ImproveCareNow sami_kennedy


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.


It's Good To Have A Voice

Good to have a voiceI’m a big proponent of the patient voice. It’s only natural for me. My second grade teacher actually nicknamed me “She Who Is As Loud As Thunder” for a Thanksgiving program. I was a loud kid, and any of my friends will tell you I haven’t changed much. IBD was a temporary knock down, but it didn’t take me long to get up. On my second day in the hospital after diagnosis, I was making a list of questions for my doctor. I didn’t have the courage to say them just then, but I was making the list and handing it off to my mom. I’ve always been opinionated and talkative, so becoming an engaged patient was an inevitability.

 

So my speechlessness took me by surprise when a professor asked my class (Literature & Illness - sounds like the best class ever, right?) to characterize what it means to be a patient in one word. It was the one word part that stumped me. I can speak my thoughts as a patient in blogs and essays and whatnot, but one word? Coincidentally, I was the final student to be asked, so I was able to listen to my classmates’ answers first. The word powerless came up a lot.

 

And it occurred to me - I’ve rarely felt powerless in my care. Lonely? Yes. Frustrated? I would have shouted that word at you when my Prednisone taper failed back in sophomore year. Scared? Here and there. But powerless? Rarely, if ever. Why? Because I’ve always been allowed to have a voice. My voice has never been shot down. I’ve never needed to settle for being quiet - and maybe that’s why I feel powerful in my care.

 

Having a voice has allowed me to feel comfortable with my treatment plan. It's allowed me to feel okay asking questions. Lists don't get passed over to my mom anymore. It's certainly made me feel prepared for the ultimate transfer to adult care in a couple of years. Most of all, having a voice in my care has given me the confidence to be comfortable with my life with IBD. I would say that's quite the opposite of powerless.

 

Take this week. I’m waiting in the mail-room to pick up my seven week supply of enemas, which came in a very big box. A very big box at least twice my width. And in college, a big box typically indicates (a) cool new furniture or (b) a very special care package from someone who loves you a lot. So, naturally, one of my friends got very excited when my box and I made it back to my dorm. And while I won’t deny that my mother loves me a lot, the contents of the box weren’t quite what my friend was expecting. The best part - after she figured it out, we had the greatest laugh. Two years ago, this might have been awkward. Instead, it was just a hilarious moment among friends. I felt comfortable enough to control the situation and make what easily could have been a negative situation into a positive one.

 

This is the reason I’m such a big advocate for patient involvement in care. There are the obvious reasons - it contributes to better adherence, psychosocial adjustment, and understanding of their disease. But I believe, most importantly, when patients are enthusiastically encouraged to join in the decision-making process - and given the resources to do so effectively - their confidence can skyrocket. I’m certainly a more confident young adult after having IBD for a few years than I was before, and I know my experiences with IBD have been a huge factor in my development.

 

Whether it’s feeling comfortable enough to laugh in my doctor’s appointments or laugh over my friend’s reaction to a box of enemas, it’s the same feeling that’s hit me lately. It’s good to have a voice.

 

Back to class, when it came my turn to define a patient in a single word, I chose changed. That’s really what it is and should be when it comes to the patient voice - not the loss of a voice, but a changed voice. A voice that needs to learn how to join in harmony with others to form a unified care team, but still a voice that can be heard loud and clear.


Better

I'm often asked if I believe ulcerative colitis has changed me for the better.

 

It's a tough question. I can't go back in time and see how my high school years would have played out otherwise. There is no me, as I am now, without ulcerative colitis.

 

Has ulcerative colitis changed me for the better? The simple answer is no. My disease has not changed me outside of my intestines. I am the same girl with a few extra pills. The more complicated answer is yes* - with the asterisk. It's based on a technicality. No, UC has not changed me for the better, but living with UC has.

 

It starts with another girl: one named Tara. She was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease during her second year of medical school. A few years later, Tara had chosen to pursue a career in pediatrics and found herself on the inpatient rotation at my children's hospital in April '08 - the month of my diagnosis and subsequent hospitalization.

 

You can guess how this plays out.

 

I was the "I'm okay" kid in the hospital. I felt so good on steroids and so relieved to have a name for my disease, my answer to most everything became standardized. Did I want a visit from the art therapist? "I'm okay, thanks." Did I want another blanket? "I'm okay, thanks." It was my standard answer, so if asked if I wanted to participate in a mentoring program, I would have probably answered predictably: "I'm okay, thanks."

 

Tara was the mentor this "I'm okay" kid never wanted. She stayed one day after rounds to share her story. A day past diagnosis, I hadn't yet started to think about what a future with IBD meant. Thanks to Tara, I never doubted my potential. From the get-go, I knew Tara's story. If she could continue to pursue her passion with IBD, my possibilities were equally endless. Until I met Tara, I didn't realize mentoring is not an emergency measure; it's a survival skill. Her confidence inspired my confidence.

 

Being a good mentor is not about knowing the "right" thing to say or the "right" moment to say it. There will be moments when you don't know what to say, and there will be moments when it's best to stay quiet and just listen. Being a good mentor is not about the story; it's about the storyteller. The best storytellers - and the best mentors - realize that every story matters - and every story can change another story for the better.

 

Until I met Tara, I never believed a single patient voice could matter. Clearly, as I'm here blogging, I do now.


YouMeIBD: Making the Connection

Today is the last day of Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week - a week of awareness and pride. Four and a half years ago, my world was rocked by my diagnosis of ulcerative colitis. April 22, 2008. Today, though, I'd like to suggest that my story really starts nearly three years later on April 11, 2011.

 

Three simple little words sparked many of my closest relationships: You. Me. IBD. Jennie and I are a perfect example. Although we have since found we have much more than our diagnosis in common, our friendship began because I also have IBD and (with an embarrassing amount of enthusiasm) wanted to write for her blog. YouMeIBD is also the name of a soon-to-launch C3N innovation. Young tech-savvy IBD patients are apt to go to the Internet looking for support, but they (a) may not know a safe community in which to find it or (b) may feel too timid or cautious to 'friend' others within a support community such as a Facebook group. We all may have the same diagnosis, but we all know our diagnosis is not our identity. YouMeIBD works on the presumption that mutual interests are far better indicators of friendship potential, and thus suggests friends for a patient based on mutual likes and dislikes.

 

How? A game-like quiz prompts users to answer questions about their likes and dislikes. Their answers, along with other information shared with the app, matches them to other patients within their age range with similar interests. Users can also create their own questions. The theory behind all of this is that use of YouMeIBD will be associated with increased patient social network density and engagement, an increased sense of well-being among patients, and ultimately better health outcomes. Why are connections between patients important?

 

 

 

In April 2008, I came home from the hospital with a link for an online support community. I shrugged it off with excuses for why I was okay on my own - and I was. For nearly three years, I got along just okay on my own - but just okay isn't wonderful. I felt a hole, but I knew it wasn't because I needed help. It took me three years to realize the opportunity to be a friend is just as valuable as the opportunity to have a friend. On April 11, 2011, I came home from school, where few knew my diagnosis and even less knew my story, and for reasons I can't remember, decided I was ready to click the link. I found a community that day. My world was rocked for the second time. The day I sparked my first connection around three words: You. Me. IBD.

 

 

 

Web MeetingYouMeIBD will facilitate those connections for so many more patients. By sharing our stories and connecting with other patients, we will be not only benefiting ourselves but the community as a whole. The research behind YouMeIBD suggests that while much communication regarding chronic illness among patients tends to be negative (though absolutely understandable), positive communication fosters motivation, happiness, and confidence. The psychosomatic effect of a patient's support community, or lack thereof, is profound. YouMeIBD's mission is to enable positive and constructive relationships, the key to which is connecting patients with ties between them that go deeper than their diagnosis. Jennie and I have contributed to the development of YouMeIBD for several months, and I speak for both of us when I say we are thrilled to be nearing the launch date for an application with so much potential.

 

 

 

A wonderful mentor of mine, whom I met through that very first online support community, once advised me: "If it's scary, then you should run at it even harder." It's a quote I keep on my computer desktop because I believe in it so wholeheartedly. IBD is scary, but I think it's even scarier if you allow that fear to paralyze you from taking steps forward toward recovery - of the body and the spirit. It took me three years to grow the courage to share my story and find support, but I would not be here celebrating Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week or writing this blog post if I had not run towards that fear. Be brave. Reach out. Get involved. We've shared with you many opportunities this week, and there are so many more if you open yourself up to the possibilities. On April 11, 2011, I found the confidence to reach out, and that same confidence carried me to writing for this blog. It will be scary, but do it anyway.


Not Alone: A Guide for the Climb

As a kid, my favorite wintertime activity was sledding on this giant hill in front of my house. I remember dragging my little red sled up the hill through the heavy snow, occasionally giving up and looking to my dad to carry me the rest of the way. Coping with IBD can feel like an uphill climb too. Learning to live with a chronic illness can be scary and complicated, and it takes effort and energy. It can feel like taking a big step into the unknown with little feet, and the uncertainty can deter many patients and families from taking active roles on their care teams. I had so many questions after my diagnosis. What does this really mean? What will my life be like now? What do I do?

 

IBD Self Management HandbookLiving Well with IBD: A Self-Management Program endeavors to answer those questions and more. This handbook, accessible digitally and in print, aims to simplify an abundance of information that patients and families need to acquaint themselves with to become engaged and informed members of their care teams. Both formats are colorful, interactive, easy-to-read, and can be consulted whenever necessary.

 

There are sections that walk a patient and their family through understanding their diagnosis, various treatment options, common procedures, growth and nutrition information, available resources, and the importance of treatment adherence, and so much more. Each section clearly lays out each member of the care team's responsibilities, emphasizing that smart management of IBD is a true team effort.  Short-answer and multiple choice questions at the end of each section encourage patients to review the information and consider any questions or concerns. There is plenty of room for patients to write questions and to-do lists to help keep track of their responsibilities. Downloadable or tear-away forms are also available to assist young patients in managing their condition on a daily basis. The ultimate goal of the handbook is engaging patients and supporting successful self-management: encouraging young patients to take active roles in their care.

 

Most importantly, the handbook recognizes a truth I struggled to comprehend after my diagnosis: there is no cookie-cutter IBD patient.  Every patient is different and every diagnosis is different, so the handbook has been made to be easily customizable for each particular patient and care team's needs. Certain sections may be used frequently, whereas others may be used sparingly or temporarily skipped. The handbook's greatest asset as a learning tool is its flexibility in either format - it is broad in scope, while narrow enough to relate to a specific patient's journey. The handbook may be used as a tool during and/or in-between office visits, depending on a patient and provider's needs.

 

Living Well with IBD: A Self-Management Program has been developed under the guidance of Wallace Crandall, MD at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. The printable PDF version is available for download on the ImproveCareNow website, and is printed for you at some participating ImproveCareNow centers. The digital interactive version is in the final stages of development.

 

As a patient, I recognize the importance of good self-management tools. They enhance patient education, activation, and treatment adherence. Any tool that simplifies the complexities of living as a young person with a chronic illness is welcome in my book, and Living Well with IBD: A Self-Management Program succeeds. Living as a child or teen with a chronic illness isn't easy, but tools like this make the jump into self-management a bit less of a leap.


Emma: Your Waiting Room Ally


Today is the second day of Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week. Throughout the week, Jill, Jennie, and I will be taking turns profiling some ImproveCareNow innovations we are incredibly excited to share with the community. I have the honor of introducing Emma, a promising initiative out of Oklahoma University (OU) Children's Hospital  to bridge the gap between tech-savvy adolescent patients and their gastroenterologists.

Who is Emma? Emma is the main character in a captivating iPad game of the same name, developed by OU students in collaboration with Dr. John Grunow. The Emma iPad app is designed to engage young patients in the waiting room, educate them on how to better manage their IBD, and give clinicians a preview into their patients' health and needs. Each session is customizable to a young patient's diagnosis and history.

Put an iPad with the Emma app in the hands of a young patient; she's a little bit anxious about her upcoming clinic visit, but is tech-savvy and somewhat disengaged in the waiting room. Emma transports her into a colorful, interactive four-realm world. It reads like a storybook at first, but soon launches into a variant on Angry Birds. The adventure begins in Port Vanguard, the portal to all four worlds. Soon, our patient is swiping her fingers across the touch screen, navigating Emma's rocket ship through hazardous terrain and "boosting" it when it starts to fall. It's familiar, it's engaging, it's competitive....and it's educational!




Emma App Screen Shot Welcome to Port Vanguard Screenshots from Emma app courtesy of Robert Free (co-developer)

Emma 2As our patient plays, Emma slips in multiple choice questions that test her comprehension on topics like nutrition and self-management, questions customized to her diagnosis. Emma also asks the patient to rank her quality of life and emotional health. Emma sends our patient's responses and a summary of  specific target areas of patient education which need work to her gastroenterologist. Her GI can then tailor her subsequent visit to address gaps in her understanding of her diagnosis and specific areas of concern. Emma is all about streamlining the clinic visit to make effective use of everyone's time. The app is currently being beta tested at OU Children's Hospital, where a select group of patients are helping Emma reach her full potential before hitting ImproveCareNow centers nationwide.


Why do I think Emma is so brilliant? Emma is an effective and clever use of technology, which has been designed especially for a tech-savvy generation. Emma engages patients in the waiting room while giving physicians a quick pre-visit snapshot of their condition. She turns waiting room downtime into a productive use of patient energy (and maybe even jitters!) to better the patient-physician dynamic. I met Emma this past summer during a Patient Advisory Council beta test opportunity and was immediately impressed. As I transition into adult care, it's exciting to watch technology improve the pediatric clinic environment I lovingly leave behind. Emma is innovating the clinical experience, starting right in the waiting room. That's a real game-changer.




What We Wish Our Parents Knew

Mother and Daughter not talkingAt ImproveCareNow’s Fall Learning Session, the Patient Scholars and parents had a special breakout session together. At the parents’ request, Jennie and I have co-authored a list of What We Wish Our Parents Knew navigating IBD through our teenage years:

1) Take a deep breath: Living with IBD as a teenager isn’t easy, but it doesn’t need to be figured out all in one day. There are going to be days that go according to plan, and those that really don’t - sometimes just getting through the day is the goal.

2) I’m moody; get used to it: Regardless of my IBD, I’m still a teenager, and I’m going to be moody sometimes (or okay, a lot of the time). It doesn’t mean I don’t love you, it doesn’t mean I don’t need you; it just means I’m growing up.

3) Let me cool off: Between the stresses of growing up and dealing with my disease, there will be times I just want to be by myself. Let me take some time to calm myself down. I will come to you when I want to talk.

4) I’ll know when I’m ready: The second best decision I made after my diagnosis was to join a teenage support community. The first best decision was to wait until I was ready to make the most of it.

5) Forgetting is not failing: If I forget my pills a few times or make some choices I’ll regret on the toilet tomorrow, don’t assume you need to charge in and take control. I know it’s hard for you to watch, but you’ll make more of a difference if you ask me how you can help me do better instead.

6) One of these kids is not like the others: Especially when I’m sick, try to go easy on and make time for my brothers and sisters, even if it means taking time away from me. Remember that we all don’t know how it feels to be each other.

7) Caring isn’t always sharing: I know you don’t like when I don’t tell you about the blood or mucus or pain until it’s been happening for a few days – but until there’s something we can do about it, I’ve always felt it’s better for just one of us to be scared. Trust me to know when I need to come to you and when I don't.

8) It’s my body, and I’ll decide if I want to: I am going to be moving to adult care soon, and it’s important that I’m prepared to be my own medical advocate. Help involve me in my care, encourage me to call my nurse and refill prescriptions, listen carefully to my concerns and ideas, and help me make decisions with you and my medical team.

9) There’s nothing like a good IBDer: My IBD friends will just ‘get’ it, and it’s really important to have that social support - it helps me feel normal and social.

10) Hello, my name is IBD: If I ask you not to mention my disease in a public situation, it doesn’t mean I’m embarrassed. It may just mean I’d like to introduce myself before I introduce my disease.

11) At least it’s not ..... : Some of my friends with IBD or other chronic illnesses will be healthier or sicker than myself, but please don’t make comparisons. I know my worst may be someone else’s best, but that does not mean I don’t have a right to mourn my losses.

12) What hurts the most: When you say you’d take my colon from me and give me your healthy one if you could, I know it’s because you love me and hurt seeing me in pain, but I could never dump this on you. Some days, I wish you could see my perspective, but the thought of you feeling my pain makes me hurt more than anything.

13) Home is where your guts are: I don’t want to be defined by my disease, and part of that is going to school/work where I want. It’s possible to leave home and travel for school. With the right accommodations, I can do anything. I know my body and myself, and I can decide what I can handle.

14) Forever isn’t tomorrow: Sometimes, it’s okay to live in the moment, and make decisions for the next week or next month or next semester, without worrying about where we’ll end up. This is a forever disease, but we don’t have to make decisions for forever today.

15) A bumpier ride makes for a better story: Life is not going to be easy as pie living with IBD. Every year will be something different, but if we hold on and stick together, we’ll emerge one way or another.


Great Points

I'll start by saying writing this post has caused me internal agony - and I'm not talking about the gutsy variety, but more like the heart-wrenching writers' block variety. Why? I've been asking myself that from the time I first sat down to write this in the airport nearly two weeks ago. I think it's because I still can't comprehend that the Learning Session (henceforth known as ICNLS) is over.

 

As the inaugural Patient Scholars, Jennie and I traveled to Chicago the weekend of October 5 - 7 to work, learn, and represent the PAC, ImproveCareNow's Patient Advisory Council, at ICNLS. The "pack" is a group of motivated high school and college students with IBD, dedicated to paying our experiences forward to benefit ImproveCareNow's interventions and the next generation of pediatric IBD patients.

 

ICNLS is a semi-annual opportunity for clinicians and researchers representing ICN care centers around the country and London to come together to share and inspire each other. This Learning Session integrated Jennie and myself as PAC representatives to learn from the team presentations, participate in PAC leadership brainstorming sessions, and interact with the care teams. As the commencement ceremony of our initiatives as Patient Scholars, we hardly had a moment to reflect on our incredible circumstances. Yet, despite the restless nights spent in awe of our company, I couldn't have asked for a more energizing weekend in IBD wonderland.

 

Exhilarating. Fast-paced. Wonderful. Inspiring. Incredible. Over. When Jennie and I danced to "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," a song Taylor Swift wrote especially for Jennie's dear and departed colon, we didn't yet realize the words would later hurt. For the record, I don't expect to never ever see you again, but even six months can feel like forever when you know what's out there. A group of strangers never felt more like home. Thank you.


The theme of the Learning Session was Transitions, in hindsight even more appropriate than I initially realized because the Learning Session itself was a notable transition for me. A Great Point.

 

The first Great Point in my IBD career was The Diagnosis. My first night in the hospital I spent in room 310. Vulnerable. Alone. Guilty. Feelings I should have never felt, but I did. Vaguely hopeful. For what? I didn't know then. Remission? I didn't realize I could or expected to engage in a deeper goal. I thought Moving On meant fighting IBD until I felt as if the whole dirty mess had been a crazy dream. I wasn't a sick kid, not in my stubborn mind. There have been other significant moments in my journey since then (scopes, Camp Oasis, the first enema, the Prednisone Disaster of 2009, learning that perms do not in fact make steroid face look any better), but none as life-changing as The Diagnosis or worth the title of Great Point.

 

Until now.

 

I wish I could've known I'd spend two incredible days in a much nicer room 305, only five digits and (less than) five years off. I wish I could've heard the sound of Jennie and I laughing on the twelfth floor of our grand hotel in Chicago, sharing stories about flying with Miralax and ostomates climbing literal mountains. I wish I could've felt the rush of our breakout sessions, planning our initiatives for the coming months, feeling the most beautiful kind of butterflies in my stomach rather than stabbing pain. I wish I could have seen Molly, Diane, and Sydney holding up a beautifully ridiculous little sign in the airport and us laughing as we walked to the hotel - the beginning of the next Great Point. I would have smiled more. I would have reached out more. I would have felt okay more. Perhaps I would have known too much. Perhaps I needed the struggle to know why I'm working for change.

 

ICNLS is over, but this is just the beginning of a new Moving On. A more beautiful and hopeful Moving On.

 

Are you ready? We are.


To Listen

I am perhaps the proudest a sophomore could be of her undergraduate institution, and every year, I have the incredible opportunity to share my passion for Hendrix through a little event called Phone-A-Thon.

 

Yes, I see you cringing. I apologize if an overly enthusiastic student such as myself has called you just as you’ve sat down to dinner to tell you my story and ask for your support. I promise, some conversations feel as awkward for us as for you.

 

Sometimes, though, there’s that conversation that flourishes - that reminds me not only why I love interacting with alumni, but why I’m passionate about sharing my passions with strangers at all. The conversation where someone just “gets it.”

 

Tonight, an elderly alumni struck up a conversation with me about my minor, Medical Humanities, which explores the human aspects of medicine. I soon found myself sharing with him my role on ImproveCareNow’s Patient Advisory Council and my IBD advocacy efforts. I never expect anyone to have heard of IBD or, if so, to appreciate my passion - but here was someone who just “got it:” he has several friends with the disease.

 

This, on the same day that we talked about Miralax in Organic Chemistry class, and a girl on my campus approached me to let me know my Huffington Post article really inspired her family because her little brother has Ulcerative Colitis? Today has been a laundry list of unexpected happenstance. (Did you know that the main chemical compound in Miralax can not only relieve my constipation, but also contribute to a Suzuki coupling reaction? Neither did I! Found that out while drinking my daily Miralax-Gatorade breakfast oddly enough.)

 

Back to the story, we struck up a conversation about the significance of strong communication skills in medicine. He shared with me the story of a doctor of his who takes the time to sit down and ask him a simple question at the start of each appointment: “How’s life?” Not in a friendly-opening sort of way, but in a genuine I-am-truly-curious sort of way. Five extra minutes of this doctor’s time, he shared, give him that extra push to stick to his treatment regimen. Five minutes every three months remind him that his doctor truly cares about him, which in turn, makes him truly care about his treatment. In turn, I shared the story of a resident who treated me during my initial hospital stay and shared her experiences living with Crohn’s with me. She is the single most important factor that determined my attitude from that day forward. She took the time to return to my room after rounds and really listen to my feelings about my diagnosis. Fifteen minutes of her time changed my life as much as my diagnosis.

 

Five, ten, or fifteen minutes of just listening can profoundly change patient outcomes. It’s incredible, but I believe it’s true.

 

ImproveCareNow believes it too - creating innovations and changing the system to give every patient a voice and the chance to feel heard - and conversations like the one tonight remind me just how proud I feel to be a part of an organization dedicated to giving voices to young IBD patients and their families all around the country and England.

 

In the words of a wise old stranger, “It’s not just medicine that will cure people. It’s doctors who will listen, believe, and give hope.”


 

 

 


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