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Jennie and Sami LIVE

C3N ImproveCareNow Patient Scholars to participate in LIVE Webcast on June 27, 2013Hear the voices behind the blogs - Patient Scholars Jennie David and Sami Kennedy will chat via LIVE Webcast with Dr. Peter Margolis about their work with the C3N Project and the ImproveCareNow Network this Thursday, June 27.  Jennie and Sami are part of the Patient Advisory Council (PAC), where they collaborate with a diverse group of patients to help their generation and the next by working alongside researchers, clinicians and families.  What does a PAC member do?  You’ll have to tune in Thursday and hear for yourself.

 

Find out more about the PAC here, and make sure to bring comments and questions to the LIVE discussion - register now!

 

C3N LIVE Webcast | June 27, 2013 | 12 PM ET

 

Not available to join the Webcast?  Follow and join the discussion in real-time on Twitter.


because these things will change.

Sami_scope

 

Hey.

 

Breathe. I know you want to scream right now, because it hurts so bad. I'm sorry.

 

I know you struggled to sit through that presentation. I know you didn't leave because you were afraid you'd get in trouble. You didn't want to be embarrassed. You wouldn't know what to say. You have diarrhea and it's really bloody, and I know that scares you. I know there's no way to say that easily, so you keep quiet. Some days, it's just blood. I know you wish you could talk about it. One day, you will.

 

I know you're scared. Scared that next time, you won't make it. Scared that the line outside the stall will start to get impatient. Scared that everyone will notice it's you giving off that smell. I know you wish you had more hands, so you could plug your nose, grip the rail, and hold your aching belly at the same time. I know you worry that one day, the pain won't pass, and you won't be able to wipe and stand up and just leave. You don't know what you'll do then. You're scared to look down, afraid of what you'll see. It's getting worse. The doctor said it would get better. I know it doesn't make a lot of sense to you now. You're eating only the most basic foods. It's a bagel every day for lunch, maybe white rice and a banana for dinner. You're staying hydrated before you run. That was supposed to make it all better. No matter what you eat, the pain makes you moan and cry and scream, but you know you get through it every time. You're going to get a break soon. It will be okay.

 

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You're going to face something even worse than that pain, too. Bad doubt, worse than the worst of your pain. It will hurt you more than anything. Trust yourself. Your pain is real, and you are not weak. You are loud and smart and spunky. Be that girl, even through the pain. I know you think letting people do nice things for you will make you not-a-grown-up, but let them. It's not baby-ish to need a hug or do a silly craft. Keep that in mind...say, two weeks from now. That was a hint. Hey. Really. You're being more of a grown-up than you know right now, even right within that stall.

 

I'm sorry. I'm sorry that the field trip you've been anticipating for months had to go this way. I'm sorry that you couldn't eat at lunch. I'm sorry that when you get on that school bus to go home, you're going to sit alone and lay your head against the window, clutching your stomach, wincing with every bump in the road, hoping you see the school before it's too late. I'm sorry that when you go to track practice, you're going to be the last runner to cross that finish line again. I'm sorry that you're going to have to keep running all the way inside to the field house bathroom. I'm sorry that you're going to have to get back in a car to go home. And come back tomorrow to go through the pain and confusion and loneliness again. I'm sorry that you haven't had the normal freshman year you so badly wanted.

 

14

 

I know you're not wondering why you, but you are wondering why, and I am sorry that even I can't tell you that. No one can. But, one day, you are going to dream of finding the answers to questions you don't even know to ask yet. You are going to read books and hear stories about cells and pathways in your body that sound too incredible to be real. But, they are. And you will love those stories so much that you will want to learn every detail of those stories and write your own, too. You will have dreams you cannot even fathom yet. Dreams bigger than the stories and bigger than the pain.

 

I know it bothers you that I'm apologizing. I know if you were feeling better, you'd probably even be angry that I'm being so unclear about everything. This is our story, and you have to live it out to become me. Believe me, you'll like who you become. I'm sorry that you have to feel this pain, and that it's worthy of a letter, but know this: one day, you will speak about this pain, and the crowd will stand up and applaud, and it will be one of the happiest moments of your young life.

 

Hey. Don't look down. Just this one time. You know what's there. Look up. You don't know what's ahead yet or even what your problem is, but one day, you're going to be part of the solution. I know.


Defining and Defying

As of today, I joined ‘the real world’ - aka started my first real-world-full-time-look-I’m-an-adult-honest-to-goodness-getting-paid job. Today went as follows: 1) I ran into the PI of the study (who’s the head of the division, and who I’ve worked for the past couple of summers) and he gave me a hug (the day was off to a good start) 2) Got my ID badge which officially says “Jennie David, Cardiac Surgery, Research” - AWESOME 3) Found out that my ID badge gave me access to the OR (unnecessary, but totally cool nonetheless) 4) Geeked out with a co-worker over the research studies 5) Nearly drooled on my computer at an abstract that’s being presented at an international conference in a couple of weeks where I’m listed as a co-author.

 

Graduating from college is more or less synonymous with the phrase, “Here comes the real world!” To paraphrase a speaker at graduation, if this is the real world, where was I living for the past 21 years? The dictionary defines real as, “actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.” I would therefore like to argue that my entire life has actually existed and occurred in fact and has neither been imagined or supposed - so I would like to believe it’s all been quite real. The question becomes - what does joining ‘the real world’ mean?

 

For those of us living with chronic illnesses, we joined ‘the real world’ a long time ago, often years before our contemporaries. I would gander to think that ‘the real world’ refers to a certain consciousness, when you are acutely aware that your actions have consequences, that things matter, that responsibilities have weight, that bills need to be paid on time, and that if you put dark jeans in with white laundry you will dye all of your underwear blue. To quote Joan Didion in ‘Goodbye to All That’, a favorite essay of mine (that I highly suggest you read if you find yourself entering ‘the real world’), “That was the year... when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it.”

 

Definitions are, in virtually every way, relative and changing. Entering adulthood is different for everyone, just as living with an illness is or even a person’s preferences for candy. ‘The real world’ - or the awareness that you have a choice in making things the way you want them - isn’t something that’s prescribed only to the cohort of recent college graduates, it’s something that can happen at any time to any of us. For me, I was 12 and newly diagnosed and began to realize that I had the ability to define what Crohn’s meant for me and to defy what others thought it meant.

 

There is a difference between being chronically ill (a physical reality) and living with a chronic illness (the emotional experience). Today, in the midst of loving my new ID and reading over papers, I was temporarily bothered by the psorasis sprouting along my arms and legs and the ache in my abdomen compliments of my inflamed guts grumbling. Does it mean I didn’t enjoy my first day? Does it mean I can’t be successful at my job? Of course not. I’m just a girl who has a lot of goals and dreams and will work my butt off to get there - step one, doing my best at my research job, step two, getting where I want to go. I’m someone in my own right, and my Crohn’s fits in, but it does not define me in and of itself.

 

I remember the first time I ever heard the term ‘glass ceiling’ and thinking it was a funny way of talking about limitations. After all, even if it’s a glass ceiling, you can see the sky, so is it really that bad? But I think that’s the point - you can see what’s out there, but you’re boxed in and can’t get out. We all have preconceived notions about what it means to live with a chronic illness - we might think it means we can’t have a job, or a significant other, or move away from home, and so on. But at the end of the day, we are free to choose our own definitions - and they can change - and we are free to defy the expectation that a life of illness is a life of suffering.

 

So go ahead - defy expectations, define yourself according to yourself, shatter those glass ceilings. You’re already living in the real world, so go out there and do a downright gutsy job of it.

 

Jennie


Take Steps and Super Heroes

Alex8799 and his take steps team pictureThis past week I took part in the Cincinnati Take Steps walk for the third year in a row. Each year we design a new shirt as a way to come together as a team. This year’s team shirts were superhero-themed; the team name merged with the superman symbol. Seeing the sea of purple at the walk and all those superhero shirts got me thinking about my heroes and how they have helped me cope with my disease.

 

What makes someone a hero in my eyes?  They need to inspire me.  They should make me think beyond what’s normal and make me challenge the status quo.  Heroes change the perspective. They do not let limitations stand between them and what they want to do.  One of my heroes is Alicia Lang; she lived most of her life with Cystic Fibrosis. She was in the hospital for weeks at a time and half of her lifetime. Yet she always had a smile on her face and did not let her disease stop her from helping others. I met her at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Patient Advisory Council. She would roll into our meetings every month and you could not help but feel her presence in the room. Now the PAC meetings feel emptier without her smile. She lost her battle with Cystic Fibrosis, but her influence lives on.  She taught me that the tough times are the best times; it is a time for kindness, a time to step it up a notch, a time to smile, and a time to be a hero.

 

Heroes also inspire.  Jennie David and Sami Kennedy are two other inspirational heroes.  They inspire others by spreading their story.  They help others through their own fight by sharing their experiences; sometimes this is with humor (sharing opinions on what toilet paper is the best), other times sharing their experiences while going to college.  They have set high expectations for themselves and have made a lifelong goal of helping others with IBD. They have taught me that I can talk about poop as much as I want to, and that no matter how high the goal I can achieve.  They have taught me that, despite my Crohn’s disease, going to medical school is not out of the question; and that I am not going to accept anything less than a life as a pediatric gastroenterologist.

 

So why this blog about my heroes? Heroes are everywhere. They can be your Mom or your Dad, they could be someone that helps you at school or someone that you meet through circumstances that bring you together to fight a common cause.  In this virtual world, they could be a person you’ve not met face to face, but you admire from afar. Heroes are people you can look up to and can help you get through any situation. For me, when times are tough, I just think about all the people I know, my heroes, and those who may have it worse than me. I think about their situations, the experiences that they have shared, and I am thankful and mindful that my situation could be a whole lot worse. Every night I go to bed listening to Zach Sobiech’s song, Clouds, and I think to myself how I can live the next day to the fullest. How can I be a hero?

 

Everyone needs a hero so go out and find one. The hero you have always been looking for could be right in front of you.


Michael Seid, PhD

Michael Seid, PhDI’m a health care researcher interested in making health care work better for kids with chronic illness.  My sister has Crohn's disease and my daughter was just diagnosed last year with Crohn's disease.

 

Twenty five years ago, my sister was diagnosed when her intestine burst. Her bowels were so obstructed and inflamed, that they started leaking into her abdomen. After her first surgery, she found kind and wonderful doctors. My parents did everything they could for her. But her journey was rough. She ended up having three surgeries, a TPN feeding tube, losing all but 3 feet of her small intestine, and having way too much physical and emotional suffering. She never took her meds because she didn’t think they did anything for her. She felt completely alone and was convinced no one could help her.

 

Because my daughter is part of ImproveCareNow, her experience has been different. She was connected early on to other kids her age with Crohn’s. She learned how to track her symptoms so she and her doctor could determine that her meds were helping. And she collaborated with her doctor to figure out that Carnation Instant Breakfast helped reduce her fatigue. I’ve connected online with other parents for ideas about how to help and have shared this information with her doctor. Things aren’t perfect, but my daughter has been able to bear the burden of Crohn’s more lightly, in large part because of the way that ImproveCareNow has enabled us all to be more active partners in helping her stay healthy.

 

Taking ImproveCareNow to the next level is crucial.  I want to make a world where everyone can be part of the solution.  I intend to continue to work to make it easier for more people to make a difference for their health or the health of their children.

 

Michael


IBD and Skin Cancer

Don't Fry Day Logo Skin cancer is the most common type of all cancers according to the American Cancer Society. Check out their excellent infographic.

 

Skin protection and cancer prevention are especially important for kids (and adults) who are taking, or have taken, immunosuppressants (thiopurines as an example) to treat IBD – as the risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer can be higher for them - according to this article by the American Gastroenterological Society.

 

The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention has declared the Friday before Memorial Day is ‘Don’t Fry Day’ to encourage sun safety awareness.  As get ready to kick off the Memorial Day weekend, consider these tips to help protect your skin:




    • Do Not Burn or Tan

 

    • Seek Shade

 

    • Wear Sun-Protective Clothing

 

    • Generously Apply Sunscreen

 

    • Use Extra Caution Near Water, Snow, and Sand

 

    • Get Vitamin D Safely



For more information about Vitamin D - including what it is, how much you need and how to get enough - check out Vitamin D - QuickFacts from the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health.  You can also check out our very first issue of CIRCLE, which featured an article on Vitamin D by Richard Colletti, MD - Network Director for ImproveCareNow.

 


Body Image & IBD

Having your body at the center of ongoing medical scrutiny is not the ideal situation in which to develop an individual and autonomous body image. We make room for scars and side effects, sometimes feeling as though who we are (and who we want to be) shrinks more and more. Developing a positive sense of self and body image is something every kid must face, but especially when it comes to IBD there is a role for everyone to play.

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First and Last

There are evenings like tonight that I am sure I will remember in thirty years. There’s nothing remarkable about tonight, just a quiet evening at home, only it entails being forced to watch the school’s football field undergo a Cinderella transformation into my way-too-soon college graduation. And as such, I am overcome with a simultaneous sense of relief and panic – causing me to nearly freak out at the sight of the stage being built with a near “WAIT, I AM NOT READY TO LEAVE”. But alas, no one would hear me, so I will spare my neighbors the screaming.

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Kicking Up Confidence

My lucky parents were blessed with a child who not only won the IBD lottery, but long before that diagnosis, had a severe reaction from eating a nut at age two. Growing up with a life-threatening nut allergy, I became accustomed to standing out from my friends long before my IBD diagnosis - but that is a story for another time. The point here is, I mastered the game of careful avoidance from a young age. Although I was not sensitive to the smell of nuts, I would take care not to even hang out in the same room as any. I was taught well that they were the enemy, and the farther away I stayed, the safer I felt.

 

So, you can imagine my surprise (read: horror) when, on my very first college campus tour, our guide announced that one of the distinguishing features of the campus was a large courtyard brimming with pecan shells. I stuck to the sidewalk when the group walked through the (admittedly beautiful) pit of possible death, trying hard not to let this unexpected development spoil a day that had been wonderful up until that moment.

 

I came home disappointed but determined. I returned for a second campus visit prepared. After two rounds of allergen testing (including literally walking into my allergist's office with a bag of pecans and asking that we rub them all over my feet), we confirmed that although I had not outgrown my oral allergy to pecans, I did not have a skin allergy. So, one year later, I returned to that pecan court - and despite the March cold - donned flip flops and stomped all around that thing. My heart was racing, but I had to prove to myself that I could do it.

 

Pecan Court as described by Sami I was literally walking, kicking, and dancing through a Pit of Things that Could Kill Me.

 

But I did it. And nothing happened.

 

Three years later, I walk through that pecan court at least once a day. And sometimes, I feel a little surge of victory. I can do what I once thought I couldn't do. Other times, though, I feel a pecan shell slip beneath the sole of my shoe and rub up against my foot - and despite the overwhelming evidence that I won't react - I still look for a hive to pop up. I am safe - but I can never erase that twinge of fear and doubt.

 

IBD is similar in some ways.

 

I have been in remission for over two years. But in that moment I see a red-tinge on the toilet paper, my mind inevitably begins to race off in directions I know it shouldn't go. I'll think, 'This is it. This is the first drop, and tomorrow there will be two drops, and then in a week there will be red all over the bowl, and then I will be on Prednisone, and I should go freak out now.' I always manage to regain my common sense by the time I finally flush that terrible industrial grade skin-irritating toilet paper away, but the panic never fails to set in for just a moment there. Even now.

 

I know remission is not a cure, and thus I am always ready to lose it. When I feel an abdominal cramp come on, I know I should go straight to the conclusion that it's just my menstrual cycle. That's the most likely conclusion, and for three years, that has been what it always turns out to be - but my mind never goes there first, even now. Perhaps it's a coping mechanism for when the day does come that I slip out of my remission - as if I think I'll find comfort in saying, 'Well, at least I knew this was coming.'

 

Living with a chronic illness, I am always walking through a pit of danger. Right now, I'm protected, my treatment is doing its job, but I know my armor is unlikely to last me forever. My 6mp probably won't hold off my immune system until I'm old and gray, but in the absence of a cure, my disease isn't going anywhere. Even my medications could hurt me one day.

 

But, just like with my nut allergy, there are things I can do to protect myself. I can take my meds on schedule. I can check in with my doctor every three months. I can be alert to my body and bowel movements so that I catch bumps in the road before they progress to flares. I can avoid behaviors and foods that might trigger problems, and do my best to keep my body healthy and rested.

 

It's important to know what I can't do, but it's equally important to know what I can do. I can walk through that pecan court. And, with a touch of luck and a lot of cooperation as an engaged patient, I can be an IBDer who hangs on to that remission for what I hope will be a good long time. It's important to know where I stand, but even more important to walk with confidence through wherever I am - whether it's the sidewalk or a courtyard of pecans, remission or a flare.

 

IBD was certainly unexpected and (if I let myself become preoccupied with all the what-if's of my disease) can be unnerving, but I am walking, kicking, and dancing through it.


Making the Team

Patient Scholar Sami KennedyIn October 2012, I arrived wide-eyed and a little afraid at my first ImproveCareNow Learning Session. I remember walking into the big room with my luggage and taking in the scene - so many brilliant clinicians and researchers I admired and greatly respected all in one hotel for one weekend. And here I was, too. I am nineteen - and so to many, I'm just a kid still. I didn't know what to expect, but I did expect to listen more than I spoke. After all, in a room full of some of my personal heroes, I was "just a patient."

 

As the inaugural Patient Scholars, to say that Jennie and I have been given the opportunity to live a dream would be an understatement. For a girl who expected to listen far more than she spoke, my voice has been valued more than I could ever have hoped or imagined. Jennie and I are just two patients - but to think about how many patient voices can and will resonate at future Learning Sessions excites me more than I can express. It's so clear to me now that "Just a patient" is not a concept that exists in ImproveCareNow.

 

On April 12th I returned to Chicago for the first Learning Session of 2013. Gutsy 2 (myself) may have been without her Gutsy 1 (Jennie) - but together through the art of virtual communication and the help of some friends, we didn't let a sudden strike of illness take away our weekend of hard work and joyous celebration. We shared in a presentation on self-management support and treatment adherence. We opened up about our stories and the accomplishments of the PAC (Patient Advisory Council) over the past year. We were inspired by stories of progress and achievement coming from all around the network. I even learned a new dance - the PDSA - aptly named after a fundamental quality improvement measure - because QI is really at the heart of making care better and thus rightfully deserved a spot at the heart of the celebration! (I expect PDSA to go viral on YouTube any day now.)

 

For a moment, when I landed in Chicago, I felt that familiar sudden shock of fear. For just a moment, I felt little again, like I was "just a patient" with a lot of ideas on the fringes of a great big community. But, this time, when I entered the conference room, I knew I belonged in this community. In one year's time, it's my hope that more patients will have felt the joy of this kind of welcome.

 

Five years ago today, I was waking up early - colon all cleaned out - and driving to the hospital with my mom, neither of us knowing I wouldn't be going home that day or that a whole new world was about to welcome us. Six months ago, when I arrived in Chicago for my very first Learning Session, I couldn't have even imagined myself standing in front of such a brilliant crowd and sharing my story - a story that only just begins with a diagnosis and hardship - on the level I did last weekend. Today, I can't imagine what comes next - but I know I'm humbled to have a voice that can share in the learning. I am eager to pass on the torch of leadership to the next Patient Scholars - because we all have stories, and many of the stories I heard last weekend touched me deeply and reminded me of why I do this.

 

I do this because, right now, another young girl and her mom are driving to the hospital - and they don't know what comes next - but I do.

 

That young girl will get better. And maybe, if we all reach our hands out together to say that everyone can make a difference and is valued on our team, she'll be able to help change care for the better for the next girl with IBD.

 

Like any good team, we are more than the names on the backs of our jerseys when we unite.  In this Network we are more than the names we go by: patient, parent, researcher, clinician. I am so proud to have a jersey on the ImproveCareNow team.

 

Together, we have quite the winning streak. And one day, I really do believe that we will achieve that cure, together.


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