Living Well with MPNs 2015…and a couple of quick announcements

Living Well with MPNs…

Presenters

 Dr. Susan Leclair, PhD, CLS (NCA) Chancellor Professor Emerita and Patient Power Host

Dr. Brady Stein MD, of Northwestern

Dr. Stephen Oh of Washington University, St. Louis

Lindsey Kalhagen, PA of Northwestern

Andi Malitz, Patient Advocate

David Shobrook, Patient Advocate

For the second year in a row, M and I were lucky enough to attend the Living Well with MPNs event held in Chicago. This event was hosted by Northwestern University, Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, presented by Patient Power. Just like last year, the event started with registration, a little networking with other patients, then into the meeting at 10am.

As the name of the event suggests, the focus is on encouraging us to live our lives as well as we are able. In order for anyone to do this they need to be willing to seek out the things that will help them to live their best life.  Most importantly, one needs to be informed, and not afraid to ask questions.

I know it can be scary to ask questions at times. Appearing uninformed has always been a fear of mine. But that’s the beauty of this event.  We are all in the same boat. We are all either patients or caregivers. We have all felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of questions that we had when we were diagnosed. The knowledge that we are in a room full of our peers makes it much easier to open up about the things that scare us, or the things we don’t quite understand.

There were lots of very good questions asked, and our presenters gave concise, easy to understand answers.  The doctors explained that cognitive symptoms are a lot more common in MPNs than previously thought. As more and more patients have been reporting mood disturbances, it has been more strongly connected to the MPNs themselves. Rather than sending patients from doctor to doctor (leaving us to feel rather like ping pong balls…) doctors are acknowledging that the mood disorders may be more directly connected to MPNs, and are more openly collaborating for treatment with other physicians.

We also discussed the genetic factors of our diseases. There often seems to be a little confusion between something being genetic, and something being hereditary. Our diseases are genetic, meaning they are caused a genetic mutation (JAK, CALR, etc.). That does not necessarily mean our diseases are hereditary, meaning passed from generation to generation.

The answer that seemed to stand out most to me had to be to this question: How should you decide on a course of treatment for an MPN? The consensus among the doctors presenting is that the history of the patient, and the way they are feeling, are more important when determining treatment plans than lab values alone. For instance, an ET patient with platelets in the upper 900Ks, but who has no history of blood clots, headaches, or other thrombotic events, and feels well, does NOT necessarily need prescription treatment. While an ET patient with platelets in the 500-600K range, with history of blood clots, and constant disruptive symptoms, may require prescription intervention.

There are new advances, more research, and better information available every day. This is why it is in our best interest to be as well informed as possible. Without knowledge, how can we expect to Live Well with MPNs? It is our responsibility to be proactive and assertive when it comes to our health. If you are not comfortable with the direction that your treatment is going, then speak up. If you do not feel that your doctor is receptive to your thoughts on treatment, then seek another doctor. We deserve to feel that we are heard, and that we are respected. The doctor/patient relationship needs to be a relationship of mutual respect – it needs to be a partnership.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Patient Power again for presenting this event, and for all of the information and videos available on their site!

As for my announcements – First I am excited to say I will be visiting NYC for the first time this week. I’ve been asked to participate in a Patient Advisory Board for Incyte. I’ll be there this coming Friday. Not much time for touristing, but I’m pretty excited to be going!

Second, I’ll be going to to San Diego for the Women in MPNs conference coming up in September.

That’s all for now – I’ll post what I can about the events after they happen.

As always, you are your own best advocate. If you do not stand up for yourself, who will?

Until next time,

Lina

World Cancer Day

Being #worldcancerday, I thought I would post a little something today. Cancer is not a nice word. It evokes fear, and sadness, and bad memories.

Let’s talk about some basics first: Cancer can be generally defined as the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in some part of the body. There is approximately 30-40% risk of developing cancer in ones lifetime. No two instances of cancer are the same. Cancers grow at different rates, and respond to different treatments.

But generally speaking, Cancer just sucks.

The discussion of cancer also brings up, what for me is a somewhat controversial word; Warrior. I have argued against the use of this word a couple of times in the past, so below will be a repost from March of 2014

The use of the words “Warrior” or “fighter” in reference to Cancer patients baffles me. There are two implications with these words that bother me most.

First is the implication that this is a “battle” with an opponent who fights fairly. This is not true. Cancer does NOT follow any particular regulations. It does not conform to accepted rules of engagement. Cancer is mean. Cancer plays dirty. Cancer is not a fair “fight”. Frankly, Cancer is a jerk. Cancer is the bully on the playground, who is twice your size, steals your lunch money, and pushes you in the dirt. Cancer is an invisible thief who breaks into your life and steals your energy, your health, your peace of mind. But to me, Cancer is not a “battle”.

Second is the implication that those who “lose the battle” against their cancer did not fight hard enough. This is also not true. The best I can hope for is to try to be an active participant in my treatment and situation. My personal motto, as I’m sure some of you are aware, is to “Be assertive”. This, in my opinion, is the way to approach your cancer.

I am sure that there are those who disagree with this. That for some, approaching Cancer as a battle to be won is comforting and reassuring. That is absolutely fine. If that approach helps you to become an active participant in your treatment, then that is what matters. What I think we can agree on though; is that Cancer is cruel. It can hurt every aspect of your life. But it is a situation in your life from which you can learn. From which you can grow. From which you can draw strength. Some of my biggest life lessons have come from Cancer. I learned a lot about myself through my experiences, and it has truly made me who I am today. But I am not a warrior. My situation is not a battle. It is my life. I am myself; a patient, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend.  And I am me.

Thank you,

As always, you are your own best advocate. Be assertive, be persistent. If you do not take care of yourself, who will?

Lina

Linampn.com

@linampn

OVAC Lobby Day Review

OVAC Lobby Day: 7/7-7/8

This may be a little haphazard, but I’ll try to keep it somewhat organized.

The OVAC Lobby Days took place Monday July 7th and Tuesday July 8th. This is the first time I’ve done any type of lobbying, and was therefore an overwhelming, educational, terrifying, overall exhilarating experience.

OVAC, One Voice Against Cancer is a collaboration of non-profit organizations working together to try to find cures for cancer. OVAC has representatives from all across the country, every walk of life, all cancers. We all spoke of our personal experiences, which are very different, but our goal was the same, so we truly were speaking against cancer with One Voice. There’s something oddly uniting about the subject of cancer. We all know someone who has been touched by it in some way. Each of us at the event had our own personal connection to cancer. That is what brought us together.

Monday started with registration, and for me, a sort of awkward wandering around in the lobby until a few of us got to talking. The ladies I befriended in the lobby each shared their own personal stories. One of the ladies told me about her mother who had bladder cancer. Luckily she had responded to treatment, and is doing quite well now, but the experience is what inspired her to become an activist for BCAN (Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network)The other young lady I had the privilege to meet had very recently lost her sister to brain cancer. The pain was still so visibly fresh for her, and I admire her so much for having the strength to join the Brain Tumor association and tell her sister’s story.

After getting to know one another we went in to begin our training. OVAC Lobby Day 2014: Training DayThere were 88 participants from 30 states, and I’d say about 1/2 of us are newbies, so I was not completely alone 🙂 During training we were given 3 very specific goals, or asks; the end goal is of course making cancer research and prevention a top priority, thereby finding better treatment options, and hopefully cures. Specifically though we were asking for 1) $5.26 billion to be provided for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) 2) to ensure a proportional increase to NCI’s funding when there is an increase in the NIH’s funding, and 3) $510 million to be budgeted for the CDC Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.

These are pretty big things to be asking for, and pretty intimidating to be asking political leaders for them. But who else should we speak to other than the people with the power to help make the changes we are asking for? To speak to the decision makers, to tell them what their constituents want, and need; that is why we were there.

It was stressed to us during training that making a connection with the representative, congressperson, or staffer is a good way to start. Tell them where you’re from; down to the street or the neighborhood, then tell your story. Grab their attention; remind them where they are from. If you can make an emotional connection with them then tell them your story, then hopefully they will remember you better.

So with the goal of being remembered in mind, I plotted out a few ideas for the following day. Knowing that my nerves may get the better of me, I decided that it may be best for me to focus on the emotional aspect of our presentations. I’ve always been a nervous test-taker, and to me trying to remember the facts and figures felt very much like a test. I often get tongue tied when put on the spot, but I knew there were certain facts I knew I’d get right. I decided to focus on my story; when I was diagnosed, what my disease is, the treatment options available, and also the cost of said treatments.

I was in a very small delegation from my state. VERY. SMALL. There were only two of us. So our meetings were rather short. 20140712_140034We started the day on the senate side of the Capitol. 20140712_140114We met with a staffer from Senator McCaskill’s office, and from Senator Blunt’s office. After the meeting with Senator Blunt’s office, we had lunch, then headed over to the House side. 20140712_140123There we had a meeting with Ann Wagner (My state Representative) and a staffer from Sam Graves’ office (my fellow Missourian’s representative) All of the presentations on Tuesday, while brief were very meaningful.

gravois-20120210-00130My favorite part of the presentation is when I would start telling them about PegIntron, the medication that I have had the most success with. At this point I would pull out the box of meds that I brought with me, place it on the table in front of me and say “This drug is not yet FDA approved for use in MPN patients. I have been denied 3 times by my insurance company on the grounds that my purposes are “off label”.  This box costs $2000. It contains ONE dose of medicine. I take this once a week. That’s $104,000 per year for however many years I’m lucky enough to remain alive.” That tended to leave a strong impression on the folks I was speaking to. And then I would start to work in the asks. “With better funding for research, better treatments could potentially be approved for patients. More accessible treatments, mean healthier, more productive constituents.”

 While I was the only person I know of that was there representing MPNs, I am hoping that my presentation was memorable, not just to our elected officials, but also to the other participants. Just about everyone I spoke to had never heard of MPNs. So I’d like to think that I helped educate some other members of the cancer community.

I’m realizing now that I’ve done an awful lot of rambling, so I will leave you for now 🙂 Tomorrow I’ll be posting the mind-body techniques I referenced in my last post!

As always, you are your own best advocate. If you do not take care of yourself, who will?

Until next time,

Lina

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