give me proper diagnosis. But it shouldn’t have to take that many trips to the hospital and seeing this many doctors for them to figure out what was wrong. And a lot of it is because of, like you said, it’s because of the whole inequity of being a person of color, and I’m only half-Mexican. But a lot of people see that part of me first, and I think they automatically start being prejudiced, or they start judging you based on the way you look, the way you talk and stuff like that, so that way. It’s definitely been a struggle, especially being here in the Imperial Valley, we’re so close to the Mexican border. So they just automatically…they’re like, “No,” it’s just straight up, “No.”

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow, I’m really sorry about that, and I appreciate you sharing your story. What about you, Broderick? And you’re a naturopathic physician, you’re a wellness expert, so you probably fully…not probably you fully understand the importance of whole person care. I feel like that’s at the root of your specialty, so maybe you can give us some ideas about how you approach this and why whole person care is so important.

Broderick Rodell:

Yes, thank you. And I do fully understand the various issues and concerns that can arise when you go to a medical doctor and the specialist and not talking to your primary care physician. And so I focus a lot of my attention on the individual and what you can do as an individual to care for yourself, to educate yourself about well-being and help. It doesn’t deny the various social conditions or structural issues there. It’s just that I feel like we have our greatest amount of power, a great capacity to act and taking as much responsibility as we possibly can in our own care through educating ourselves about how our bodies work, how our mind works, how disease manifestation arises, taking advantage of the tools that we have available to us via the Internet and educating ourselves so that we can be advocates for ourselves when we have a conversation with the various medical practitioners. But I’ve also really emphasized what can I do to maximize my health, my well-being, what choices can I make in my life to make my life into a life with maximum wellness and well-being and minimal suffering? And I do spend a large amount of time focusing on training the mind, reducing stress, educating yourself around, what can I do to eat well, nutrition, what can I do to exercise? To get my body moving, what are the various things that I can do to care for myself to the best of my abilities and not give too much power over to medical doctors on a medical system that not always…

Now, I want to say, I’m going to be careful, I say this can be quite incompetent and that incompetence is associated with, I think what was mentioned earlier, a lack of communication. A lack of communication, the way the system is set up, it’s kind of dysfunctional and the various incentives and not enough time spent with patients. And if you’re not spending enough time with patients and you’re not communicating with other practitioners that are working with these patients, then you’re not going to have a very good idea of what’s going on in this patient’s life and what could be contributing to their illness. So, therefore, it’s incumbent upon the patient, we as individuals, to try to learn as much as we can and try to get our communities involved to help create educational programs to facilitate that education and that awareness.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, Broderick, the ideas that you mentioned in terms of we as patients and family members and communities educating ourselves about our own health and advocating for ourselves as someone who left medicine to become a professional health advocate, I’m all about advocating for yourself, speaking up, understanding what’s going on with your body. And I know that that can be challenging. And some people feel like, “It’s unfair, if I’m sick, the last thing I should have to worry about is fiercely advocating for myself in a medical setting.” And it is unfair to some degree, but as you stated in this system and the system that we’re currently operating in it is absolutely necessary, and I love that you mentioned mind, body spirit. And as a traditionally trained physician, I will admit that we don’t get that connection, that’s not something that is part of our traditional training. And it’s unfortunate that we kind of just see the body over here, and then the mind over here. And we know that we are all…this is all part of who we are, and that if your environment is not optimal, if your mental health is not optimal, if your spiritual health is not optimal, then that’s going to manifest itself in your physical health.

Equity Rx, Cancer Care for the Whole Patient

Equity Rx, Cancer Care for the Whole Patient from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is culturally competent whole-person cancer care, and why is it important? How can patients maximize their well-being for the best possible cancer treatment outcome? A cancer survivor, naturopathic doctor, and public health scientist share solutions on how the whole patient should be considered in cancer care.

See More From Rx for Community Wellness

Related Resources:

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?

Why Is It Important to Address Whole Person Care?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Hello and welcome to Equity Rx, Cancer Care for the Whole Patient. I’m your host, Dr. Nicole Rochester. I’m a pediatrician and the CEO of Your GPS Doc. This is a Patient Empowerment Network program, and I’d like to start by thanking our incredible partners, Triage Cancer, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and CancerGRACE for their support. Today, we’re covering a very important topic, the significance of treating the whole patient while providing medical care, particularly for underserved communities. For me, when we think about self-care in the context of whole person care, it’s often considered to be a luxury, particularly in BIPOC communities, mental health and self-care are not always prioritized, and we know that this is… And we know that this is important as well for those with the cancer diagnosis, so how do we change that? We’re going to be talking about how to remove this taboo and how to encourage meaningful mind-body connections, we’re gonna talk about what has worked and what hasn’t worked, and most importantly, how do we ensure that Equity, Rx in cancer care occurs on an everyday basis.

How do we make sure that the entire patient, the whole patient is considered. I’m excited to introduce our panel to you today, we have Aswita Tan-McGory. She is the director of Equity and care implementation at Massachusetts General Hospital. She’s also the Director for the disparity solution center. We have Sasha Tanori. Sasha is a Patient Empowerment Network, AML network manager and a cancer survivor. And we have Dr. Broderick Rodell He is an educator, a doctor of naturopathic medicine, and a wellness expert. 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 if you have any questions following this program, please be sure to connect with your healthcare team on what options are best for you.

So, let’s start with a definition of whole-person care. Whole-person care is defined as the patient center, optimal use of diverse health care resources to deliver the physical, behavioral, emotional and social services required to improve the coordination of care for patients, their well-being and their health outcomes. So, I’d like to start with you, Aswita and I’d like to know your thoughts on Whole Person Care, and why do you think that this has been such a taboo subject for so long, and also why is it important for us to address whole person care?

Aswita Tan-McGory, MBA, MSPH:

I think that part of the problem is that our healthcare system is very, very fragmented, so if we think about… We have primary care, then we have specialty care, then we have care in the hospital, and oftentimes there’s no communication or communication is sort of inconsistent between those pieces, and so we as a healthcare system don’t promote this idea of whole person care, where you would really look at a patient, see them, see them in their environment, oftentimes, we’re seeing patients in our own institutions and we really don’t know anything about what we’re sending them home to, right? Unless we ask or we screen.

So I actually think it starts with how we build our systems in many ways, as a very sort of system that doesn’t really work to encourage thinking about the patient in the whole way, and that means the primary care physician being part of the care team with specialty care, getting that conversation just from an implementation perspective, I think this is a real challenge in our system, there’s other things as well, but I think that’s a big piece towards how do we ensure that for the patient… And I’m sure all of us have had our own experiences in healthcare where we are like, they’re not talking to each other. Well, why does this this doctor not talking to my primary care doctor aren’t they like logging into the same system? And then if you go outside of your system it’s even more challenging, so.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, and I can relate to every single thing you said as both a position and as a former caregiver, I will say as a pediatrician, I felt that this idea of whole person care, even before it was really a thing that’s kind of incorporated in our practice out of necessity, and we know that it’s important for the health of children to be involved in what happens to them at school and what happens to them in their child care setting, what’s happening in their homes.

And so that was kind of my reference point, but when I became a caregiver for my dad and kind of stepped into the world of adult medicine, I experienced exactly what you describe, Aswita. Just this fragmentation providers not talking to one another, and just a lack of appreciation for the importance of our environment and the things that we’re exposed to in our homes than in our communities, and how that is so intricately connected to our health. So I really appreciate that.

Aswita Tan-McGory, MBA, MSPH:

Yeah, I want to just tag on something you just said is, I work with a lot of pediatricians and pediatric hospitals, and they are the angels in our system, if I can say so, you… And they definitely have cornered that market of really thinking of social determinants of health or the whole system for their pediatric patients in a way that I think adult medicine is just catching up on, so I totally agreement, like what you said, and I think it’s because you’re working with kids, you can’t not talk to the parents, not think about what is the school like you know so your forced to because of that environment, but that’s really a model that we should be using for all of our patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, completely agree. Sasha, what are your thoughts about whole-person care and where are your providers gotten it, right, maybe where have they gotten it wrong?

Sasha Tanori:

For me personally, I can’t speak on every Mexican-American, but at least for me personally, it’s definitely been a struggle because where I come from, it’s a very like low demographic, we don’t have a whole lot of resources and stuff like that, so getting care is… It’s not the easiest. I’ve had to go to several doctors before I even got diagnosed, and I didn’t even get diagnosed in my hometown, I had to be sent to San Diego because they had no idea what was going on. They were like, We don’t know what’s wrong with you. Go home, they kept giving me misdiagnosis after misdiagnosis, and especially with being a plus-sized Mexican-American, they were just like, Oh, if you lose a couple of pounds, you’ll be fine, and I show up at the hospital with bruises on my body and they’re like it’s because you’re overweight, and I’m like, That doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. So yeah, it was definitely difficult trying to find a good health care professional who would listen to me, and I had to leave out of my Imperial Valley, out of my demographic to go find the help because…

And even then, they were kind of like, Well, it could be this blood disease, it could be this, it could be that, and they were like, Oh well, is anyone in your family… You’re Mexican, is anyone in your family have this type of illness, do they have diabetes, or this or that. And I was like, No, just help me. Don’t worry about them. Don’t worry about my family. Don’t worry about them. Worry about me. And finally, I think after two months or something of just going to doctor’s appointments, after doctor’s appointments, they finally were able to give me proper diagnosis, but it shouldn’t have to take that many trips to the hospital and seeing this many doctors for them to figure out what was wrong. And a lot of it is because of, like you said, it’s because of the whole inequity of being a person of color, and I’m only half Mexican, but a lot of people see that part of me first, and they think they automatically start being prejudiced or they start judging you based on the way you look, the way you talk and stuff like that, so that way… It’s definitely been a struggle, especially being here in the Imperial Valley, we’re so close to the Mexican border, so they just automatically…They’re like, No, it’s just straight up, no.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow, I’m really sorry about that, and I appreciate you sharing your story and you’re bringing up some things that we’re definitely going to get further into as we start to talk about bias and culturally competent care. What about you Broderick? And You’re a naturopathic physician, you’re a wellness expert, so you probably fully… Not probably you fully understand the importance of whole-person care, I feel like that’s at the root of your specialty, so maybe you can give us some ideas about how you approach this and why whole person care is so important.

Broderick Rodell:

Yes, thank you. And I do fully understand the various issues and concerns that can arise when you go to a medical doctor and the specialist and not talking to your primary care physician, and so I focus a lot of my attention on the individual and what you can do as an individual to care for yourself, to educate yourself about well-being and help, it doesn’t deny the various social conditions or structural issues there, it’s just that I feel like we have our greatest amount of power, a great capacity to act and taking as much responsibility as we possibly can in our own care through educating ourselves about how our bodies work, how our mind works, how disease manifestation arises, taking advantage of the tools that we have available to us via the internet and educating ourselves so that we can be advocates for ourselves when we have a conversation with the various medical practitioners, but I’ve also really emphasize what can I do to maximize my health, my well-being, what choices can I make in my life to make my life to no life with maximum wellness and well-being and minimal suffering. And I do spend a large amount of time focusing on training the mind, reducing stress, educating yourself around, what can I do to eat well, nutrition, what can I do to exercise? To get my body moving, what are the various things that I can do to care for myself to the best of my abilities and not give too much power over to medical doctors on a medical system that not always…

Now, I wanna say, I’m gonna be careful, I say this can be quite incompetent and that incompetence is associated with, I think what was mentioned earlier, a lack of communication. A lack of communication, the way the system is set up, it’s kind of dysfunctional and the various incentives and not enough time spent with patients, and if you’re not spending enough time with patients and you’re not communicating with other practitioners that are working with these patients, then you’re not gonna have a very good idea of what’s going on in this patient’s life and what could be contributing to their illness. So, therefore, it’s incumbent upon the patient, we as individuals, to try to learn as much as we can and try to get our communities involved to help create educational programs to facilitate that education and that awareness.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I completely agree, Broderick the ideas that you mentioned in terms of we as patients and family members and communities educating ourselves about our own health and advocating for ourselves as someone who left medicine to become a professional health advocate, I’m all about advocating for yourself, speaking up, understanding what’s going on with your body? And I know that that can be challenging. And some people feel like it’s unfair, if I’m sick, the last thing I should have to worry about is fiercely advocating for myself in a medical setting, and it is unfair to some degree, but as you stated in this system and the system that we’re currently operating in it is absolutely necessary, and I love that you mentioned mind, body spirit, and as a traditionally trained physician, I will admit that we don’t get that connection, that’s not something that is part of our traditional training, and it’s unfortunate that we kind of just see the body over here, and then the mind over here, and we know that we are all… This is all part of who we are, and that if your environment is not optimal, if your mental health is not optimal, if your spiritual health is not optimal, then that’s going to manifest itself in your physical health.

I wanna start talking about health inequities, and I wanna piggy-back off of something you just said, Broderick, because you talked about kind of eating well and exercising, and sometimes those things, those behaviors are kind of weaponized against patients, particularly if they are in environments where that doesn’t just come easy. So we know that due to structural racism, due to inequities, not everybody has access to fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy foods, not everyone has access to green spaces, nice parks where they can go outside and safety and exercise, and that’s something that we’re being made increasingly aware of is how these social determinants of health impact healthcare. So I wanna move and start to talk about the importance of culturally competent care, or I like to call it cultural humility, I don’t know that we can really ever be competent in someone else’s culture, but I wanna talk about how those come together, this idea of being respectful and sensitive and aware of individuals culture and how that connects to some of the health inequities that we experience, so Aswita, I know this is an area of expertise for you, so I’d love for you to chime in.

Aswita Tan-McGory, MBA, MSPH:

Yeah, I mean, I would love it if every physician or nurse or PA started the conversation, what has been the biggest challenge for you in the last six months? If you ask that question, I mean, well the patient will be like, Oh my God. And not around just medical issues, they all align right? If you don’t have housing, you’re gonna have medical stress, like Broderick said. I’m just calm listening to you, so I’m gonna guess that you have is really positive vibe that’s probably missing for many of us because we aren’t practicing the things that you encourage, and so I would just say that it’s really difficult in the system like I said, we set up, and we mentioned 15 minutes, doctors don’t feel like they have time to ask that question, but you’re doing it in other ways, we implement social determinants of health screening. Well, that’s really that question, right. But you formalize it because it’s not happening, so now it becomes like a screening question, and I will just say that we’re very narrow-minded in our view, I think I have seen a change in the very beginning when we started the work in our center in 2006, a lot of pushback was around thinking about what happens in the patient outside of our walls, it said, Well, I didn’t go to medical school to solve the problem of housing, I didn’t go to medical school to figure out how to get somebody on benefits, and I think health care system realized it doesn’t matter what you do in the hospital, it will be undone when they get home to a situation where they can’t maintain it, they can’t provide that support, they don’t…

They’re stressed out, they have mental health issues, so I think they’re finally getting there, but I think just acknowledging that the person in front of you has different experiences based on, language, education, gender, ability, sexual orientation… I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think you just need to own it, we’re working on it, so I do it better than others, but I don’t know any healthcare system, honestly, that’s nailed this to the way that we probably should, so… I’m with you Broderick, we don’t do this very well, and most of my job includes dismantling these systems that we built to benefit the people in power and leave everybody else behind, and so that’s been really the focus in our work.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wonderful, thank you so much for sharing that. And for all the work that you’re doing in this area. Sasha, from your perspective, and you mentioned you’re a Mexican-American, you mentioned that there were significant barriers for you in terms of getting a diagnosis, having to leave your community. So, I love for you to share more about that, this idea of cultural humility, cultural sensitivity, and how that played out or maybe didn’t in your experiences with the healthcare system.

Sasha Tanori:

Yeah, I live in the lowest poverty line of California, so there’s not very much out there at all in my area, just to get my diagnosis, like I said, I had to leave out of my community to go get the community… To go get the diagnosis. Sorry. And when I did that, it was… A lot of it had to also do with your… For me personally, it has to do with like generational. My father doesn’t believe in diagnosis, diagnoses, to him, it’s like every time I kept coming to him and complaining about this issue, he was just like, Oh, you’re exaggerating, or it would be like the typical inaudible],  and put some Vix on it and you’re fine type of response, and I kept bugging him and bugging him, and he didn’t believe me, nobody believed me because it’s just such a… Like I said, I live in a… What’s the word I’m thinking of, I’m sorry. I live in a community that they don’t take things like this seriously from Mexicans, if a white girl was to go to the hospital and say, Hey, I’ve got bruises, it’s like, Okay, let’s do testing right away, but I kept… And it is a lot of my generational, I think, trauma from my parents or from my dad mostly, that I didn’t even believe myself, it’s just like…

I kept putting it on the back burner. I kept thinking, No, there’s nothing wrong. No, there’s nothing wrong. No, there’s nothing wrong. And I wish that I would have advocated for myself a lot sooner, I wish that I would have taken my own problems more serious because I didn’t… I didn’t think anything was on either, I just kept ignoring it because that’s just how my mind was trained from my community, from my parents or my dad mostly, and finally, once I was able to… Once I started getting really, really serious, I still didn’t get the help, I need it right away, it was now kept pushing it back on, you need to lose weight, or you’re anemic, or you have this blood disorder, so take this medicine, like nobody really took anything… I was saying serious because I also didn’t take it serious, my community doesn’t take it serious, my dad doesn’t take it serious, and that all just comes back to being Mexican, that’s just how it is when you’re Mexican, you don’t really take any of the serious issues serious, you go to work and you take care of your family. And you put yourself on the back burner.

You put yourself last. And it was really hard. Yeah, but now that I been through everything I’ve been through, I’m seriously, so passionate about making sure that people, especially Mexicans realize, Hey, whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’re going through, whether it’s physical, emotional, mentally, it needs to come first, no matter what.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Thank you, Sasha. That is so incredibly important, and even the way you’re sharing what you said towards the end about, You go to work, you take care of your family, this all goes back to cultural competence, all goes back to social determinants of health. It explains why often, racial and ethnic minority groups, those in lower income brackets have poor health, it’s not biology, but when you are needing out of necessity to focus on your next meal, then you’re going to push off going to the doctor, you’re going to neglect your mental health, which brings me back to you, Broderick, because we know that stress and anxiety and depression and all of those things impact your physical health, and as I said earlier, I think traditionally, there’s been this ridiculous disconnection between our minds and our bodies, and we know a lot more now, in fact, there’s a study, there are many studies, but there’s a study specifically looking at Prostate Cancer by Dr. Burnham, a researcher, and what they found in this study is that they looked at prostate cancer cells from African-American patients and white patients, and when they treated these cells with stress hormones, they saw that the black patient’s prostate cells would begin to up-regulate the genes and the proteins that are known to make that cancer more resistant to therapy, and so it starts to look at the role of stress and stress hormones, and we know that there’s increased stress among minority communities, among… Sorry, urban communities, those who are otherwise disenfranchised, so from your perspective, can you just share a little bit about the connection between stress and physical illness and maybe how you approach that in the work that you do?

Broderick Rodell:

Yeah, so I’m just reflecting on what Sasha was saying and how the depth of what you’re saying and how this relates to stress. So these various patterns we don’t operate, we have a framework that we all operate from, and it’s beneath the surface of our conscious awareness and so our subconscious mind operating system is there, but that operating system comes from our conditioning, we’re conditioned by our families, by our local communities, our societies, and so the various structures that are in place are facilitating our conditioning and from our conditioning we… That our conditioning creates our perspective, the framework that we operate from, that’s determine… That’s gonna determine how we relate to our experiences, and how we relate to our experiences can be gracefully or it can be stressfully, just to put it in those two different terms, and so that stress, that is created based on how we’re relating to our experiences has a historical perspective, and so we have to address those issues. We can address on familial issues that has a historical relationship and say that maybe the relationship that my mother and father or grandparents had towards their own health is not necessarily to be the most optimal way to do that, and they may have had those ways of relating to their experience, based on their conditioning, based on the suffering that they’ve been experienced, environmental conditions that were conducive for that mental framework that they’re operating from, and so we have to work towards transforming that, and again, the place where we have the most power in ourselves, How can I change myself? When I listen to Sasha story, Sasha says, I have to change, I have to go somewhere else.

I can’t depend on my father to do it ’cause he’s gonna tell me to put Vix on, but that’s not gonna work for me. I have to advocate for myself, and so how do we increase that by increasing our education and learning about ourselves and learning about our mental models that we’re using to relate to our experiences and transforming those mental models to reduce unnecessary stress and tension, because when we’re under unnecessary stress, we have our epinephrine cortisol, these hormones that are increasing in our body, that’s gonna suppress our immune system. It’s gonna cause damage in our blood vessels, organs are not gonna function optimally, and I think that we’re gonna keep finding out more and more about this. I was interested, as you hear that about the prostate, prostate cells in African-Americans, why would that be the case? You’ve got generations of hyper-vigilance for historical reasons, cultural reasons or social reasons, then of course, that’s gonna get passed on from generation to generation, a sense of hyper-vigilance a sense excessive amount of stress hormones was floating around in the bloodstream, and it’s gonna have a significant influence on how the body is capable of dealing with various illnesses be it cancer, be it cardiovascular disease or any other disease that’s associated with, or ____ disease that’s associated with stress these days.

In particular, with cancer it’s very interesting, that relationship and why are these cells dividing and rapidly producing in the way that they’re doing, and how is that related to stress? I don’t think it’s… No, simple relationship there. You can’t just say, Stress causes cancer, I’m not saying that at all. But there is a correlation, there is a relationship, and if the thing that we can tackle, we can’t change our genes, but what we can do is change our relationship to our experience. Transform that to reduce the amount of stress or suffering and maximize well-being, and that’s the kind of work that I try to focus my attention on and what comes out of that is, Okay, I need to work on how I relate to my experience, but also How do I create favorable conditions in my internal system, in my body through the food, it through the exercise that I do it, through the literature and I expose myself to etcetera.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

No, that was perfect, Broderick. That was perfect. I appreciate that because as we wrap up, we want to start to share solutions, how do we begin to change the conversation among healthcare providers, among community-based organizations, policymakers, those that influence the health of individuals and communities, and what you’ve described is what we can do. The power that we have within ourselves to reframe how we look at our circumstances, to reframe how we relate to our experiences to begin to minimize the stress to the degree that we can individually and how all of that really impacts health. I really, really appreciate those comments. Sasha, I’m going to go to you next and then I’m going to finish up with Aswita. If you had some advice that you could give from a patient’s perspective, and maybe you’re talking to a policy maker or healthcare providers, but how can we do better in this area as it relates to Whole Person Care, culturally competent care?

Sasha Tanori:

I would definitely say take your patients more seriously and not just like one-offs, okay, bye. A lot of the times they just do a couple of tests and they’re like, Oh well, we can’t find anything, so let’s just move along and there needs to be more conversation as well.

A lot of the doctors will come in and talk to you for like you said, 15 minutes, and then it’s like, Okay, you know, well, we can’t find anything wrong, so just go… And it’s like, No, let me explain everything, let me explain how I’m mentally feeling, how I’m physically feeling, how stressed out feeling, how emotionally I’m feeling, and there’s just so many different layers to just one, if you come in and say, Oh, well, my hip hurts. Okay, but why I explain more to it, not just okay let’s do an x-ray and you leave. Like there needs to be a lot more conversation going on between the patient and the doctor, there needs to be a lot more understanding where it could also be stress as it relates to work, it could be stress related to family, to love the ones… To kids, to spouses, there’s so many different things on top of that, that’s more than just, you know, Hey, you know like, I just need a prescription and you can go… There’s so much more conversation needs to be have then I really wish that a lot more health care providers would have that conversation with them, I know they don’t always have the time, they’re busy, but at least a little bit more compassion, a little bit more understanding, going about when it comes to patients.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I appreciate that, and you’re right. The time is an issue. And I will tell you as a physician and as somebody who has tons of physician friends, it causes internal conflict within the doctors, because I don’t know any doctor that got into this for any reason, primarily, other than to help patients, and so to be placed in these situations where you know that you’re falling short of providing the care that your patients need is actually quite disturbing. So that leads me to you, Aswita. So we’ve talked about all the things that need to happen in an ideal world, but as you described earlier, the system in which health care is provided in our country is dysfunctional, it’s broken, and so as someone with your background, what are some of the solutions? What are some of the things that healthcare systems and organizations can do with all these limitations that we’ve all been talking about today?

Aswita Tan-McGory, MBA, MSPH:

This actually came from my colleague who’s a psychiatrist, and we did a webinar together, and she mentioned this, and I just really loved it as a solution which is talking as a pathway to healing, when we think about… A lot of what I heard today, the big thing is a lack of trust between a patient and a provider or a patient and a health care system, there was so much trauma in our communities that we don’t talk about, and so I would say that like…

One solution is, we as a system need to talk about these challenges more openly or more… I mean I have this sign behind me it says get comfortable being uncomfortable to talk about racism, but I think also within our own communities, we need to talk more about the challenges, the things that we just sort of tolerated that are not okay anymore, and getting mental health care, acknowledging that we are disproportionately attacked when we go out on the streets, all of those things, we need to more openly talk and that is a pathway to healing, which I think this country really could use, and so my solution is simple but difficult, but probably cheaper than any other solution that I would offer to fix the issues. I think we just need to start there, yes, we can do many things, but I think talking about this as a pathway to healing would go a long way.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow. Talking as a pathway to healing. That is powerful. Well, I want to thank all of you for spending some time with me today, this has been a phenomenal conversation, one that I’m sure we could all continue for hours and hours and hours. But unfortunately, we do have to go.

I want to thank all of you for taking time to be part of this Patient Empowerment Network, Equity Rx webinar. Just to give a recap, we’ve learned about the importance of culturally sensitive Whole Person Care, how culturally competent or culturally sensitive whole person and care is important in reducing health inequities, we talked about how stress impacts lifestyle and cancer and all other chronic diseases, and we’ve also tried to provide you with some actionable pathways and potential solutions to this problem, it is truly these actions that are the key to staying on your Path to Empowerment. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, thank you for joining this Patient Empowerment Network program.

MPN Patient Profile: Robyn Rourick Part 2

Read the first part of Robyn’s MPN journey here…

Picking up after 26 years of watchful monitoring of her myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN), scientist Robyn Rourick was then referred for an allogeneic stem cell transplant by her MPN specialist, Dr. Gotlib. The transplant team started working through the matching process for a bone marrow transplant donor, which often begins with close biological relatives. Although Robyn’s only sibling wasn’t a transplant match, a person considered a near perfect transplant match for Robyn was found.

At that point in her journey, the possibility of entering a Phase II clinical trial called ORCA-1 was presented by Robyn’s transplant doctor. She discovered that the ORCA-1 treatment had the potential to completely eliminate graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). The clinical trial made sense to her. In Robyn’s trained scientific mind, she agreed that the trial was founded on sound scientific rationale with the potential for clear benefit and signed up for it. She researched other things like whether the transplant team could look at biomarkers to guard against graft-versus-host disease, but she decided to take the clinical trial path as her best option.

As for her feelings about the stem cell transplant, Robyn felt there was likely going to be a positive outcome for her due to the ORCA-1 clinical trial. Her knowledge about the trial really brought her a lot of comfort and put her at ease for the time she’d be around her family post-transplant. Robyn was lucky because her doctor was actually the primary investigator on the study. When he presented the transplant study as an option, that’s when she started to do more searching to find what patient advocacy groups were out there.

Looking back on her MPN journey, Robyn wishes that physicians would provide their patients with more patient advocacy resources, such as those available through organizations like Patient Empowerment Network (PEN). She feels fortunate that she discovered PEN through another patient advocacy website, and she firmly believes in PEN’s mission of empowering patients to gain knowledge to advocate on their own behalf. “I had the realization that in the clinical trial I was in, I was only the sixth patient, and the technology was stellar in terms of what we’re trying to do in terms of cell therapy. I just felt like patients need to know about the treatment advancements, and PEN is an excellent resource for learning about treatment and support options that I wanted to share my knowledge and patient experience with.” 

Robyn was fortunate to have a team of physicians in whose knowledge and treatment recommendations she could trust. She’s  tremendously grateful, because she knows it’s not always the case, and so offers this advice for others, “Make sure that you’re comfortable with your physicians. And if not, then move on. Don’t be afraid to reach out and to make other connections to other doctors, even across the globe. You shouldn’t hesitate to request a conference call with another provider to see if they’re aligned with your diagnosis and your watchful waiting or treatment recommendations. Patients must have the utmost confidence going through their cancer journey.”

As for the scientists who handled her sample in the ORCA-1 trial, Robyn was able to meet the scientists and saw the analytical data of her sample. She was highly impressed with the protocols that they used with the samples. Robyn was just the sixth myelofibrosis patient to join the trial. To have spent her life working on medicines for patients and then to be on the receiving end of this cutting-edge treatment for transplants made her feel very privileged. 

In her life post-transplant, Robyn has continued periodic blood work for routine monitoring and has been doing well. Two years following her transplant, Robyn’s myelofibrosis is in remission, and she has no evidence of fibrosis in her bone marrow. Her test numbers have been progressing nicely, and she hasn’t needed any additional treatment since undergoing the transplant. “I don’t have a single regret. I haven’t had a pimple, an itch, a scratch, absolutely nothing. My life has resumed exactly how it was before the transplant.”

In reflecting on her patient experience, Robyn offers this additional advice to other cancer patients, “Take a deep breath and give it some time to play out. The moment that I heard the word cancer and the risks with rapid progression, I had myself dead and buried. In my mind, what I needed to plan for was death. Prepare my family. Get everything in order. And to me, that was going to be the ultimate outcome. But then as things unfolded, I had conversations, did a little bit of research, and found out I did have some options. Things weren’t so negative in terms of progression and mortality. Don’t jump to the most negative outcome possible.”

MPN Patient Profile: Robyn Rourick Part 1

Though Robyn Rourick is a scientist by training and works for a biotechnology company, she took a mind-body approach to her myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) journey. The time that passed between Robyn’s initial MPN diagnosis and when she finally needed treatment was incredibly – and nearly shockingly – long. She was diagnosed with essential thrombocythemia (ET) 26 years after elevated platelets were shown on a routine blood test. After she saw a hematologist, they performed a bone marrow biopsy and concluded she didn’t have myelofibrosis and received the ET diagnosis. Robyn recalls of the time of her diagnosis, “I didn’t know about myeloproliferative disorders. Not many people did at the time. Nobody mentioned that I could potentially have an MPN.” 

Robyn’s blood levels were monitored over the years, and her platelets started to decrease. Though she didn’t realize at the time, her platelets were decreasing because her bone marrow was becoming more fibrotic. She was also tested for the early gene mutations (JAK2) that were discovered as more MPN research occurred but tested negative . She later switched to another hematologist who was very tuned into the gene connections. He looked at Robyn’s medical data comprehensively and was extremely attentive to any minor changes. As her blastocytes began shifting, he urged her to go see MPN specialist Dr. Gotlib. Dr. Gotlib did further analyses and classified her as having myelofibrosis, noting that when she was diagnosed with ET that her original healthcare team also couldn’t have  ruled out pre-fibrotic myelofibrosis at that time. Fortunately, Dr. Gotlib stated if he had diagnosed her with her original blood test 26 years prior, he would have recommended to simply watch and wait while monitoring Robyn’s blood levels on a regular basis. 

Although Robyn felt healthy and had no symptoms besides an enlarged spleen, as Dr. Gotlib dug deeper into her genetic profile, he found a unique mutation that suggested she was at risk for an escalation into acute myeloid leukemia mutation. He recommended Robyn for an immediate allogeneic stem cell transplant for her MPN treatment.    

Robyn then learned that graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) was a major concern for the transplant process, which can be debilitating. So she began to seek patient advocacy resources to inform her MPN journey. “I felt desperate and wanted to meet people who had myelofibrosis who successfully came through transplant. I didn’t want to just talk to a transplant person with a different disease.” Robyn went through some patient connection programs – including Be the Match, Caring Connections Program, and Patient Power – and was able to meet a few people and became quite close with one patient. 

She learned that even though transplant will cure your disease, doctors don’t always elaborate with patients on the potential for a compromised lifestyle due to  graft-versus-host disease. Sometimes patients will come through transplant in worse condition than before the treatment. Robyn had major fears about going through transplant and being able to work and do her extracurricular activities post-transplant. “I felt like I was going to be a letdown for my family and colleagues and didn’t tell my work until I was preparing to go out on leave, which in retrospect was silly.” After telling her manager, Robyn was given complete support, and realized she could have avoided carrying so much anxiety.

“For me, self-education and advocacy are important to enable yourself to have conversations about what’s possible in terms of your treatment. You don’t have to develop an in-depth understanding, but enough to have the ability to be conversational. If you’re proposed a certain pathway, it’s good to know enough to ask why. And if you’ve done some research on your own, then you can ask why not an alternate treatment approach. I think it’s really important to have some knowledge, because it builds your confidence to be able to move forward with what’s being proposed.” 

“Give it time, allow yourself to digest the information, have conversations about it, and develop your own understanding. At first, I was very closed about my diagnosis. I told my immediate family, and I told one very close friend who had gone through autologous transplant. The more that I began to talk about it and the more that I included people in the story, the easier my journey became.” Robyn also saw a cancer therapist who made some really good points to her. “She told me that ‘we’re all going to die of something, but most of us don’t know what that really looks like.’” In Robyn’s case, she had the opportunity to learn more about her disease, guide it, and direct her journey. And that opened up a whole new perspective.

The cancer therapist walked Robyn through some exercises: “What is it you’re afraid of? What do you have control over? Allowing yourself to gain control over some things will build your confidence that you can do this.” Robyn also encourages other patients to engage their network of friends and family and realize that it’s okay to depend on people. It’s not your fault that you have this diagnosis. Getting over the apprehension of telling people about your diagnosis and embracing help from others are key pieces of advice.

Robyn views patient empowerment as essential to the patient journey. She discovered Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) through another patient advocacy website and felt it brought her MPN patient experience full circle in terms of learning what’s available. “As I’m learning more about PEN, I’m just dazzled by the different forums they have to enable knowledge transfer, support systems, and advocacy.” 

Read the second part of Robyn’s MPN journey here…

Roles Reversed: Taking Care of Your Care Partner

Roles Reversed: Taking Care of Your Care Partner from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN Network Managers Summer and Jeff are experiencing a bit of a change. Jeff is Summer’s care partner, however the roles have been reversed. Jeff recently had a knee replacement and is unable to do many tasks he was before. Summer has jumped in taking care of Jeff, but admits it’s harder than it looks. Watch and hear Summer’s comedic take on switching roles and stepping into the care partner role.  

Want to connect with Jeff and Summer? Email them at question@powerfulpatients.org or text EMPOWER to (833) 213-6657. 

Transcript:

Jeff:

Summer! Bring me a snack.

Summer:

Yes, I’m bringing you a chocolate bonbon.

Jeff:

I don’t want a Ghirardelli, I want a Walker’s shortbread.

Summer:

Ugh, yes sir.

Being a caregiver is not a day in the park.

Jeff:

Hi, I’m Jeff.

Summer:

I’m Summer, hi.

Jeff:

We’re your MPN Network Managers for the Patient Empowerment Network. We’re here today to continue talking about caregiving. In the last video, we talked about me being Summer’s caregiver and or different roles and what I bring to that and so on. We had a chance in the last month to actually turn the tables.

In mid-December I had a knee replacement and since then, Summer has been acting as my caregiver. Tell us how it’s been, Summer.

Summer:

Ugh, it’s been exhausting. I’m driving, I’m doing dishes, I’m emptying the garbage, I’m cooking all the meals, I’m getting everything exactly the way you want. You’re lot more of a perfectionist than I am…

Jeff:

Yup, I should be able to drive in another week or so and Summer hates driving, so I really appreciated that. And pretty soon I’ll get back to my role of doing the driving anyway. She’s done a wonderful job, really been very helpful and I’ve been extremely appreciative of it. What’s been the hardest thing for you, Summer?

Summer:

Thinking about all the little things you take for granted that you couldn’t do, like mailing your letters and emptying your garbage. That’s everything, you really have to be on the ball and think of what the needs of the other person really are.

Jeff:

Very true. We stressed that in the last video. Needs of the patient. We have a real supportive relationship in our normal marriage in general, so for us it’s not difficult, but some people may have a difficult time adjusting to being a caregiver or even being a patient.

Summer:

Right.

Jeff:

One thing you have to remember, give the caregiver time for themselves. I think I did a pretty good job trying to give you time for yourself.

Summer:

Yeah, I did my aerobics, I visited friends, I rehearsed for the play, I did my stand-up comedy, yeah, I did.

Jeff:

So, it’s worked well for us. So, as you enter into this relationship of patient and caregiver, be aware of each person’s needs. And, you should have a good experience with it.

Summer:

Darling, I have an urge for a chocolate cookie. Could you bring me one? I gotta take a nap.

Jeff:

Certainly. I’ll get it after we say goodbye to the people. Goodbye, ’til next time.

Summer:

Bye, ’til next time.

Patient and Care Partner Address the Mental Aspects of an MPN

Patient and Care Partner Address the Mental Aspects of an MPN from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN patient Summer emphasizes how important it is to have goals. One of her personal goals is to walk 10,000 steps each day! As a care partner, Jeff shares his main goal is to do whatever he can to help Summer achieve her goals. Some of their shared goals are to live life to the fullest, always live in the moment and don’t let the disease you have control your life.  

Want to connect with Jeff and Summer? Email them at question@powerfulpatients.org or text EMPOWER to (833)213-6657. 

Transcript:

Jeff:

Hi, I’m Jeff.

Summer:

Hi, I’m Summer. And hi, I’m Zelda.

Jeff:

And we’re your MPN Network Managers for the Patient Empowerment Network. Here to talk to you today about emotional and metal aspects of dealing with a severe or very serious disease. Summer has some real strong thoughts about that, so I’m going to let her tell you about it.

Summer:

Well, I think it’s really important to always have goals. And one of my first goals, this is my Apple Watch right here to keep track of my steps so I can get 10,000 steps a day. That’s really important. Of course, I’m still teaching my classes. That’s very inspiring. We’re putting on a show pretty soon. And my goal right now too is I’m getting ready for my next comedy show. I’m going to talk about the cloud and about those little people that are in the traffic signs that tell you when to stop or go. And of course I’ve got Zelda and I don’t know what her goal is, just to be a good dog. So, that’s what my goals are. To stay positive.

Jeff:

And Summer has those goals, but one serious and important thing that we decided when she got this disease was we were going to live every life, every moment of our lives to the fullest, in the moment. And that took some adjusting because I’m a real planner. We pay attention to enjoying everything that we do, each day that we do it. And, we decided early on not to change our lifestyle, not to let the disease control us, and just to keep going. And, that alone plus Summer’s fantastic exercise regimen has really done a lot to keep her in good shape and to keep her strong.

As a caregiver, my goals are do whatever I can to help her achieve her goals. So, it’s really important to live life in the moment and keep a positive attitude. Don’t let the disease control you. That’s our advice.

‘Til next time, I’m Jeff.

Summer:

I’m Summer and I’m Zelda.

How an MPN Care Partner Handles Burnout

How an MPN Care Partner Handles Burnout from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN Network Managers Summer and Jeff discuss care partner burnout. Jeff is the caregiver of Summer who is living with myelofibrosis. Jeff admits to doing majority of the research so he can properly advocate for Summer’s care. In this video, Jeff talks about various outlets he uses to counteract burnout such as photography, music and improv theater.

Want to connect with Jeff and Summer? Email them at question@powerfulpatient.org or text EMPOWER to (833)213-6657.

 


Transcript

Summer:

Wake up. I’ve finished making your bonbons, Jeff. You said you wanted these.

Jeff:

Thank you, Summer. Mmm.

Summer:

Is it delicious?

Jeff:

It’s delicious. Just what I needed.

Summer:

Well, I’m glad I could please you.

Jeff:

Well, I’m Jeff.

Summer:

I’m Summer.

Jeff:

And we’re your MPN Network Managers for the Patient Empowerment Network. We’re here to talk to you today about…

Summer:

What caregivers do, and sometimes caregivers might get burned out. So, we’re talking about what you can do periodically to not get burned out, to keep going, and being great like you are. What are some of the main things you do, Jeff?

Jeff:

Well, I…one of the main things I do is try to remove myself from worrying about myelofibrosis and Summer’s disease. And I go out into nature and I take a lot of nature pictures. I go to National Parks, and take pictures of scenery, beautiful scenery, and big mammals and stuff, which I really really enjoy doing. It sort of clears my head and really refreshes me. I recently took a trip, as a matter of fact, to Yosemite. That’s one of the things I do.

Summer:

And another thing has to do with music.

Jeff:

Yes, I love music and I play in a band. I play the keyboard and the guitar, and I do that once a week at my church and I really really…again it requires quite a bit of focus and it puts my mind in a completely different place. So I remove myself from the worries, is one of the things I do. I’m very fortunate because Summer is doing quite well and doesn’t need huge amounts of physical care.

Summer:

Right, but you do all of the medical stuff because I can’t stand to hear about medical stuff, it’s boring.

Jeff:

That’s right. I do do a lot of the research and keep up with what’s going on in the myelofibrosis area and that’s kind of what my portion of the caregiving is. We’ve talked before about working with, dealing with these disease requires a team approach: the patient, the caregiver, and the medical team.

Summer:

Right.

Jeff:

It’s very important.

Summer:

And we also do improv. That really helps.

Jeff:

That’s correct. We’ve mentioned before that we run a small theater, and one of the things we do in the theater is improvisational theater. We make things up, now you’ve got to be in the moment, so your head can’t be disclouded and worrying about other things. It takes your mind off of the disease, and in my case, worrying about Summer’s disease and the caregiving responsibilities. So that helps us. It actually helps both of us a lot.

Summer:

Right. So do you want any more bonbons or is that a no?

Jeff:

I’ll just take another bite. You know, if we keep going like this, you could become the caregiver and I’ll be the patient. So until next time, I’m Jeff.

Summer:

I’m Summer.

Jeff:

Bye!

Summer:

Bye!

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.