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A Compromised Immune System…Myeloma & Me

My year is off to a rocky start – Myeloma is wreaking havoc on my body and doing a number on my ever-weakening immune system. New Year’s Eve I went to the emergency room…. they ran tests and sent me home.  A few weeks ago, I went to the ER again as I have been puking nonstop, unable to hold down anything even those that go straight into my intestines via my GI tube. I was so dizzy I couldn’t handle it anymore. I figured they would do the normal treat and release but they didn’t. I spent 48 hours in the ER till they found me a room, my primary care physician came in and said, “I’m getting you out of here cause it’s most likely just an ear infection.”  Well that two days ended up being seven days and many doctors were called in, including a few of my previous specialists. He then called my oncologist who said yes, we will resume care just get her here. I then was at that hospital another seven days. They changed my formula after withholding some of my meds that entire time. Two weeks without Lasix and they wondered why my potassium bottomed out. Nothing makes sense about the time there but with my new feeds I’m doing well on.

So, I’ve been home a week now. My labs they drew Monday were normal. Potassium was 2.7 at the hospital and are 8.2 now. I had restarted my Lasix on Saturday before the labs were drawn. Of course, now I’m dealing with severe swelling. When I was weighed at the hospital I dropped from 204 to 130! No one is happy about the weight loss and I’m questioning if I need the Lasix, is it causing me to swell? So, I have an emergency cardiology appointment this week. I will also see my oncologist this week.

I’m also wondering if I have a blood clot as when I was in the hospital I started having numbness from the ankles to my feeding tube area!  So much going on ….and yes, I’m scared. My grandfather died from a clot going into his lung unnoticed by hospital personnel back in the 80s, I’ve told my care team about this and about the numbness and no one is taking me seriously. They called the doctor on record who did nothing either. Now my father found out he has clot issues in his legs (not his dad who had that clot but my moms, my father had to have surgical intervention to ease his).

TD March 2017All of this on top of dealing with cancer – too much for one person to deal with.  But no matter how poorly I feel and how worried I am for the future, I am reminded to advocate for myself and then others if I’m able to. I sometimes have a hard time remembering that myself…It’s going to be a long week

The Best of 2016

As 2016 comes to an end, we would like to take a moment to highlight a few of our most popular posts from each month and to thank the people who contributed to the popularity of these posts. We cannot thank the authors and organizations enough that have contributed to make 2016 one for the books, such as Marie Ennis-O’Connor, Melissa Van Houten, Treatment Diaries, David Wallace, Marcia Donziger, and Edward Leigh. Your efforts to Patient Empowerment Network are greatly appreciated.

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January

Designing With The Patient In Mind

Marie Ennis-O’Conner  explains how the potential of digital technology will never be realized if unless the stakeholders work alongside patients in co-designing solutions that will truly engage, enable, and empower the end-user.

Edward Leigh’s Top 366 Tips

After a decade of work and personal experiences, Ed created the educational tool – Engaging Your Patients 2016 Calendar. In this calendar, there is a tip-a-day to connect, interview and educate patients in the hopes of improving patient satisfaction and safety.

February

5 Simple Steps to Become a Twitter Pro

Short how-to for beginners to learn how to use twitter to become educated and empowered patients

Complications Post Cancer Treatment

From Treatment Diaries, a “cancer free” patient shares the daily complications from the treatments that cured the cancer.

March

Shared Decision Making: Putting The Patient At The Center of Medical Care

Marie Ennis-O’Connor explores the importance of shared decision-making (SDM).

Tweetchats: What Are They? How Can I Participate?

A concise guide to help you understand and participate in Tweetchats.

April

The Power of Content Curation For Healthcare Communities

Marie Ennis-O’Connor explains the importance of more accessible, understandable, and credible healthcare information rather than just more untrustworthy content.

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) 101 Storify

CLL 101 is an online course offered through ePatient101.com created in partnership with the Patient Empowerment Network and Intake.me. To introduce our course, a #patientchat was held on March 18 at 1 PM EST and the included tweets are some highlights from the chat.

May

MRD Testing For Myeloma: What Is It?, Why Should It Be Used?, and Why?

Interview with C. Ola Landgren, MD, PhD, Chief, Myeloma Service Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Latest Research and Advancement in Multiple Myeloma

Interview with Thomas Martin, MD, Associate Director at the Myeloma Institute UCSF Medical Center.

June

Living Well With CLL

Interview with Patient Advocate, Jennifer Abraham.

What is Telehealth? How Can It Benefit Patients?

A concise explanation of telehealth plus top ways that it can benefit patients

July

The Conversation: Getting The Right Treatment and Testing For Lung Cancer

Panel Interview with lung cancer experts Emma Shtivelman, PhD, Chief Scientist Cancer Commons, Mary Ellen Hand, RN, BSN, Nurse Coordinator Rush University Medical Center, and Stage 4 Lung Cancer Patient, Mary Williams.

A Person Centered Approach To The Care of Chronic Illness

Marie Ennis-O’Connor describes the need for chronic illness patients to be treated as whole people rather than pieces of people.

August

Spotlight on: MPN Cancer Connection (MPN-CC)

Interview with David Wallace, founder of PV Reporter and MPN Cancer Connection.

How to Read Beyond the Headline: 9 Essential Questions to Evaluate Medical News

Marie Ennis-O’Connor shares her tips to separate fact from fiction when searching for reliable medical information.

September

Seven Steps to a Successful Digital Advocacy Strategy

Marie Ennis-O’Connor gives seven tips to engage your audience online and inspire them to take action around your cause by using digital tools and applications.

How Can Cancer Patients Contribute To Science?

From the Lung Cancer Town Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, Janet Freeman-Daily interviewed Dr. D. Ross Camidge about how lung cancer patients can contribute to cancer research.

October

The Benefits and Pitfalls of Blogging About Your Illness

Marie Ennis-O’Connor shares some of her concerns and experience about blogging about her illness.

Thanks to Social Media, Rare Progress on Rare Diseases

Recently, social media has been a big part of advances in how we identify and treat rare disease. Patients with these diseases are for the first time able to reach across geographic and cultural borders to band together, giving critical mass to efforts like fundraising and clinical trial enrollment that might otherwise wither away.

Chronic Illness: Oh, The Stress of It All 

Melissa Van Houten shares her story and discusses the stress that comes along with a chronic illness.

November

The digital sherpa™ Workshop Main Takeaways

Overview of our pilot digital sherpa™ Workshop.

What Records Should You Bring For A Second Opinion Appointment?

From the Lung Cancer Town Meeting in September 2016, the panel of lung cancer experts talk about what patients should bring to their second opinion.

5 Lessons Learned From An Ovarian Cancer Survivor

MyLifeLine.org founder and ovarian cancer survivor, Marcia Donziger shares 5 of the lessons learned after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 27.

December

Looking Back On 2016 With Andrew Schorr

Amy Gray interviews Andrew Schorr on his thoughts about the advances in cancer treatment in 2016.

15 Tips To Get the Most From Your Doctor’s Visit

In her latest blog, Marie Ennis-O’Connor, gives 15 tips to help you become a more empowered and engaged partner in your own health – and the health of those you care for.

How Do You Find Out About Clinical Trials?

Interview with Larry Anderson, Jr., MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Patient Advocate, Lynette, and Robert Orlowski, MD, PhD, Director of Myeloma and Professor in the Departments of Lymphoma/Myeloma and Experimental Therapeutics The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

From  the Virtual Town Meeting: Understanding the New World of Myeloma Treatment, Andrew Schorr first ask Dr. Anderson about how patients can find out about clinical trials, whether that be a governmental website, advocacy groups, or each institution’s individual website. Later he gets Lynette and Dr. Orlowski’s opinion on the matter. Check out the full video below to hear from three myeloma experts.

How Do You Find Out About Clinical Trials? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

5 Lessons Learned from an Ovarian Cancer Survivor

Editor’s Note: Blog written by MyLifeLine.org founder and ovarian cancer survivor, Marcia Donziger. She shares 5 of the lessons learned after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 27. 


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Marcia Donziger

In 1997 I was 27, happy, free, and traveling the world as a flight attendant. Newly married and ready to have a baby, I felt strong and invincible. My future was unfolding just as I expected it to. Until the symptoms appeared ever so subtly. Squeezing cramps around my waist. It hurt to pee. After a few weeks, I marched my invincible self into my doctor’s office, told her I diagnosed my own bladder infection, and may I please have antibiotics.

She decided to investigate a little further. After an ultrasound, she discovered a grapefruit-sized tumor growing on my left ovary. “Could it be cancer?” I asked. “No,” my doctor assured me, “you’re too young to have cancer.”

Surgery was scheduled to remove my “benign tumor.” I was excited to get it over with, so I could go on with my life and have babies. After 5 hours of surgery, I woke up in the recovery room, my body uncontrollably thrashing in pain. My doctor hovered over me and broke the news, “I’m sorry. You have ovarian cancer. You’ve had a complete hysterectomy. We took everything out.”

What I heard loud and clear was “Cancer. You can’t have children.”

The diagnosis came as a shock. Stage IIIC ovarian cancer had taken over my abdomen, resulting in an emergency hysterectomy that I was not prepared for. The intense grief hit immediately. The loss of my fertility was most crushing. I had always wanted to be a mom.

Halfway through chemo treatments, I celebrated my 28th birthday, but there wasn’t much to celebrate. My marriage was dying. Cancer puts tremendous stress on a couple. Some couples can handle it together like champs. We didn’t. We divorced 1 year from the date of my diagnosis.

After treatment ended, I looked in the mirror to see what was left. I was 28 years old, ravaged physically and emotionally, divorced, and scared to date as a woman unable to have children. Who would love me now?

Now, almost 20 years later, I feel strong again (although not invincible).

With the benefit of time and perspective, I’ve distilled that traumatic cancer experience into 5 life lessons:

  1. Trust grandma’s reassurance, “This too shall pass.” As an ovarian cancer survivor herself, my grandma is living proof of this timeless wisdom. Stressful events don’t have to be permanent. We don’t have to be victims. Although cancer is extremely painful and unwelcome, the bright spot is we are forced to build character traits such as resiliency, emotional courage, and grit.
  2. Create your own joy in the midst of crisis. There are ways to uplift yourself during the chaos of cancer treatment. For example, I took a pottery class throughout my chemo months to find solace in distraction and art, which helped soothe my soul and ease the journey. What would make you happy? Do some-thing just for you.
  3. Stop doing what you don’t want to do. If you were doing too much out of obligation beforehand, try to change that. You are only obligated to make yourself happy. No one else can do that for you. The key is to use this wisdom to prioritize your time and honor yourself, so you can be healthy for others. Drop what doesn’t serve you. Drop the guilt. Life will go on.
  4. Connect with others. The emotional trauma is hard to measure in a medical test, but it’s real. Anxiety and depression can go hand-in-hand after cancer—it did for me. In response to the emotional challenges I experienced, years later I founded MyLifeLine.org Cancer Foundation to ease the burden for others facing cancer. MyLifeLine.org is a cancer-specific social platform designed to connect you with your own family and friends to ease the stress, anxiety, and isolation. Gather your tribe on MyLifeLine. You are not alone.
  5. You are lovable after cancer. No matter what body parts you are missing, you deserve love just as you are. Cancer tore down my self-esteem, and it took significant effort to build it back up. I am dedicated to personal and professional growth now. Look into your heart, your mind, your spirit. Try fine-tuning your best character traits, like generosity or compassion. Never stop growing and learning. We are not defined by the body.

To wrap up my story—I learned that when one door closes, another opens. Today I am the proud, grateful mother of 11-year-old twin boys. Born with the help of a surrogate mom and an egg donor, my dream finally came true of becoming a parent. Where there is a will, there is a way. Never give up on your dreams!


About MyLifeLine.org: MyLifeLine.org Cancer Foundation provides free websites to connect cancer patients with family and friends so patients feel supported. To learn more about how MyLifeLine.org can help you or someone you know affected by cancer, please visit www.mylifeline.org.

Living Well With CLL

Interview with Patient Advocate, Jennifer Abraham

After her third cancer diagnosis of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), Jennifer decided she and her family were going to make the most of everything. She says her life is better than it has ever been and has learn to just be and live. Jennifer considers her cancer diagnoses almost a blessing because it pushed her to do things she maybe wouldn’t have done. Check out the full video below to hear more from Jennifer.

 

Living Well WIth CLL from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

The Effects of Chemo and Ovarian Cancer

Real ovarian cancer patient experiences shared privately at Treatment Diaries. Making sure you feel less alone navigating a diagnosis is important. Connecting you to those who can relate and provide support is what we do.


Had my first chemo January 20th. LOVE the pre-chemo “cocktail” they give. Relaxed me so much I slept through most of it. First four days after were fine. Next four, lots of nausea and threw up a few times. Doctor added two more anti-nausea meds and finally got it under control.

Using two chemo drugs; Carboplatin and Taxotere.

Two weeks after the first chemo my hair started falling out. Nausea and vomiting I can handle. Being tired a lot I can handle. Fingertips tingling I can handle. Hair falling out by the handful……..that was just demoralizing!

I put up with it for two days. Then, we shaved my head. I do mean WE. Went into work and sold raffle tickets. Winning ticket pulled got to shave my head! It was hilarious! Got pictures and lots of video. Plus, raised $322 to help with expenses, which I really needed.

My “work son”, Andrew, was the winner. Worked out good that way, I think. His mother is going through chemo for breast cancer, started losing her hair and shaved her head. He was having a hard time dealing with that. Shaving my head seemed to give him a new perspective.June TD quote

I freely admit, if I’d shaved my head at home by myself, I’d have bawled my eyes out the whole time. But, doing it at work made it easier. Everyone was cracking jokes and laughing….it was more like celebrating a milestone than doing something that was a reminder of something bad.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the “stubbies” don’t fall out as easy once they die as full strands do. Then, when I put on a scarf or hat, they get shoved down in the hair follicle and it’s uncomfortable. BUT, I found a great fix for it: LINT ROLLER! Yes, after my shower, I stand in front of the mirror and take a lint roller to my head. And laugh myself silly the whole time!

Turns out, I don’t look bad bald. So, I’ve opted not to bother with a wig. I use a scarf or hat outside, but go au natural indoors. And, I have to admit, I love how much time I’m saving in the shower! Especially on the days when I have no energy!

Second chemo was February 10th. Used my chemo port for the first time as well as an IV. That was interesting. And they gave me some kind of IV anti-nausea meds since the first dose hit me pretty hard. Worst side effect this time was that it messed with my taste buds. For about 10 days, all I could taste was sweet stuff. Couldn’t taste meat or spicy anything. Talk about frustrating! Grrrrrrrr!!!!!!!

Took the long way home afterward. Was stopped right next to a police officer at one light. He had about as much hair as I do right now. So, he’s looking over at me, I’m looking over at him…..we both were grinning at each other. Very cute moment.

Why Your Patient Story Matters

“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” North American Indian proverb

As a patient or caregiver you may be asked to share your personal story with others. Your story serves as a powerful tool for raising awareness and offering valuable insight into the patient experience. Stories can be a bridge between the technical, rational world of scientific practice and the experiential world of patients. Stories also create a shared sense of meaning and community in our lives, lessening the isolation many of us feel when faced with a chronic illness.

The Power of Story

Stories have existed in our culture from the beginning of time. We use stories to derive meaning from experience and to pass along knowledge and wisdom. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that your brain is in fact hardwired to respond to story. Your brain on story is different from your brain when it is receiving any other form of information, including straight facts and data. While facts and figures engage a small area of the brain, stories engage multiple brain regions that work together to build rich emotional responses.

In 2010, a group of neuroscientists at Princeton University used an fMRI machine to monitor what was going on inside the brains of both story-tellers and listeners simultaneously. They discovered that whilst the speaker was communicating to the listener, both their brains showed very similar activity across widespread areas. Their brains were effectively ‘in sync’ with one another suggesting a deep connection between storyteller and listener.” [1]

Tapping the Power of Patient Stories

Humans have an innate desire to feel connected with others who live life through similar lenses. When I first started telling my own story on my blog Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, I did so in the hope that others on the same path might find some resonance and the knowledge that they are not alone. Chronic illness can be an isolating experience but the very act of sharing our stories with others counteracts the isolation we so often feel. It carries within it the seeds of community and connection which makes us feel less alone in our journey. Diabetes patient advocate and blogger Renza Scibilia captures this feeling when she writes: “There are billions of stories in the world and when we find people we connect with, we reach out and want to hold on. I know that’s how I feel about the Diabetes Online Community – I hear familiar stories and want to grab onto them and the people who wrote them because they help make sense of my diabetes life.”

Patient advocate and author, Jackie Barreau, believes the importance of sharing her personal story lies in “the ability to connect, empower and help others. It is also uplifting and inspiring to hear of people’s hardships whether through illness or unfortunate life events and the positivity & optimism they convey”.   Not only can sharing your story lessen feelings of isolation and open up new avenues of support, it can also offer vital diagnostic clues when others are searching for answers. Jackie explains, “through my volunteer work with for example, the Unicorn Foundation, as an admin for an online patient support group I see first-hand patients joining our group due to lack of knowledge and misinformation provided by their general practitioners and also physicians.”

The National Gaucher Foundation of Canada has coproduced an excellent storytelling toolkit with rare disease patient advocacy organization, Global Genes. It states that “medical terminology and data, though undeniably important, can obscure what it means to live with a disease and make it difficult for most people to relate. Personal stories, though, frame our individual experiences in a way that lets others connect and find diagnostic clues that may have been missing.” Isabel Jordan, the mother of a son with a rare disease, credits reading a patient’s blog to help her finally see the pattern in symptoms in her own son’s life, which set them on a new diagnostic path. “As a parent of a child with a rare disease I’m constantly looking for patterns, for clues, for ideas of what could be next in our diagnostic journey,” she writes, “I look for researchers, doctors, other connected parents to see what they are posting. It was through reading someone else’s blog that I could finally see the pattern in symptoms in my own son’s life. Connecting the dots by seeing them in someone else let me provide valuable clues to our own clinician researchers and now we’re heading down a new diagnostic path.”

How To Tell Your Story

Whether you tell your story through public speaking, print or online social media, take some time to plan ahead for what you will share and how you will share it. Speak from the heart; be accurate, honest and persuasive. The following questions will help you to develop your story in order for it to have maximum impact.

  • How much of my personal story am I willing to share? Be prepared that telling your story might make you feel emotional and vulnerable so enlist some support if you think you might need it.
  • What is too private to share? Let the audience know your boundaries.
  • How comfortable is my family with me talking about my story (or theirs)?
  • What supporting material will make my story stronger? Can you use pictures, research data, and statistics to support your story? Create an experience in images that evokes an emotional response.
  • What is the main take-home message you wish to leave your audience with? Focus on two or three main points for clarity.
  • What do I want my listener to do when I am done? Do you want your listeners to take action after hearing your story? Outline clearly the next steps they can take to do so.

Taking the decision to share your story is a personal one. Emma Rooney, a rare disease patient advocate has this to say:

“I’ve been telling stories since I was a child but my health story always seemed like something to keep private. Despite living with a rare disease my entire life, it wasn’t until becoming a young adult that I decide to share my journey with Gaucher disease. Openness to sharing has led me to other patients who have similar health experiences, and also connected me with stories that are very different from my own. This diversity helps me to better understand my condition and to connect the dots with new information. Storytelling has provided a type of healing that drugs alone can’t offer. My health is an evolving story, and continuing to be a storyteller is part of my wellness strategy and my way to contribute to the global community of patient advocates.”
Each of us has a compelling story to tell; a story with the power to build connection, increase understanding, and move others to take action. Developing our skills as storytellers is a powerful tool in our patient advocacy toolkit. Your story is a precious resource; use it wisely and well.

[1] PNAS.org: Speaker–listener neural coupling underlies successful communication by Greg J. Stephens, Lauren J. Silbert and Uri Hasson.

Ralph Wozniak: Don’t Get Depressed, Get Informed

Interview with Ralph Wozniak, Patient Advocate

Andrew Schorr, interviews Ralph Wozniak, who has been living with advanced prostate cancer for more than 10 years. He says he overcame his disease by concentrating on the next steps in his treatment plan, and not focusing on the cancer. He urges other patients, “Don’t get depressed, get informed.” Together they discuss strategies and tools currently available for advanced prostate cancer patients to stay positive and to get informed about their disease.

Ralph Wozniak: Don’t Get Depressed, Get Informed from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 

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Andrew Schorr:

Hello and welcome to Patient Power. I’m Andrew Schorr. I’m sitting with Ralph Wozniak, who is from Inverness, Illinois, outside of Chicago, moving to Florida pretty soon. Let’s go back to 2006. You went to the doctor and eventually were told you had prostate cancer and that maybe it was advanced. Is that right?

Ralph Wozniak:

Well, they weren’t quite sure. It was sort of borderline, but it turned out to be advanced, yeah.  It was Gleason 6—excuse me, Gleason 7.

Andrew Schorr:

So they said let’s try robotic surgery. Let’s see if we can handle it.

Ralph Wozniak:

Well, you make that—as a patient, you make that choice yourself, so reading some books, talking to the doctors, talking to the urologists.  She thought I would be a good candidate for robotic surgery.

Andrew Schorr:

So they try it.  What happened in the OR?

Ralph Wozniak:

Well, I woke up feeling pretty good. But while I was being operated on, they checked several lymph nodes. And they found that they were involved, so they aborted the surgery.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay, because it had spread.

Ralph Wozniak:

Because it had spread, correct.

Andrew Schorr:

So you’re given, if you will, the bad news.

Ralph Wozniak:

Yes.

Andrew Schorr:

How did you take that? You’re a chemical engineer by training. You’re a man used to facts and figures, statistics.  This was not good.

Ralph Wozniak:

Correct, but I overcame it very quickly and said, well, what’s the next step?  Where do we go from here?

Andrew Schorr:

Now, you’ve been through a lot of steps.

Ralph Wozniak:

Yes.

Andrew Schorr:

This was 2016 as we do this. You were having that surgery in 2007, I believe.

Ralph Wozniak:

’06.

Andrew Schorr:

2006, so 10 years, right? Come a long way.

Ralph Wozniak:

Yes.

Andrew Schorr:

You’ve had radiation, you’ve had hormone therapy, you’ve had more advanced therapy, pills and shots, etc.

Ralph Wozniak:

Right.

Andrew Schorr:

How are you doing? Because when all this started you didn’t know if you’d live very long.

Ralph Wozniak:

Yes, I didn’t know if I was going to live very long, but I just, you know, tried to be the informed patient, study hard, get the best doctors, and if you didn’t like the doctor you have to change doctors and just continue on a path.  And I chose to work very closely with Dr. Daniel Chevron at Kellogg Cancer Clinic here at North Shore Hospital and also Dr. Charles, everybody calls him Snuffy Myers in Charlottesville, Virginia, and those have been the two guys, the two doctors I’ve worked with and they’ve been great. Plus the radiation doctors, who…

Andrew Schorr:

…you have had a lot of radiation.

Ralph Wozniak:

Yeah, probably almost a hundred days.

Andrew Schorr:

So how have you dealt with that, sort of the ups and downs of treatment, then no radiation, then you’re doing well, then other stuff?  How have you dealt with that and how has your family, your wife Janet, your kids—you have six grandkids, I think.

Ralph Wozniak:

Well, everybody has been very supportive. Sure, you go through ups and downs mainly driven by how you feel because, to tell you the truth, in the first set of radiation I did get a lot of side effects, but I went to work every day. I was actually retired but retained by the company as a consultant, and I was bound and determined not to get overly worried about this.  So I went in for radiation and got in the car and went to work.

And a second set of radiations with Dr. Dattoli in Sarasota, I was spending some time in Florida, and I drove every morning, hour-and-a-half to Sarasota and had my radiation treatment. And that’s when I had the lymph node involvement, which I explained to you, and which was successful—and went up and back.

It’s, you know, it’s painful. You don’t feel good, you’re not happy, and I got to say probably the first time in my life I ever took a nap was during some of these—the second set of radiation treatments.

Andrew Schorr:

How are you doing today? So now, we’re 11 years down the road, right, just about, and we’re looking at a time when there [have] been new treatments, targeted radiation, pills, improved shots.  Lots of things have changed.  Where are we now?  Where are you in your head, and what would you say to other men who are diagnosed now?

Ralph Wozniak:

Well, first thing, I think there [are] better tools now to determine how advanced the cancer is, and I think that’s the most important thing, that you start out with the right therapy at the right time or the right set of doctors.  And so I mean there’s the 3 Tesla MRI, there [are] other scans. As I mentioned, I took the C?11 acetate PET scan, and that’s the first time with all the scans I’ve had that they’ve been able to locate some cancer in the bone.

So number one—well, number one, don’t get depressed.  Get informed. Join a support group, which I didn’t do for quite some time, because I didn’t think it was my style. But I thought it was quite good once I got into one of the Us TOO support groups. And, you know, then you have to just pick your best strategy to go forward, so that’s what I would recommend. And as far as where I stand now, I’m happy because abiraterone acetate (Zytiga) works, and I’ve been very lucky..

Andrew Schorr:

It’s worked for you.

Ralph Wozniak:

…and I’m not independent of hormone therapy yet, and got great doctors, and we’ll just keep going and see how long the Zytiga works. And if that doesn’t, maybe something else will come around.

Andrew Schorr:

How do you feel about the future?

Ralph Wozniak:

Oh, positive.  I’ve never really been too depressed about this, you know. Maybe—maybe it’s God’s will or whatever you want to say, and I just, you know, went straight in. What are you going to do? I have to say, and it’s really important, and I never give my wife enough credit.  She’s put up with some of my tantrums and my, you know, not being quite happy.  And most of it it’s driven by not feeling well, by the medicine or by the radiation, or I did have some serious side effects from the first set of radiations. And I had to go in for some ablation, laser ablation and stop the bleeding and that kind of thing. So, but all in all, I’m positive, and I feel good.

Andrew Schorr:

Good for you.  One last thing, and that is many men have trouble talking about it. They get inside themselves, the cancer’s there, it’s spread.  Maybe there will be technology or science, they hope, they hope, they hope. But still it’s all in here, too. You joined a support group. You talk about it. What would you say to men about considering that?

Ralph Wozniak:

Well, I have to be honest. I didn’t tell anybody at work except the president of the company.  I only told my family, and this is my coming out of the closet, you know. Close friends, I’ve been very open. To me, you know, having a scientific background, it’s just science, it’s chemistry, you know, it’s physics. So it happens to everybody sooner or later.

It never really bothered me to talk about it, but I didn’t want to have a situation where people were talking about me and saying I couldn’t do this, or I wouldn’t do that or trying to prejudge. So that’s why I kept it very narrowly focused, but now I’m fully retired after 11 years as a consultant, and I don’t care as much.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, I know you’re moving to Florida. I wish you a great retirement there and many years.  You know, prostate cancer may be there, but I hope you keep going and that science stays with you

Ralph Wozniak:

Thanks very much.

Andrew Schorr:

Thank you so much for sharing. All the best.  Andrew Schorr with Ralph Wozniak, a man who has been living many years with advanced prostate cancer, and his doctors and the treatments have helped him live a full life. And we hope that continues for a long time.

Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Empowerment Network are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or PEN. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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Finding Support For Prostate Cancer

Interview with Jim Schraidt, Patient Advocate, and Chuck Strand, CEO of Us TOO International

Andrew Schorr interviews Jim Schraidt and Chuck Strand about the importance of finding support for prostate cancer. Jim explains how he fell into a depression from treatment side effects, but by finding a support group through Us TOO he was able to diffuse his anger and learn methods of coping from other men going through the same thing. Us TOO International provides educational and support resources for the prostate community with peer-to-peer and online support groups. Both men agree that with support comes empowerment and the knowledge to take back control of your life.

Finding Support For Prostate Cancer from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Living with Breast Cancer – A Patient’s Treatment Diary

Real patient experiences shared privately at www.TreatmentDiaries.com. Read more, share if you like or join in the conversation. Making sure you feel less alone navigating a diagnosis is important. Connecting you to those who can relate and provide support is what we do.


Today I turn 42….not up for celebrating at all…but grateful for the loving and warm messages from friends and loved ones around the world and from home. Grateful hubby and my mom are here with me.

Had a bout of feeling sick this morning and had to cancel my appointments. Feeling better now…hope it was just nerves and nothing else…as need to be STRONG and ready for Round 2 chemo this Saturday.
I think it should be better this time as I know what to expect in some of the side effects from Round 1 and feeling physically stronger and wounds are healing better.

I’m newly married – 1+ years. Diagnosed with breast cancer end of May and underwent a right Apr TD BCmastectomy multifocal tumor, with removal of 21 lymph nodes. I had an immediate reconstruction with TRAM flap procedure on June 13 and started AC chemo July 26. 12 weeks – every 3 weeks cycle. 6 months of chemo in total: AC and Taxol + Herceptin (weekly for 12 weeks after AC). Then Radiation daily for 5 weeks + 5 years of Hormone Therapy. My sister found this site for me as she realized that I have had limited contact with support groups here in Hong Kong due to limited English speaking groups. I am from Canada, lived in Dubai the last 5 years where I had met my hubby and we moved to Hong Kong a year ago.

I have been thriving on the words of those who can relate to my experience, well wishes and positive outlook! I just had a Reiki, Osteopath session and physiotherapy today. Needed it! Think my nerves are a bit shot….thinking I wasn’t nervous but likely am in anticipation of my next doctor’s appointment and review of how I am doing. I’ve found meditating helps a great deal and my Reiki master suggested I meditate for a few minutes every day for 21 days….This continues to be a journey for myself and self-healing.

Fast forward a few months….

I have finally finished CHEMO!! YAY! And have now started Herceptin every 3 weeks for 8 more months and Tamoxifen for 5 years. Radiotherapy started today and it will be daily for 5 weeks. Was quite stressful…and arms got numb and sore.

Life is closer to normal that it has been for quite some time and I’m able to travel and enjoy a few pleasures. My visit to Phuket was good and much needed quality time with hubby. Last week I was at the Farm – San Benito in the Philippines for a wellness program. So good for my body and healing.  I’m officially a survivor and I hope to share with you, learn about your experiences, your advices, tips and laughter! Love and light

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Stupid Brain Cancer!

Matthew Zachary

Matthew Zachary

(Matthew Zachary is a brain cancer survivor and founder of Stupid Cancer.)

Brain cancer. Those two words strike fear into the hearts of man perhaps more than any other cancer. After all, it’s your brain. Some might argue it’s the one thing you can’t live without. (Take that, heart!)

Now, I’m not one to start pitting body parts against each other in the world of cancer. I’ll leave that up to the body-part-specific groups. Let that infighting enjoy itself for all it’s worth. Once they realize that the future of medical research is rapidly shifting to biology, immunology and genomics, rather than geography, they’ll soon realize it’s the new bandwagon to hop on.

When I was a 21-year old college senior, I was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of pediatric brain cancer: medulloblastoma. There were only 200 cases a year, the tumor was congenital and it nearly always occurred under the age of 12. I was one of the rarest cases ever seen at the time; and that did not bode well.

What’s more, the fact that I was not a child presented even more unique complications than otherwise thought. As an emerging young adult, issues of college, fertility, relationships and mental health had to weigh in. They didn’t of course since it was the 1990s and the idea of “patient-centered care” was not a concept. Back then you were lucky to be alive to deal with whatever side effects you had, all for the privilege of not dying from cancer. And those were the magic words: the “privilege” of not dying.

Considering I was given six months to live and, after those six months, a whopping 50% chance to survive for 5 additional years, I’ve done alright. January 10th, 2016 was my 20th cancerversary in somehow defying the odds. There is no rhyme, reason or explanation for how this all came to be. I just got lucky.

And that’s all anything is, really. Luck. Good luck or bad luck, it’s still luck. Yes, there are conscious choices we believe we can make, but, in the end, we are all bound by the singular commonality of chance. Call it what you will: karma, God’s will, fate, metaphysics, destiny, etc…all we have is our free will and the privilege to make choices in response to shit that is happening or in advance of shit that may happen.

Which brings me to my point. (I actually had a point, I promise)

I founded Stupid Cancer because I wished I had that kind of resource at my disposal when I was depressed, alone, afraid and without peer support. I didn’t even know that peers support was a thing. “You mean there are other college students out there with cancer who understand what I’m feeling right now?” What a concept.

It’s easy to say that no one should face cancer alone It’s entirely another thing to actually fill that need. Stupid Cancer was the community I needed that I never got to benefit from. And going back to my aforementioned comments about “all cancers matter”, I really didn’t care if I were connected with a young adult with leukemia, breast cancer, colon cancer or brain cancer. For young adults — a largely unknown demographic in the war on cancer — the playing field is leveled when you’re told those three words, “You have cancer.”

Stupid Cancer is entering it’s 9th year of operation and has proudly emerged as the largest support organization representing teens, adolescents and young adults (15-40). We’ve also inadvertently become a home for the hundreds of thousands of pediatric cancer patients who survive and grow up. It has become a remarkable nonprofit brand in healthcare that has democratized survivorship. Because, no matter your diagnosis, you have the right to survive with dignity, quality and be treated age-appropriately.

In 1996, that did not happen. In 2016, 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with a primary cancer. 80,000 of them will be children and young adults. We are no better or worse than other age groups; we’re just different.

And we matter.

Cancer survivorship is an art. And the art of your survivorship is how you choose to get busy living, The era of cancer survivorship has begun. It is not about how long you live, but how you live, that defines your legacy in this life.

So for now, I’ll leave “cure-hunting” to everyone else.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It creates a sense of awareness and provides a window of opportunity for you. Sometimes it is a matter of accountability and sometimes it is about breaking old patterns.

When my father was diagnosed with heart disease many years ago, we started eating and cooking differently. That didn’t change my dad’s ways and he ultimately died of heart disease at 62 years old. I remember he used to eat and drink things that weren’t good for him and joke about it with me and then say: “Don’t tell mommy.” That was his choice. I made a different choice long before his passing to eat healthier. If I did eat things that weren’t healthy, my body sent signals to me that these foods weren’t acceptable to me anymore.

When my mom was in treatment for ovarian cancer I found myself in Medical Libraries looking for clinical trials that would save her. When she passed it was a catalyst for me to look into prevention for my own health. I went for genetic testing at NYU Medical Center. While I don’t carry the gene for breast cancer, I have to be cautious because of the history of cancer in my family. I diligently pursued my annual gynecologist exams and additional ovary scans and blood work. Additionally, I followed up with my 6-12 month mammograms.

The result of my taking my own action on proactivity toward prevention was a diagnosis of stage 1 invasive lobular breast cancer. To take it a step further, I was originally advised by my breast surgeon to only have one breast removed. I followed my intuition and chose a double mastectomy and that resulted in even more prevention. When my surgery was completed, I was told that the other breast was pre-cancerous. If I hadn’t been my own best advocate, I would have found myself in the same shoes at another time.

Since I was diagnosed at an early stage my Oncotype couldn’t justify chemo treatment either way, but I remain on Tamoxifen therapy for probably another seven years.

I have also been discussing ovary obliteration with my oncologist and another specialist because of my lineage of cancer. In all likelihood, I will have my ovaries removed sometime this year.

When I finished treatment for breast cancer and had reconstruction surgeries, I thought to myself: “Now what? Hmmm, I have focused for a year and a half on my breasts, now it’s time to get back to the taking care of my other body parts and I got back on schedule with my dentist, gynecologist and internist all in the name of self-care and prevention as I lead my busy life balancing career, family, fun and connection with others. I knew that if I didn’t exercise extreme self-care, I would be much good to others.

About a week ago, I am finished up 4 and 5 of Moh’s surgeries to remove skin cancers from my body. In order practice prevention, we have to know our bodies, face fear and get checked out.

In some cases, I do know that even prevention is not a cure, because my mother was one who religiously (not in a hypochondria mode) went to all of her doctors’ appointments, pap smears, etc., and still she was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. The bottom line is prevention cannot hurt us like lacking in self-love will.

So….., what can YOU do to take an active part in your health? What does practicing prevention look like to you? It could be something as simple as changing your diet or scheduling doctor’s appointments that we hesitate to make because we are always caring for someone else. It could also be taking care of yourself in terms of mind and spirit and working on stress reduction? In what ways can you reduce stress and overload in your life?

This blog is being shared to create awareness and remove fear. Know your body! You are the only one who does. Practice prevention and self-care. Put yourself first so that you can be around to care for others. That is my message and my gift to you on this beautiful day!

If you need help in this area or any other area of your cancer experience, reach out to me gina@newbeginningswithgina.com or visit my website: www.newbeginningswithgina.com.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Xo Gina

Lung Leavin’ Day

Interview With Cameron Von St James, husband of Heather Von St James, survivor advocate for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance and founder of Lung Leavin’ Day

Cameron and Heather Von St James with their daughter

Cameron and Heather Von St James with their daughter

Kara:

Describe what Lung Leavin’ Day means to you.

Cameron:

Lung Leavin’ Day is a special holiday for my family. It is a time where friends, family, and mesothelioma community members can all gather at our home- and connect and share our fears and overcome them together.

Kara:

Why did you decide to create this “holiday”?

Cameron:

Lung Leavin’ Day is a tradition that my family started after my wife Heather was about to undergo a highly invasive and risky surgery as treatment for her mesothelioma cancer. Mesothelioma is a cancer, known to be caused by exposure to asbestos. Taking from the tradition of firewalking- we write our fears on a plate and smash them into a fire. The day is about celebrating overcoming fear, feeling a sense of strength and hope when you need it most, and celebrating Heather’s survival!

Kara:

When your wife was first diagnosed, how did you offer her support?

Cameron:

When Heather was first diagnosed, we were both in a state of shock, and confusion. Wasn’t this a disease that old men got? How could she only have 15 months to live? She is a young and seemingly healthy woman. After Heather’s treatment, I unfortunately had to return to work in order to support our family. So Heather stayed with her parents in South Dakota, while I was in Minnesota working. That was a hard time on us because I had to be a caregiver from a distance. I couldn’t see her everyday, and that was really hard.

Kara:

What do you think are ways caregivers can help cancer patients feel more confident and empowered?

Cameron:

Focusing on the things that you can control is really important. During a patient’s cancer experience they may feel helpless, like there is nothing they can do that is within their power. That is not true, and as a caregiver to be able to contribute positively to their sense of confidence can play a huge role in helping them maintain a positive mental attitude. Showing personal strength and fortitude during adverse times can be contagious, and reminding them that they are loved, and appreciated regardless of their cancer experience.

Kara:

What have you learned from this experience?

Cameron:

That anyone can have mesothelioma. The disease is commonly thought of as an “old man” disease. But there are many people out there like Heather, who were exposed as a child. Heather would wear her father’s work jacket as a young girl to do outside chores, and unknowingly, that jacket was covered in asbestos fibers. There are 60 countries around the world that have banned asbestos, and the U.S. and Canada have not. Anyone could be at risk until there is a global ban on asbestos.

Kara:

What advice would you give to other caregivers whose loved ones have been diagnosed with cancer?

Cameron:

As caregiver, it is really easy to neglect yourself. Don’t neglect your own social and physically wellbeing. If you yourself are not 10 years FBready to fight this, then you have nothing that you can give to the fight. Actively remind yourself to take time for you. Caregivers need care too. Stay organized. Their cancer experience is going to become yours to bear as well, so you have to learn to balance their treatment, symptoms, appointments, and all of that with your own life. When people ask how they can help, if you are organized, you will have specific things that they can help with. Give them the opportunity to be involved in a productive way.

Kara:

What were your thoughts when your wife’s doctor recommended an experimental procedure?

Cameron:

Heather and I were presented with three treatment options based on her diagnosis. If we chose to do nothing, she was expected to live 15 months. If she chose the route of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, she was expected live for 5 years. But there was a third option. It was clearly the riskiest, but it had the potential for her to survive this. The treatment involved a surgical procedure called an Extrapleural Pneumonectomy with Dr. David Sugarbaker at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The surgery involves removing her left lung, pericardium, diaphragm and pleura. There really wasn’t much of a choice between the 3 options, we had a newborn at home, Heather and I knew we needed to get to Boston, and beat this cancer.

Kara:

Did you ever seek a second opinion?

Cameron:

Luckily Heather’s doctor never wrote off her symptoms as something postpartum, and really listened to her concerns. She was referred to Dr. Sugarbaker, a world-renowned thoracic surgeon. We knew we were in the hands of the best care possible. Heather continues to see Dr. Sugarbaker every 6 months today.

Kara:

What do you hope will come from spreading awareness about Lung Leavin’ Day?

Cameron:

We want to provide hope to those going through something similar in their life. Everyone has a battle to fight, and Heather and I want people to know that you are not alone, and you shouldn’t be ashamed or paralyzed by your fear. Once you acknowledge them- whether it is writing them down, or sharing them with someone, you are one step closer to overcoming them.

Live Your Life, Every Day

At the Prostate Cancer Town Meeting, William Baun, wellness expert and prostate cancer patient advocate, talks about his journey from diagnosis through treatment, clinical trials and living and coping with his illness. Even with a family history of prostate cancer, William was still surprised when he received his diagnosis because it was much earlier than his grandfather or dad. After the initial shocked lessened, he decided he knew what to do and that he was going to fight hard and make the best day out of everyday. William’s advice for other cancer patients is to make sure you take care of yourself and your caregiver. Watch the video below to hear William’s full story.

Live Your Life, Every Day from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Persevering Through Clinical Trials

Andrew Schorr talks with patient advocate, Voncille “Peppe” Fryou about her journey with cancer and clinical trials. She begins by explaining that after 10 years without an accurate diagnosis, Peppe finally found out why she was tired all the time…Primary Myelofibrosis (PMF). To beat this disease, she has been enrolled in four different clinical trials, and is now currently participating in the PRM-151 trial. One thing she has learned from her experience is that patients need to be active participants in their studies. Watch the video below for Peppe’s full story and advice on clinical trials.

Persevering Through Clinical Trials from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

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Andrew:    

Peppe, you’re from where in Louisiana?

Peppe:    

Lafayette, Louisiana, which is on the Gulf Coast.

Andrew:     

And you were diagnosed with primary myelofibrosis just like me right off the bat.

Peppe:

Um-hmm.

Andrew:     

How did it present itself?

Peppe:   

I was tired all the time. For years and years, I was tired. And we did all sorts of tests, and they would come back negative. The only thing they ever came back with was Epstein Barr virus, which they said I had chronic fatigue syndrome.

Andrew:  

So you went how many years before you got an accurate diagnosis?

Peppe:  

Let’s see, probably 10 years.

Andrew:

So it can happen. So you have this diagnosis, and you were very sick.

Peppe:

Yeah.

Andrew:

You eventually got over here to MD Anderson, Dr. Verstovsek. And you’ve been in a number of clinical trials.

Peppe:

Yes.

Andrew:

And you’ve had highs and lows with those. It’s not always been perfect at all.

Peppe:

Exactly. Sometimes, particularly me, I started off well, but didn’t end out very well. I sort of started off good, and then I just started going downhill. And so Dr. V says we’re going to try something else. We’re going to try something else. Are you for that? Yeah. We made a pact. He said as long as he’s being a doctor that I have to stay here and be his patient. So I stayed on his butt all the time. You got to keep me alive, doc. Get busy. And he did.

Andrew:

So you’re on one of these trials we mentioned, the PRM-151 trial.

Peppe:     

Yes.

Andrew:  

What does that involve?

Peppe:     

I get an IV. I go through my clinicals. I get an IV. And I go home. No side effects, nothing.

Andrew: 

Is this an infused medicine?

Peppe:  

Yes. Several years ago, I had a port put in because of some of the medications that would make my counts drop. I needed blood transfusions. And the vein thing got old real fast because it was years I needed the transfusions. So I had a port put in. The doctor did a botched job with that. I had another port put in. He did a terrible job with that. So I came to MD Anderson and said put me a port in. And now, I have an excellent port, and everything works fine. And it’s just hook me up, and –

Andrew:    

One last thing is so you’ve had quite an adventure with myelofibrosis. What’s your view of today and the future right now?

Peppe:     

Oh, we’ve come so far. I mean, like I said, this is my fourth study. Plus, I was on the medication Jakafi. It really wasn’t – he may disagree with me. It really wasn’t a good drug for me. And I put on 50 pounds. And I’m just too little for that. But I’ve gotten that weight off. But I think that it’s important that patients stay active in the studies. I’ll tell you why I agreed to team up with Dr. V. I had a friend years ago that had Hep C. And she got in on a study someplace in New Orleans, Tulane or some place. And she stayed on that study through hell and back. She fell asleep at her desk. But if she missed days of work, they were going to back off on her medication. And her best survival rate was taking it full force. So she did it. She did it. She’s still alive today. And so that’s my hope and my dream for all of us is that our experts are going to find what it is that we need to be cured or control it.

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