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Patient Advocate: Paul Ennis

Paul Ennis

Patient Advocate

In January 2012, Paul Ennis and his wife became caregivers to Paul’s parents, Mary and Thomas. Mary, who had severe osteoporosis, was showing increasing signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Caring for her was becoming too much for Thomas who had his own health problems, including rheumatoid arthritis and prostate cancer. Eventually, it became necessary for Mary to receive around-the-clock care. With his own health declining, Thomas made the difficult decision to move Mary into a care facility. Then, he made another decision that led to what Paul describes as a series of very impactful events.

Thomas, who was 91, decided it was time to die. He was in pain, he was suffering, his body was failing, and his doctors could do no more for him. He told Paul he was ready to go. So Paul, someone who is inclined to gather information, set out to see what options were available for his dad. “He had the right to say he’s done,” says Paul who learned that his dad could legally make a choice to stop eating and drinking and that there was a protocol in place for the family to follow. With the doctor informed and at-home hospice care in place, Thomas made his decision. He stopped eating on a Thursday in January 2015 and four days later he died peacefully in his home of more than 40 years. Eleven months to the day later, Mary also died at home, and Paul is still moved as he describes his mother in her final rest, in the glowing light of the living room of the home she loved.

But, Paul’s caregiving didn’t end when his parents died. Paul saw to all the details of their death care and burials, including building their caskets and taking them in the back of his pick-up truck to their cemetery plots. “It was a real old school way of doing things,” says Paul who learned about the option of home death care when shopping for caskets with his dad in 2014. “What I discovered about home death care was remarkable.” The experience, he says, was an intimate and healing way to honor his parents and to receive a form of closure.

Paul documented his story when an online global think tank asked for stories regarding how people could rethink end-of-life experiences for loved ones. Paul’s was one of ten stories selected out of 400 entries. He was inspired to create a business model for a non-profit organization to aid with death and dying, but rather than focus on a singular aspect of patient care, Paul wanted to help patients in as many ways as possible.

He remembered a conversation with one of his dad’s doctors. The doctor told him that he should consider patient advocacy as a career. As a former business consultant with a background in communications and marketing, it felt natural for Paul to become a patient advocate consultant. He is now spending time building his new consulting business. “Mine is a communications-based practice,” says Paul, who approaches each client by asking them what they want. “I don’t come in telling them what I want to do; I come in asking what they want,” he says. While caring for his parents, he learned the value of having a patient advocate and recognizes how difficult it can be for some patients to self-advocate. “Navigating healthcare is pretty complicated,” says Paul whose natural compassion makes him well-suited for the work. Paul emphasizes the importance of patient health, safety and dignity and says the most important thing to him is that people are able to make choices, explore their options, get educated, and stay empowered. He also continues to share his story and information regarding the Voluntary Stoppage of Eating and Drinking (VSED) and at-home death care in hope that someone may get comfort from his experience. “That’s why I told the story,” he says.

You can read Paul’s story here and visit his website at http://www.pwepan.com.

 

Caregiver Health #CareforaCarer

Often, in my observations as a registered nurse, I have seen how resilient people can be. Through the most challenging health circumstances, patients of all ages can rally and respond to support and care. But when I refer to resilience and strength, I’m applying it to the silent army known as caregivers.

In homes, in chemo suites, hospice care, and everywhere else, on a daily basis, you can find caregivers who step up in the moments when it is needed most. These carers (used interchangeably with caregivers) provide unpaid assistance to someone in need. Often family and friends, caregiving can be one of the most rewarding experiences, but also one of the most difficult. I can say that with absolute certainty, not just as a nurse, but as a caregiver for my family.

I cared for my father through his cancer battle, his stem-cell transplant, and ultimately through hospice until his passing. It was a privilege to care for him, and I would do it all over again, but I don’t say that lightly. Caregiving can involve the hardest days and can take emotional, physical, and financial tolls with no outlet to share those feelings. This is why we need to spotlight and discuss the need to #CareforaCarer.

Here are some facts.

More than half (54%) of unpaid carers don’t have time to book or attend their own medical appointments.

42 % of unpaid carers put health of the person they are caring for above their own health.

Almost 3 in 10 unpaid carers feel their role as a carer is not recognized by the healthcare system.

While many understand that carers play a crucial role in lives of patients, what’s less understood is the need for resources and support. A carer’s own health often suffers as a result of the stress and demands of caring for someone else.

There is help.

Through working with carer organizations, and the multi-year Embracing Carers initiative, Merck KGaA Darmstadt, Germany operating as EMD Serono in the US and Canada hopes to improve lives for carers and patients.

The Embracing Carers initiative plays a key role in raising awareness of caregiving as a global public health priority as it should be. Healthier carers lead to happier, more productive workers and better carers of patients.Here’s some more information.

Embracing Carers is supported by leading international carer organizations including: the Caregiver Action Network, Carers Australia, Carers UK, Carers Worldwide, Eurocarers, the National Alliance for Caregiving, International Alliance of Carer Organizations and Shanghai Roots & Shoots, China. It has support of many patient and physician groups around the world.

Embracing Carers Initiative addresses caregiver stresses by highlighting the unmet needs of caregivers on a global and local level, empowering caregivers to advocate for their own health and well being.

As a nurse, I often preach to colleagues that you can’t take proper care of patients if you’re not taking care of yourself, and the same goes for caregivers. It’s easier said than done, but through action and discussion, we can help support each other.

What can you do to help?

  • Share this blog post.
  • Post messages of Hope intended for caregivers globally with #CareforaCarer.
  • And if you see #CareforaCarer on Twitter take a moment to hit Retweet.
  • If you belong to an organization or a business that supports carers or caregivers please share your positive programs or examples as well.

 


This blog was written by Linda Scruggs and originally published on Unboxed Mom here.

Caregiver Profile: Heather Cimino

In recognition of National Family Caregivers Month, we are using this month’s Patient Profile to profile a caregiver. You can learn more information about National Family Caregivers Month here.

Heather Cimino’s father died in 2008. He had mesothelioma and lived only six weeks after his diagnosis. So, when Heather’s mom was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in April 2015, Heather became her caregiver. Fortunately, her mom lives just down the street so Heather can check on her regularly. “I sit with her on chemo days, visit with her, and make sure she has food,” she says. “I’m pretty experienced in this now.”

You see, this isn’t Heather’s first go around as a caregiver. Her first began in January 2012 while she was in the operating room undergoing a Caesarean section. She and her husband Nick were anticipating the arrival of their third son. Except, Heather says Nick wasn’t there. He was in the ER with a possible blood clot in his leg. Nick had been complaining of leg pain during her pregnancy, but Nick and Heather, who had been married seven years, were busy people. They had two sons under the age of five, another on the way, and both worked and attended school full time. He’d been told by doctors that the pain was probably just residual from a long-ago injury so Nick ignored it until that day when he couldn’t ignore it anymore.

The pain wasn’t from a clot. It was a tumor and, within a week, Nick was diagnosed with High Grade Spindle Cell Sarcoma. Treatment began immediately and, for awhile, things were okay. Heather managed to care for her three sons and Nick, who was confined to the first floor of their home: the tumor in his leg broke the bone so he required a walker to get around. Heather was even able to return to work some of the time so that they could keep their insurance. Despite the surgeries and blood transfusions and hospital stays and travel to different treatment facilities, Heather and Nick wanted to provide a sense of order for their boys. “We tried to make life as normal as possible,” says Heather who organized Nick’s pill schedule around her breastfeeding schedule. After eight rounds of chemotherapy and then radiation five days a week for seven weeks, Nick’s scans were good. “But then,” says Heather, “the tumors sprouted up and ten months in, he was terminal.”

Nick and Heather, who both had medical backgrounds, looked for any possible hope. “We would sit up all night researching,” she says, “but there was no good outcome.” They went to New York and tried a different chemo treatment, they reached out to facilities all over from Texas to Europe but nothing worked. So, they scheduled family pictures and made sure to get lots of photos of Nick with his sons.

Nick died in May 2013. He was 31 years old. Their boys were 1, 3 and 6 years old and Heather, who had not slept for more than two hours at a time since that day in January 2012, had no time to grieve. “It’s all a blur,” she says looking back. “I was so worried about the kids.” She put the two older boys in an art therapy class and found a church that embraced her family and offered her support. “It was like we started a whole new life,” she says.

Like many caregivers, Heather didn’t have time to think about her role as caregiver, she simply took it on and did what had to be done and it wasn’t always easy. “When Nick was sick he yelled at me a lot,” she says. At first, she was surprised by the behavior from her mild-mannered, soft-spoken husband, but one of his doctors told her not to take it personally. Sometimes the medication can cause the behavior, but so can the emotion. Heather equates it to a child who has to hold in his fears and angers all day in front of others and then lashes out when he feels safe.

While Heather would like to advise other caregivers to take care of themselves, she says it’s just not likely to happen. There’s no time and even when people offered to help, she never wanted to leave Nick’s side. But, she did take some advice from another caregiver. “She told me, ‘Smell your person, touch them, look at them, pick something to focus on so you will remember it’,” says Heather. “It will go so fast, so take the moment.” Heather says she is grateful for that advice. “Even now I can close my eyes and I can see the freckle he had between his brow.”

Remembering the moments keeps Nick’s memory alive.“He’s always there,” she says. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but it has.” The boys are 11, 8 and 5 now and all in school. Though, she is moving forward carefully so as not to overwhelm her sons, Heather has begun a relationship with a man she describes as very patient. And, of course, she’s caring for her mom. “We just keep trucking through,” she says.

National Family Caregivers Month 2017

National Family Caregivers Month began in 1994 as a week-long event inaugurated by the Caregiver Action Network (National Family Caregiver Association). Now it is a month-long event – celebrated each November – as a time to recognize and honor family caregivers across the country. The theme for this year’s National Family Caregivers Month is “Caregiving Around the Clock”. Celebrating Family Caregivers during NFC month enables all of us to:

  • Raise awareness of family caregiver issues
  • Celebrate the efforts of family caregivers
  • Educate family caregivers about self-identification
  • Increase support for family caregivers

In this country alone, 43.5 million people have provided unpaid care to an adult or a child in the last 12 months. The majority of caregivers (82%) care for one other adult, while 15% care for 2 adults, and 3% for 3 or more adults. The value of services provided by informal caregivers has steadily increased over the last decade, with an estimated economic value of $470 billion in 2013, up from $450 billion in 2009 and $375 billion in 2007. So, what can we do to support caregivers manage the emotional and physical demands of caregiving? Here are 10 top tips for family caregivers from The Caregiver Action Network:

  1. Seek support from other caregivers. You are not alone!
  2. Take care of your own health so that you can be strong enough to take care of your loved one.
  3. Accept offers of help and suggest specific things people can do to help you.
  4. Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors.
  5. Caregiving is hard work so take respite breaks often.
  6. Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay getting professional help when you need it.
  7. Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one.
  8. Organize medical information so it’s up to date and easy to find.
  9. Make sure legal documents are in order.
  10. Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is!

Below are some of our most popular caregiver information and resources.

Importance of Caregivers 

Caregiving Tips

Caregiver Awareness at the Patient Café®

Treatment Diaries – anonymous diary entries from caregivers


http://caregiveraction.org/resources/10-tips-family-caregivers

Wondering how YOU can advance MPN research?

September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month and we’ve spent the month focusing on ways you can become a more empowered patient. If you missed our recent webinar: What YOU can do to advance MPN Research, the replay is now available. As always, we’d love to hear from you about ways you’ve empowered yourself!

Finding Meaning After the Caring Is Over.…

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.


It’s almost six months since mom died. I still am in a vulnerable place. Still trying to work, but not seeking it aggressively. Still trying to find my path forward. I had a bad fall about a month ago, and I’m still recovering. My knees, legs and feet are not right. Through no fault of my own, I lost my health insurance. As of today, I get to choose my plan on the exchange, and hope to get back what I lost, keep my doctor, and get back on track.
treatmentdiaries-dec
In this weird time, I have learned something about myself. Through caregiving, I learned to be still. During the worst times before mom came to live
with us, I had to literally sit still in her apartment, and just be there when she was full of fear, hallucinating, paranoid. During the worst times of her dementia, when I was searching for information, help, connection, I found power in stillness. Overpowering my own fear. Being strong for her. It took years, moving her here with my husband and myself, fighting for everything she needed. She gained so much here. The return of her sweetness and fine sense of humor, the conquering of her fears, the benefit of community.

Fast forward to the last days of caregiving. More than six years later, mom had become so frail. At the end we brought in a hospital bed, supposedly to keep her safely in bed. What the universe didn’t know was that this tiny woman had the power to launch herself over the bars, or through the openings between the rail and the foot of the bed, and end up in her old bed, sitting in her wheelchair, or even curled up on the floor. I never had sleep. I never knew what or where she’d be when I went into her room. I needed to be on guard to hear her soft raspy voice call me at any moment.

But the thing that frightened me most and what I HAD to face and get over, was the fear of infantizing my mom, by changing her depends in the hospital bed. This fear was causing us to get up at any hour, and take her into the bathroom, where I had to hold her up with one arm and tend to her with the other. It was hard on her, she was too weak to support herself. It was hard on me, my shoulder was already compromised from the years of supporting her or steering her walker, among so many other things.

This fear grew out of caring for my dad years before, who had Parkinson’s, and was so angry at his loss of dignity. My brother and I have terrible memories of tending to him, and falling over with laughter when things went wrong. My dad was so angry. I loved my dad more than anything, and incurring his anger left me scarred.

So when faced with having to change my mom in her hospital bed, I avoided it as long as I possibly could. But finally, I asked the visiting hospice nurse (more about this later) to show me how. I learned a few tricks from her. But I still had to get over my fear of insulting her dignity. Mom was not like this. She didn’t seem to be angry that her daughter was changing her, holding her up. She was fighting her own weakness. She might not have known who I was at these moments. And mom had her sense of humor intact. Till the very end. This was her gift.

The night I finally changed her in the bed, I decided to reward us both at every turn with cheering! Praising her to the skies when she could turn over on her side, praising myself with my ability to do every task! Praising us both with loud cheering! Good for you! Good for me! Hooray for us! Hooray!

Now you may think this is a little nuts. And maybe it is. But by gaining courage through humor, I think I have found meaning and conquered my greatest enduring fear.

The Importance of Caregivers

In honor of November being National Family Caregivers Month, we wanted to highlight the importance of family caregivers. A family caregiver is a person who provides any type of physical and/or emotional care for an ill or disabled loved one at home. Loved ones in need of care include those suffering from a physical or mental illness, disability, substance misuse or other condition. In most cases, the primary caregiver is a spouse, partner, parent or adult child. Caregivers often take on the responsibilities of the patient while still providing for themselves and other family members. Some important tasks and roles of a caregiver are:

Advocate. Sometimes patients are not completely forthcoming with their physical or emotional needs and tend to downplay their pain when speaking with doctors. Caretakers play an important role in honest communication between doctors and patients by upholding patient preferences for treatment options when the patient cannot or will not speak for him or herself.

Personal Care. Caregivers may help with daily activities such as dressing, bathing, toileting, or arranging child care.

Household Tasks. Caregivers are often in charge of preparing meals, doing chores or laundry, shopping for groceries or paying bills.

Emotional Support. When faced with a serious diagnosis, patients are often overwhelmed by the emotional and physical turmoil. Caregivers are tasked with the important duty of providing support and encouragement for the patients as well as themselves. Communication is key in the relationship between a caregiver and a patient. It is important to both openly share feelings and remain empathetic to the situation.

Medical Care. Caregivers must be present, take notes, ask questions and assist loved ones in making decisions with the care team. They may also be responsible for administering, ordering, and picking up medication, providing transportation to appointments, and dealing with scheduling, billing, or insurance issues. Caregivers may also assist with other medical processes such as physical therapy, injections, feeding tubes, etc.

There are close to 65 million caregivers in this country alone. The estimated monetary value of family caregivers’ unpaid contributions was estimated $450 billion in 2009, though the true value of caregivers far exceeds any monetary worth. In honor of National Family Caregivers Month, we would like to thank all of those who aid in the care of those in need.

Resources for Caregivers: National Alliance for Caregiving


References:

http://www.netofcare.org/content/getting_started/

http://www.cancer.org/treatment/caregivers/copingasacaregiver/if-youre-about-to-become-a-cancer-caregiver

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.

Real Stories of Lung Cancer

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 cancer diagnosis is important. Connecting you to those who can relate and provide support is what we do.

Caregiver 1: Female caring for Male with NSC Lung Cancer

My husband’s last scan was terrible. Everything that had once been invisible on previous scans had grown dramatically, and there are new nodes and tumors. He will get a port for Christmas, and start 2 new types of chemo by Jan. 1.

This is difficult to deal with for everyone. It was like we were able to live in a form of denial for quite some time. Not anymore….

He was diagnosed with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer a little over 2 years ago. He will start on a Carboplatin/Taxol combination. He will have a port installed just after Christmas, and begin the New Year with his 1st round of 6 cycles. So far, he hasn’t had radiation because it everywhere, so they have been trying to get it under control systemically.

I am so blessed to have a husband who, despite all he is going through, still tries to make life as easy for me as possible. I am so thankful for a wonderful family.

Patient 1: Female (USA) Lung Cancer

I have been thinking of making a journal about my health issues and here it is. This is great. I had cancer surgery almost 15 years ago and I have been cancer free and relatively healthy ever since. This last Oct. my illusion came to an abrupt halt. My lung specialist said I had a mass in my left lung and it needed to come out. Ah you said what??? He sent me to a Thoracic Surgeon and he was ready to sign me up for the next opening. I felt my stomach turn and I said I needed to see my Primary Care physician. I saw her a week later and told her I wanted to wait and see. She agreed and told me about a blood test that would screen for cancer. I had the test and it says I don’t have any Cancer in my system. I decided to get another opinion this time at UCSF. This is where I had my Lung Cancer surgery done in 1996. I am waiting for my appointment. It is in the middle of Jan. I don’t understand how well respected and learned doctors can do this. I have had two Dr. and a blood screening say they were wrong (and I’ll eat my hat if they’re right) but they insist the mass is cancer. I hope everyone gets second and third and fourth opinions. Well we shall wait and see. Thanks for the opportunity to say my peace.

My Cancer fears were gone once I had my surgery in 1996. I really never gave it another though. I did have yearly CT scans and they were consistently the same. I was well aware of the scar tissue present but I was a smoker. I was a hairdresser, used a lot of chemicals that are labeled dangerous. And I was a sun goddess and a swimmer and lifeguard. Again not very good conditions if you want to be cancer free. For any cancer!

I returned home from UCSF with the same old story. Let’s watch and wait. I will get another CT scan in 6 months and just go from there. Other than that I sure enjoyed being in San Francisco. I really love that town. I am feeling good and I will be doing life as usual for now. I started doing square dancing once a week and I will rejoin the gym. I hope everybody is feeling well and continues to have happy thoughts for their new year. 🙂

Well, I have missed the last two weeks of SD. I keep running a fever and feeling sort of sickish. I don’t want to be a rabbit out of the cage and push myself. I’m not in a race. I will rejoin the gym ASAP. I still haven’t heard from my doctor as to what she thinks is the next plan. I’m not too sure I will keep her as my primary Dr. She is way to controlling and this freaks me out. She works for me. I think more doctors need to remember they are working for their patients and any decisions need to be mutually agreed upon and that they are not the ultimate authority. I feel like she wants me to do everything her way and that I’m not her… Oh well, I did my will today and that went well.

Patient 2: Male (Malaysia)

Diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer, hv chemo treatment with Carboplatin + Taxol (6 cycles)2008 ; Tarceva (21/2 months)2008/2009 ; Cisplatin + Alimta (3 cycles) 2009; Alimta only (3 cycles) 2009 ; Alimta only (2 cycles) 2010.
Have experience Lung collapse and drain out fluid from lung in 2010.
Treatment not manage to reduce the quantity and size of tumor, but, manage to have it under control with no major changes for the total quantity and size since diagnose until now.

I proceed with chemo and this round I decide to use back the same drug that I use last year, Gemzar and Navelbine.

All went well after chemo I feel good and suddenly, situation changed and I started vomiting for 3 days, thereafter I felt very tired and I started to loss balance while walking. So, decided to proceed to hospital on. With blood test report, doctor ask me to admit hospital, as my Sodium is very low, it’s the cause of tired and dizzy, then my hemoglobin is low too, so, cannot proceed for chemo.

After all the paper work, I admitted and taking two bags of blood transfusion, then, follow by dripping of sodium water. On second and third day, they took my blood again, too bad, both show that no improvement on my sodium level, but, lucky that hemoglobin n RBW is getting so much better.

After 4 nights in hospital, I requested doctor to allow me discharge, no doubts I am not recover from short of sodium, but, I feel so much better. Finally doctor agreed and discharge me with sodium tablet.

Since back home, I feel good and I have regain my appetite, I really eat and enjoy.

Life goes on – I don’t think of I will ever rest from Chemo treatment for 5 1/2 months. Beside of the back pain disturb me, some breathless at times, basically, I have no complaints.

lung cancer ribbonI have delay my CT scan since April this year and finally got it done two days ago, and yesterday meet up with doctor to discuss about the result of scan. Overall, not much changes to my brain and bone, consider stable. But, compare with previous scan, tumor in lung show some 30% progression. Doctor advise me to proceed for Chemo by next week to get situation under control. Tentatively scheduled for early next week. Anyway, there are things for me to consider and I pray to Lord to guide me and show me the way for the treatment. My main concern is back pain that disturb me almost every night with the pain moving from one to another place at my back. Life now is with daily pain killer and because of the continue taking pain killer, I often feel tired / weak.

Spoke to doctor about getting opinion from Orthopedics to have some idea is the pain due to my spine, but, doctor told me that it is not necessary.

Well, I will arrange appointment with doctor in another hospital and have fix it on coming Monday, hopefully can have some solution. Life goes on, but, no more normal for the last couple of weeks and I hope that Lord will take away all the pain and restore my body with strength and energy.

No worry be Happy. Believe and have Faith.

 

 

Real Stories of Pancreatic Cancer

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 cancer diagnosis is important. Connecting you to those who can relate and provide support is what we do.

Patient 1: Female (Canada)

This is my first entry. A friend directed me to a related site today, and somehow I ended up here. I was given the pancreatic cancer verdict the end of last year – after months of testing and being told ‘whatever it is, it isn’t cancer’. Ha! So much for the – it isn’t cancer theory. I was referred to a world class surgeon in Toronto early this year who was able to do a Whipple procedure, removing about a third of my pancreas.

Initially he thought he got it all. However subsequent scans revealed the original cancer had metastasized into the liver. So then it was off for chemo. What a nightmare. Again, an excellent oncologist at an excellent facility. I was put on the 5-FU regime (how appropriate is that name!) from May-Nov. Twelve treatments in total. Nearly killed me. I don’t think I have ever felt as ill as I did during the 2 weeks between treatments. Just began to feel normal when it was time to begin all over again. But, by the end of the year my tumors had reduced considerably, and my oncologist considered me his poster girl. We all knew the reality of pancreatic cancer.

However, by the end of February the party was over. The tumors were back. So another hit of 5-FU. This time the drug concoction plus the accompanying steroids, triggered bleeding abdominal ulcers. It was decided to discontinue 5-FU. I am now receiving Gemcitabine, a less aggressive treatment. I feel I’ve been given a reprieve chemo-wise, but only time will tell if this will work for me or not.

I would be very interested to hear from anyone with pancreatic cancer. I am blessed with a wonderfully supportive husband, family and friends. Life is good. But I hate this disease with a passion. Acceptance of it is not in my vocabulary.

 

Patient 2: Female (USA)

Just found this site and today is my first entry. I was diagnosed the end of June with inoperable pan can. I went through an experimental drug trial for Tnferade in the fall. It was absolutely brutal….and did nothing as far as we know. My tumor has remained basically “stable” since my diagnosis, with my current treatment of gemzar every other week. The gemzar really knocks me down for a few days, but being as I’m still “stable”, I guess it’s worth it. Early September of this year I spent two weeks in ICU, as all of my treatments/drugs created a 5cm duodenal ulcer……Had no idea I had it until it began to bleed profusely…..10 pints of blood later, I’m still here. Back to work now, but only three days a week. Absolutely dreading the winter, having lost 50lbs since this started I don’t have an ounce of fat for insulation!

Feeling so much better since the ulcer was taken care of! I believe it has been a undetected problem for quite some time, but how would you know….I mean was I having a lot of abdominal pain…yes….but I have pan can so how do you differentiate? Best of all I am sleeping better. Prior to the episode, I was usually only able to sleep two hours or so at time! Now my sleep is nearly “normal. I had plans to go to Vegas with my family in October for a family wedding….but of course was side lined by the hospitalization. Was able to rebook my husband’s ticket and mine for the first week of December and am excited at feeling well enough to have a good time…..and have some nice weather, if only for a weekend!!! Of all the compromises this illness has forced upon me, not being able to tolerate traveling much has really been one of the worst things since I got sick. Prior to getting sick I travelled the world extensively. I have plans to celebrate my 50th birthday this March in London…and soooooo hope I will still be well enough to do it!

Hello friends! Still here!!! Have gained back 25-30 lbs. and doing much better! Been off chemo for eight weeks now. The last round has damaged my nerves in my hands and feet. The doctors say they have exhausted all established tx options for me. This is not necessarily bad news, as the reason is more people in my shoes…don’t get this far. My last scan showed my liver mets are nearly imperceptible and the once very large head tumor itself shows a “residual”! They don’t have any idea what this means in the long run, and consider me a “lucky” anomaly. I am far from the person I was physically, before this started…but certainly grateful to still be here. I hope someone reads this post who has been recently diagnosed with inoperable pan can……I know that the odds are so very poor for most of us….but PLEASE believe there are cases like mine out there…..It isn’t always a 3-6 window. When I was diagnosed, I never expected to be here this long…26 months and counting. Not that I was being a defeatist or negative…..It’s just as a healthcare professional myself, I understood the grave reality of my situation. That said….we all MUST remember….ever case IS different and the best advice I can give is to always stay positive!!! Since I the first of the year I have begun to try to resume my life’s passion….regular travels. I have been to London twice, one in March to celebrate my 50th with friends from around the globe, and last month for a music symposium my husband was invited to attend. I plan on getting back to London in a month or two, and to Vegas in September!!! Anyways…thanks for reading…and stay positive!!! XOX

Patient 2: Female Caregiver of Male patient (USA)

Just little background… My husband, 54, was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer last Sept. We went to have the Whipple procedure and found the cancer had spread to his abdominal cavity. He just completed his 10th round of Folfirinox. The treatment side effects have been continuing to get worse…. he sleeps most of the day and when he is awake he is in pain. His weight has gone from 220 to 150 in the last year and with his appetite gone it continues to go down. We have been holding on to the hope that once he completed 12 rounds of Folfirinox they would do another CT Scan and God willing the spots on his abdominal wall would be gone.

We thought he would then be a candidate for the Whipple. He has a tumor in the head and tail of his pancreas. Today we were told that wouldn’t be happening…. while I understand the reasoning (the lengthy recuperation period, the added weight loss and the overwhelming odds that the cancer would come back anyway) I am heartbroken. I had convinced myself that we were going to beat this. I never let myself think we couldn’t. I’m supposed to grow old with this man, our “golden” years…. we raised three beautiful children together, watched the oldest get married, watched them graduate and go their own ways…. it was supposed to be “our” turn. Our kids are 25, 26 & 30.

Today we had to tell them that time is limited. All I can hope for realistically is another wonderful five years… I really hope I get another 5 years.

Caregiving Tips

Editor’s note: Stella is the care partner of Len, a CLL patient. They both participated in the September session of the Patient Café™ that talked about clinical trials. I had asked Stella for some caregiver tips to share, and she proposed the list below.

Stella’s List

Being the caregiver of a CLL patient on “watch and wait” is not easy. It requires remaining constantly vigilant to the patient’s physical and emotional health. Below are some coping tips that I learned during my experience as Len’s caregiver:

  • Reduce stress by learning as much as you can about your partner’s condition. There are numerous online resources in the way of written materials and videos. Watch and read and learn. You don’t have to try to learn as much as a doctor by any means. There are plenty of sites that focus on patient education that will give you a good idea of the biology of the illness and the treatment options.
  • Know yourself and set boundaries for what you can and can’t do. Take care of yourself, live and eat healthy, get plenty of exercise and be sure that you are living your life also. Get a hobby that you enjoy and get plenty of rest.
  • You are not alone and do not try to do it all by yourself. Talk to friends and family. Join a support group for caregivers. Get professional help if you feel you need it. Caregiving is a demanding job. Be sure and ask for help.

Caregiver_Awareness_Month

  • Make sure you get your patient to see a specialist. Often the patient feels indebted to the doctor who diagnosed the disease. That doctor may or not be a CLL specialist. Get a second opinion. We have talked to care givers that do not want to upset the diagnosing doctor. Too bad about the doctors feelings this is the life of your loved one. If a doctor is unwilling to work in tandem with a specialist get a new doctor,
  • Prepare for doctor appointments. Several days before doctor visits, sit with the patient and talk about the upcoming visit. Discuss what questions to ask of the doctor and of the nurse. Write all questions down in order of importance to the patient and caregiver.
  • In discussing which questions to ask, make sure that you ask the patient if it is OK to discuss questions that you think may embarrass the patient. Make sure that you consider the patient’s feelings and offer to discuss how to broach any embarrassing topics. The patient is the keeper of their own health.
  • Attend all doctor visits with the patient, take notes and be the patient’s advocate. Ask questions and prompt the patient to ask questions also. Share in the decision-making and make sure the patient’s voice is heard.

Being a caregiver is demanding, but rewarding. It is about sharing feelings and support and helping a loved one to live well with their illness. Your aptitude has a major impact. Stay hopeful: new research is making strides every day.

Mucosal Melanoma – Voice of a Caregiver

We respect the privacy of each shared personal stories.

For this  piece, we have removed the individuals name and have identified her as Lilly. 

Meet Lilly:

“Anyone who has cancer is the incredible person,” says Lilly.

Lilly is a full-time mom, who often spends more than a dozen hours in a week supporting her mother who was diagnosed with mucosal melanoma in May of 2015. “I never heard of Mucosal Melanoma until May 15 and want others to know that name.”

Mucosal Melanoma

According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, Mucosal Melanoma is a rare form of melanoma, making up only 1% of reported melanoma cases.  The location of the disease can affect any mucosal surface of the body.

“This is not the cancer that will run away – I want people to know the name.” Throughout Lilly’s adult life, she too has battled a series of health issues and recognizes the importance of developing a coping mechanism to support herself and her family. “Life is about fighting, about survival, not taking anything for granted. If you have gone through something traumatic… you fight.”

When Lilly first started learning about Mucosal Melanoma, she was devastated to learn about the disease’s trajectory, but she now says “you remind yourself about all the good instead of bad.” When she started digging, she found hope: “I started finding survivors, blogs, and the good things, the drugs showing improvements.”

The strength to prevail as a caregiver emerges through the love of Lilly’s mother. “This isn’t me.. I am not the one with cancer.”

Lilly discusses the importance of a caregiver’s cancer education. She says you do not want to hear “you just have to fight.” You must “make sure you are educating yourself on the disease itself to be a good caregiver.”

Lilly’s two children – a  7-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter – also share their compassion and desire to make a difference for Mucosal Melanoma. Both children help raise money and awareness by selling stickers and creating lemonade stands in their local community. The money raised by Lilly’s children has been used to buy cookies and sweets for families and friends in the patient waiting room.

In a very personal moment, Lilly shares her sister’s conversation with their mother: “What are you looking at?” Her mother responded “I wonder if I will ever see snow on that tree again.”

 Clinical Trials

Her mother’s words remind Lilly of the importance of research and opening yourself up to all opportunities. “When you deal with such a rare type of cancer, you have a 50-50 shot, and doing clinical trials, it will either work or it won’t.” She says, “If you have a chance at a shot in the dark, you have got to take it. especially with the prognosis.”  Clinical trials are the pathway to uncovering our connection to a cure.

We are in This Together

Lilly shares two important messages for all caregivers:

  • “Make sure you are being your own advocate and find support for yourself.
  • “Do not educate yourself so much that you are afraid to live.”

We are in this together. It is important to remember we all have a voice – we all have a story. Lilly could not have said it better:

“I want the world to fight with me. I don’t want to be alone. If we talk about it, we can fight together.

Patient Family Advisory Councils: What They Are, How They Help

Recently, the formation and active participation of Patient Family Advisory Councils has been gaining ground at major medical centers. These councils are comprised of patients, family members of patients and employees from different departments in the medical center.

The idea of families of patients being considered as part of the medical team and not as “visitors” is more practical, more helpful and results in much better patient satisfaction and overall patient outcomes. Patients want their family members as part of their team and their support group. They trust them and rely on them. And no one knows the patient better than those close to them.

The Institute for Patient and Family-Centered Care  has great information about creating PFACs, including recruiting participants, developing bylaws and processes, and sustaining the council.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) also has some good information about why a PFAC can help further patient-centered care efforts in improving the delivery of care. The cahps website  explains,

“These councils help overcome a common problem that most organizations face when they begin to develop patient-and family-centered processes: They do not have the direct experience of illness or the health care system. Consequently, health care professionals often approach the design process from their own perspective, not the patients’ or families’. Improvement committees with the best of intentions may disagree about who understands the needs of the family and patient best. But family members and patients rarely understand professional turf boundaries. Their suggestions are usually inexpensive, straightforward, and easy to implement because they are not bound by the usual rules and sensitivities.”

Many major health centers now have PFACs. Some are new and some have been around for quite a while. Mayo Clinic formed a PFAC in 2004 and on the website, they describe some of the projects it has participated in, including improving wheelchair access, improving health literacy, evaluating health history forms and others.

Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA established a PFAC in 1998. According to the Dana Farber website, the council has spear-headed the following projects:

  • Helped design treatment, program, and common areas throughout the Institute, including the award-winning Women’s Cancers Program;
  • Participated in renovations to the radiation therapy unit at Brigham and Women’s Hospital;
  • Launched a “Patients as Educators” program to share experiences and feelings about oncology patient/provider relationships with small groups of nurses and doctors;
  • Advocated for increased psychosocial support services;
  • Addressed patient parking policies;
  • Worked with Patient Accounting to create more patient-friendly billing letters;
  • Participated in planning for the Complementary Therapies Program;
  • Launched Side by Side, a quarterly newsletter for patients;
  • Served as a national model for patient-family participation in clinical-care services.

MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX has always been involved in patient-centered care, but the PFAC was just created last year. Patients and family members actually helped in the creation of the council, writing bylaws, developing strategies and recruiting members.

I spoke with Kay Swint at MD Anderson who co-chairs their new PFAC with 2 patient/family member co-chairs. Swint was part of a group from MD Anderson that attended a seminar at the Institute for Patient and Family-Centered Care specifically designed for learning how to create a PFAC.

Swint spoke about patient-centered care in general, explaining that it is really about reducing anxiety and suffering and forming strong relationships with patients.

“When you do that, outcomes improve. It is not enough to write a treatment plan. You have to make sure the patient and family are fully engaged and on the same page. You have to understand what the patients really care about and what their values and needs really are.”

The MD Anderson PFAC has 27 patients and family members and has 10 MD Anderson employees. The Co-chairs report up to Barbara Summers, Chief Nursing Officer and Marshall Hicks, MD, Division Head of Diagnostic Imaging. Summers and Hicks are both Executive Sponsors of the Patient Experience Division at MD Anderson.

The MD Anderson PFAC is currently working on projects involving patient communication and education, including how to get information to patients when and where they need it. They are capturing patient/family stories that teach valuable lessons on what’s important for patients. Swint explained that these stories are a great way to convey to health care professionals patients’ values and needs.

The Council is also working on electronic health record implementation and what is important from the patient’s perspective.

When I asked Swint what the patient and family members that were on the council thought about the initiative, she said that they were extremely enthusiastic.

“Members really want to contribute. If the meeting is running late and we ask who can stay to give feedback, most will willingly stay. This is so important. Just 15 minutes with patients and family members really improves our decision-making; their feedback is so important.”

City of Hope cancer center in California initiated their Patient Family Advisory Council in 2008. In 2012, they also initiated El Concilio, a PFAC for Spanish speaking patients and caregivers. I spoke with PFAC Co-chair, Annette Mercurio, about the council and what it does.

Mercurio explained that the council Chair is always a patient or caregiver and is elected annually. The Co-chair is a hospital employee. The City of Hope PFAC is certainly patient driven, with 22 patient members and 3 hospital employee members.

Some projects that the City of Hope PFAC has been involved with:

  • Several PFAC members sat with City of Hope CMO, COO and other hospital leaders to discuss outpatient care redesign
  • PFAC members contributed to improving after-hours meal options for caregivers
  • PFAC members contributed to strengthening volunteer support for chemotherapy patients
  • PFAC members contributed to the designing of the patient portal
  • PFAC members served on Rapid Improvement Event teams that contributed to process improvements for patient registration, design of the ambulatory surgery center in Amini, specimen transport and chemotherapy patient education

Mercurio told me that the hospital really feels that the council’s help is crucial for tackling any project that involves patients, their families and caregivers. When asked about the patients and caregivers’ thoughts on the council, Mercurio explained,

“The members feel that using their insight will really benefit other patients and caregivers. That helping others by serving on the council is one of the most important ways to make a difference. I am humbled by the dedication of these individuals.”

The emphasis on patient-centered care, patient satisfaction and involvement of patients, their families and caregivers is actively making a difference in healthcare. We at the Patient Empowerment Network hope that it gains momentum as it moves forward. Join the Patient Empowerment movement!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 Beliefs That Can Hold Caregivers Back (from reaching out for help)

Family caregivers too often suffer from two very common things: overwhelm and isolation. Or, to it put another way, exhaustion and loneliness. So often, the nature of illness and trauma not only disrupts our normal ways of living, but also disrupts our connections with people who care about us. Caregivers who reach out for support gain the benefits of lessening their burdens and of feeling the warmth provided by people who care.

Too often, caregivers hold back from reaching out because of beliefs they have about doing so:

  •  Nobody else can do what I do for my loved one.
  •  My loved one won’t accept help from anyone but me.
  •  I’m too busy to even begin to think about doing anything more – even reaching out.
  •  The moment I start reaching out, our family will lose our privacy.
  •  I’m afraid of imposing on people.
  •  Reaching out shows weakness; doing it yourself shows strength.
  •  I’m afraid that nobody will come forward to help me.
  •  Since I’m able to handle things now, I’ll be able to continue to do so.

These, beliefs, while completely understandable and very common, are neither healthy for you as a caregiver or for your loved one. They get in the way of your resilience and your capacity to sustain yourself for however long your caregiving is required. Each week, I will be focusing in on one of these self-limiting beliefs and invite you to come along with me in exploring those that you are now willing to let go of and change into ones that help you not only survive, but thrive.

So let’s get started:

Nobody else can do what I do for my loved one

Think of the whole range of “things” you are currently doing. First think of the practical ones: dressing, managing and administering the meds, shopping, preparing, serving and cleaning up after meals, assisting with bathing and toileting, and so on. Now focus on the emotional and spiritual ones – showing love, being a trusted confidant, giving emotional support and comfort, etc.

Nobody else can do these things exactly how you’re doing them or would your loved one experience them in the same way if they were done by people other than you. No one else is so attuned to your loved one’s needs and preferences and, most likely, your loved one is most receptive to your way of doing these things. And, no one else would be as committed to your loved one’s comfort and be as vigilant as you are. This much is true.

But, the trap here is believing that, since no one else can do things the way you do, that no one else can do them or do them satisfactorily for you and your loved one.

Let’s take a look at some of those practical things that I listed above. Take one area for starters, e.g. grocery shopping. These days, it’s not like the days when our mothers used to look the butcher in the eye and tell him she wants a better cut of meat than the way he did it last week. Shopping simply means meal planning, list making and going out and getting the groceries – all very delegatable tasks. When you think about, I think you’ll agree that many if not most of the practical things can be done by others. Not necessarily with your intimate knowledge and way of doing things, but in their own ways. And, similarly, other people will bring their own and distinctly different ways of providing emotional and spiritual support as well.

Bottom line: Is this a belief you’ve been holding? If so, how does it serve you? How does it hinder you? How might you re-write that belief so that it serves you better? For example, “There are some things that other people can help with. I’m going to try this out with some simple things.” What practical step can you take to try out that new belief this very week? Let us know – by commenting on this blog. You’ll help yourself and other caregivers by doing so.