Platforms of Courage

“One who has passed away from earth life has said,

‘Kind words and liberal estimates and generous acknowledgements, and ready appreciation, unselfish delight in the excellence of others, these are the best signs of a large intellect and a noble spirit.  To be true, to be loving is the secret of Christian growth.'”

A few weeks shy of Stanford Medicine X (#MedX) 2016, I bawled into my coffee mug, deeply moved by Mrs. Jane Lathrop Stanford’s words.

My time at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, as well as our MedX ePatient delegate newsletter, taught me more about the Stanfords.  They were a prominent family involved in politics and the railroad business in the late 1800s.  The Stanfords’ son, Leland, Jr., was a curator who passed away from typhoid as a teenager.

cantor-arts-center

To honor their child’s memory and love of learning, the Stanfords founded Stanford University in 1891.  Mrs. Stanford composed a heartfelt speech commemorating the event, which I encourage you to read in its entirety here.

For me, the most striking aspect of Mrs. Stanford’s speech was her handwritten note after-the-fact of the inaugural celebration: “Not read as expected as I did not have the courage on that opening day of the University- so important in our lives.”  She signed and dated the note Oct. 1891.

As I publish this blog post in Oct. 2016, I am cognizant of the poetic symbolism that makes my undergrad English major heart flutter.  Firstly, I admire Mrs. Stanford for being an outspoken, successful woman in the time in which she lived.  But I respectfully disagree that she “did not have the courage on that opening day.”  The anxiety, perhaps?  Yet the very act of voicing that anxiety in her notes, in the 1890s nevertheless, is an example of bravery.

Courage was surely present in Mrs. Stanford. Courage molded something out of grief and loss, creating a topnotch university where disease is studied and tamed, where support abounds to this very day so perhaps others are spared the pain that the Stanfords endured.

As a type 1 diabetic for almost 26 years, I, too, have searched for a greater purpose in community despite health woes.  Stanford Medicine X is a good place to start.  For instance, while my continuous glucose monitor (CGM) alerted to high levels of glucose in my blood, Sophie Thacher’s simultaneously sounded off to an urgent low.  We are both type 1 diabetics, connected deeply by our friendship and our willingness to work through the challenging moment together, rather than run from it.

#DOC (diabetic online community) at #MedX love!

Whether attending the conference as advocates, pharmaceutical innovators, healthcare providers, tech developers, students, and so on, #MedX reminds us that healthcare is a human story first and foremost.  Here, you will find everyone included™.

With Yoko Sen’s calming voice as our guide, we pondered aloud the last sounds we would like to hear before we die.  The Ignite! talks of recently-dubbed MedX Scholars such as Danielle Cosgrove, Jeri Burtchell, Liz Salmi, and Terry Marlin moved us to tears.

We found joy in the coffee break conversations, too- with compassionate leaders like Dr. Bonnie Feldman, who understands firsthand why those of us with autoimmune disease want to safeguard future generations from our conditions.

We shared cocktails, laughter, and inside joke swear words with Elizabeth Jameson and her caretakers, Sheri and Catherine.  This dynamic healthcare team is the epitome of grace, resilience, and love.  I will carry your example in my heart forever.

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Rockstar Charlie Blotner (you’re never losing that nickname!) moderated our MedX panel called Ah-Ha! moments in mental health and chronic disease management, which included myself, Danielle Edges, Mark Freeman, and Sarah Kucharski as panelists.

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Panel group selfie via Mark Freeman

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Photo courtesy of Charlie Blotner/Stanford MedX flickr

We were humbled by the standing-room-only attendance for our panel, and we want to highlight the want and need for the mental health discussion to be ongoing within the context of managing chronic conditions.  As Mrs. Stanford’s note illustrates, sometimes stating what you feel empowers others to do the same.

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Photo courtesy of Charlie Blotner/Stanford MedX flickr

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Via Twitter

 

There are days where I physically do not feel well and I am angry at diabetes.  Angry that it hurts.  Angry that I cannot always hide that fact from my loved ones.  Angry that I’m angry.  (It’s definitely a thing!)

But then I look around at Medicine X, and all I see is hope.  This does not mean complete denial of the bad stuff.  Acceptance does not mean giving up.  Hope is found in the camaraderie that we share, the things that are said and the unspoken understanding of what does not have to be said, the head nods and the bear hugs.

If I did not have diabetes, I might not be an advocate with the honor of attending Stanford Medicine X.  I might not have the privilege of watching my friends Natalie Abbott and Cassius explain Moebius syndrome to a global audience.  I might not hear Danielle Edges’ laughter over the phone.  No matter how or why I got here, I am eternally grateful to be part of this MedX family.

natalies-speech

Life is not about the “I might not’s”.  Rather, MedX has taught us that life is about the “How might we…?’s”.  How might we be brave, and good?  How might we make healthcare better for all?  

Together is how we might, and how we are.

Mrs. Stanford may not have stood on the podium and delivered her speech at Stanford’s inaugural ceremony.  Yet I cannot help but to think that she now smiles from her heavenly perch as Medicine X rises to new heights each year.  The platform was already there for us; we have chosen to use it courageously, honorably, and generously as we connect the healthcare dots to form a more empathetic world.  I pray that those who come after us will continue to build upon this structure of innovation, creativity, and goodwill.

As we like to say, the best is yet to come…

#MedX

 

Images shared are from Stanford Medicine X 2016 and related events.  

I attended Stanford Medicine X 2016 as a junior member of the ePatient advisory panel.  As such, I accepted a partial scholarship for my participation.  My disclosures can be found here.

 

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Feedback to Feed Forward

September will be here before we know it, and I am excited to share that I will be returning to Stanford Medicine X (#MedX) as a junior member of the ePatient advisory panel.  Additionally, I will be presenting in a panel entitled “Ah-Ha! moments in mental health and chronic disease management” alongside wonderful advocates Alan Brewington, Kristin Coppens, Danielle Edges, and Mark Freeman, and moderated by rockstar Charlie Blotner.

Accepted MedX 2016 presentations can be found here.  Our abstract includes the following information, some of which is quoted below:

“Mental health and chronic disease management are often interwoven topics in science. But what about the human side of the story? Whether or not individuals meet the diagnostic criteria for mental diagnoses, we all long for optimal mental and physical health to attain good quality of life.

How do we put a personal face to the feelings that hypoglycemia, or chronic pain, or other physical health struggles invoke in terms of our emotions? What moments have changed the way we think about mental health and chronic disease, and how can we encourage these same poignant healthcare interactions in the lives of others?

This panel will explore just how vital this conversation is in chronic disease and mental health management by featuring multifaceted patient, caregiver, and mental health advocate perspectives. In order to facilitate this conversation for all patients, we must raise the topic from the very source: ePatients themselves. Therefore, this panel is ePatient-centric in its selection of presenters. We will identify crucial learning moments in understanding our own mental health, while promoting a transparent discussion that remains much-needed in humanizing healthcare.

…Ah-Ha! moments relevant to the following topics will be discussed:

  • Why the words we use matter so much
  • Barriers to care
  • Continuum of “before, during, and after” mental health becomes a focus of care management; early intervention in normalizing this conversation
  • Caregiver resources and how to talk to children/teens about difficult health topics
  • Managing multiple diagnoses
  • Curtailing advocacy “burnout””

Source (linked here): MedX 2016 accepted presentations, “Ah-Ha! moments in mental health and chronic disease management.”

In preparation for our upcoming panel, we wanted to reach out to our respective advocacy communities to see if there are pertinent points that you would like us to consider and to possibly discuss in the panel (time-permitting).  I recently wrote about the diabetic online community (#doc) needing to hear more from “The Whole” in diabetes, and this is a good platform by which to reflect upon feedback from multiple sources.  While one presentation cannot represent all affected by health conditions, we can try our best to integrate community viewpoints into what we discuss.

With that said, if you have ideas about mental health and chronic disease of any type, please feel free to contact us.  We would love to listen to your perspectives!  My contact information can be found here, or feel free to comment on this post if you are comfortable sharing your thoughts publicly.

Thanks for your support!  We are so looking forward to MedX!

 

Health Tech, Brains, and Bodies

Many thanks to my Stanford MedX friend, Mark Freeman, as well as Matt and Daniela, for having me on the Everybody Has A Brain podcast to chat about wearable health technology.

These awesome folks are responsible for one of my favorite healthcare takeaways: Everybody has a brain.  If you have a brain, then you have mental health.  Let’s normalize the conversation, then.

Mark and I discussed the pros and cons of my Dexcom continuous glucose monitor (CGM) experience, to include physical and mental components of using health technology.  I even sent along a not-so-perfect CGM photo to illustrate the sometimes-wonky T1D reality of Dexcom alerts.  Matt and Daniela then continued the chat on wearables.

Please take a listen (link below), and check out everybodyhasabrain.com to see other cool content.

Everybody Has A Brain podcast

Chocolate and Nightmare Visit Boston

I recently had the honor of accompanying my Stanford Medicine X (#MedX) bestie, Danielle Edges, and her young daughter, Alex, on their visit to Children’s Hospital Boston for a heart catheter procedure. Alex has a congenital heart disease called heterotaxy, additionally complicated by liver and spine issues. Danielle’s honest perspective on her family’s life with CHD can be found on her blog, Life is hard. Wear a Helmet. Adventures in Life. With Danielle’s permission, I am sharing my take on her family’s bravery here.

 

I joined the Edges at their hotel room because Alex’s heart cath had been postponed a few hours. Danielle and Alex had endured many tiring hours of travel across the country two days earlier. The good news about the delay in the procedure was that I got to hang out with them for a few hours away from the beeping of hospital machines and the drowsiness of anesthesia. The bad news was that Alex could not eat before the heart cath, so adding an extra few hours to that timeline was understandably not ideal.
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MedX and MedX’er-in-training selfie.

 

Alex’s lively spirit was contagious despite being hungry, however. Danielle and I are both known to say what we mean as healthcare advocates, which is probably why we click so well. I saw Danielle’s energy and wit in Alex, who is well-versed in medical lingo after many hospital stays in the past. (We totally have a future MedX’er-in-training!)

We tried to distract from the hunger pangs by coloring birds in a coloring book, or playing with Alex’s new stuffed puppy toy that the Fairy MedX Godmother, Ally, brought along for the hospital stay.
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“I love my present.” -Alex.  (Complete with Chocolate, the puppy, picture).

 

“What is that? I want one!” Alex proclaimed, pointing to my Dexcom receiver.

We discussed how we were similar in some ways, as Alex has a medical device connected to her as well- a G-tube to help her get the proper amount of nutrients each day. Her blood sugar can also dip low due to her liver condition, and who doesn’t like a communal grumble about hypoglycemia?!

Soon it was time to head over to the hospital. The air was frigidly cold on our short walk there. This was my first time stepping foot in Children’s despite decades of treatment nearby at the Joslin Diabetes Center and having family and friends who have received lifesaving care at BCH. Simply walking through the main entryway is a moving experience; there are families from all over the world, children with conditions both very visible and very invisible, all there to seek topnotch medical care at the best children’s hospital.

We were taken to a hospital bed for the preparations prior to the heart cath. A kind nurse gently informed Alex that she would need IV fluids. The nurse spoke directly with Alex, not at her. Alex was treated like the informed member of the healthcare team that she is, even at only eight years old.

Another nurse came in and the IV insertion was done before we even blinked. Kids tell it like it is, especially complex-medical kids whose perspectives are better than most. So, Alex looked right at the nurse and said “Ow,” and then immediately went back to watching TV stoically while Danielle and I chatted.

The nurses were so impressed with her courage that they rewarded Alex with a dark brown and black beanie baby puppy to complement Chocolate, the larger brown and white puppy.

“What is the new puppy’s name?” the nurse asked.

Alex had just been poked with a large needle. She was ravenous and about to undergo a difficult medical procedure.

“Nightmare,” she aptly replied.

From the mouths of babes, as they say. I will never forget the humor and irony in that moment for as long as I live.
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Rocking out with Chocolate and Nightmare.

 

Shortly thereafter, a nurse anesthetist administered medication to prep Alex for the heart cath, and it was time for her to be wheeled into the surgical room. As Alex dozed off, Danielle whispered that she loved her, and Alex whispered back, “I love you, too.”

In these moments, Danielle had to be strong not only for herself, but for her medically-complex child, as well as her daughter and husband back home. She is truly SuperMom, as evidenced by the poise she and Alex exhibited throughout the long day at the heart center.

I, on the other hand, do not always handle hospitals so well. We had not eaten much over the course of the busy day, and suddenly everything hit me all at once. The doctors came to the waiting room to speak to Danielle while Alex was in recovery. Danielle can explain the details far better than I can; please see her blog post here. In layman’s terms, there was good news peppered with difficult news.

We then proceeded back to Alex’s room. A nurse was with us as Alex slowly roused from the heavy sedation. This same nurse called Danielle with updates every hour while Alex’s heart cath went on, proving once again why Children’s Hospital gets every detail right. As I watched this little girl arising from such a long fight, my head suddenly started to spin. The room was hot, and my Dexcom indicated a fairly fast blood sugar drop.

I alerted Danielle and the nurse, who brought me some water and this adorable tiny carton of orange juice just in case I needed it.
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OJ for the diabetes win.

 

Half of a granola bar consumed later, and I had recovered just as quickly as the dizzy spell had appeared.

“Diabetes is so… constant,” Danielle remarked afterwards.

“Yes, but so is all of this,” I replied, glancing around at the machines in Alex’s room.

Our respective diseases can act up in the exact moments when we wish they would behave; but the understanding and support that we have gained through our friendships at MedX and through ePatient communities have made those moments less scary. That much was articulated by those two sentences exchanged between myself and Danielle, an unspoken understanding and respect bridging the gap between health conditions.

As the evening progressed and Alex was moved to a new room for overnight observation, it was time for me to head back to Rhode Island. Danielle’s night was just beginning, though. There would be more IVs, chest xrays, and medications to be delivered, and this Mom would be by her daughter’s side through it all. We hugged and parted ways, knowing that we would see each other soon.

 

*****

To simply state that the Edges family is inspiring does not do justice to their story. I can best describe their strength by detailing a tiny moment in the grand scheme of the heart catheter day.

While we waited for Alex to be called in for the procedure, Danielle and I conversed in our signature animated dialogue, talking about hopes and dreams for healthcare, how much we missed our MedX friends and could not wait to be reunited, and more. Alex was quiet and focused on the cartoons playing in her room. She had an IV in her hand and was about to receive sedation medication before having an investigatory procedure performed- and, later, some intervention procedures- in the hopes of improving her quality of life. This was big stuff for a little kid.

I heard soft noises in the background as Danielle and I spoke, and I at first thought that Alex was crying or whimpering in nervousness before being taken away from Mommy. But then I listened more closely.

Alex was not crying. She was humming.

This child was about to have dye injected into her heart, to have coils installed to curtail pulmonary AVMs, to lie on a stiff operating table that would anger her scoliosis, to be in pain.

Yet despite it all, she was still happy.

She was humming.

 

 

To help get the #EdgesToBoston this summer, please see here.

After #MedX: The Big and The Little

A few weeks before attending Stanford Medicine X (#MedX) 2015, I wrote down my thoughts about life in the “Before #MedX” stage.  I knew that this experience would be life-changing, inspiring, and empowering, but if I multiplied those factors by a billion, I still would have underestimated just how powerful the #MedX experience was for those of us who were so blessed to be there.

We talk and tweet a lot about the big moments at #MedX: when Cyrena Gawuga brought the crowd to our feet during her Ignite! talk, which chronicled her personal growth in the face of what previously seemed like a failure; when Abby Norman carried us through the whole spectrum of feelings- from hysterical laughter at her wit and humor to blinking back tears in awe of her journey to get properly-diagnosed with endometriosis and appendicitis; when Julie Flygare illustrated that anything is possible despite narcolepsy; when we marveled at the strength and determination of Emily Kramer-Golinkoff, who is improving the lives of those with cystic fibrosis as they race against time (side note: I was totally “fangirling!”); or when Ben Bahan taught us that he can communicate and listen (and do so with a sense of humor that rivals Amy Schumer’s!) despite being deaf.

MedX stage

All of those moments were just- Wow.  My fingers couldn’t tweet the powerful one-liners fast enough.  Every sentence spoken was just that darn spellbinding.

As much as #MedX completely renews your sense of purpose and advocacy with the big headliner stories, it also reinforces those concepts in the little, behind-the-scenes moments.

I received support from #MedX before I even stepped foot on the Stanford campus.  When a good friend’s child was diagnosed with a serious condition recently, I sought advice on what to say and what not to say (from a 2015 ePatient who I will not name here to respect my friend’s privacy; ePatient, you know who you are- thank you).  The #MedX advisory board and administrative staff made sure that all of the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed to ensure a pleasant experience for conference attendees.  #MedX alums were always available to yield my rookie questions at all hours of the night.  At the ePatient dinner, our hearts overflowed with compassion and respect for one another.  The list of human goodwill goes on and on when it comes to Medicine X.

From a diabetic online community (#doc) standpoint, I enjoyed talking about the highs and the lows with Chris Snider, Amy Tenderich of Diabetes Mine, Sophie Thacher, Meredith Hurston, and Dana Lewis- who carried her (artificial) pancreas in her purse, which automatically ranks her pretty darn high in my book of praise!  It was refreshing for me to be around people who understood without me having to really say anything, who could swap campfire tales of funny diabetes moments, and who were so passionate about our #doc advocacy endeavors.

The #MedX workshops were particularly informative and interactive.  Dr. Bonnie Feldman enthralled us with her autoimmune disease research, and we pledged to keep in touch and work hard to crack the autoimmune code as a community.  My good friend and fellow ePatient, Danielle Edges, held a workshop on eHealth in pediatrics, which featured her family’s brave story of caring for a daughter with a congenital heart defect called heterotaxy and another daughter who is secondarily impacted by having a sibling with a chronic condition.  It was so uplifting to witness this Mom, who would go to the ends of the earth to help her family, whose humor remained intact in the face of challenging circumstances, and whose loyalty and friendship is beyond measure.

#MedX is renowned for bringing together the various participants in the realm of healthcare.  We hear the term “Big Pharma” thrown around quite often online.  But I can assure you that the pharmaceutical representation at #MedX was laser-focused on getting the little details right and connecting with the patients whom they serve.  I was asked, “What can we do for you?  What message do you want us to hear from your patient perspective?”  I was so humbled by their willingness to listen and their desire to drive innovation.

There were also the little moments at the Sheraton pool, where ePatients and other #MedX attendees dined after the day of conference events concluded.  Nisha Pradhan’s passions for advancing anosmia research and providing an empathetic medical experience were contagious.  Britta Bloomquist taught me about life in northern Minnesota and juggling Lyme disease and ankylosing spondylitis.  Kristin Coppens was an example of grace and determination while managing multiple chronic conditions.

Natalie Abbott and her service dog, Cassius, educated us on Moebius syndrome, a rare disease only diagnosed in 1,000 patients thus far.  Natalie and Cassius were the epitome of a good team; they worked together seamlessly, never complaining.  I gained perspective that I must admit I very much needed by watching Natalie and Cassius together: Moebius syndrome is a passenger along for the ride in Natalie’s very-accomplished life, not the other way around.  We can apply that same lesson to every sort of adversity in life.  Thank you for inspiring me so much, Natalie and Cassius!

There are so many other big and little moments from #MedX which I would love to highlight, but the truth is that I could write a novella about how great each individual who attended is.  I would like those reading this blog to know that #MedX is a phenomenal experience because of the positive, enthusiastic, dare-to-dream-big nature of its attendees.  We are without a doubt going to change healthcare for the better.  Heck, we already have, and we’re just getting started.

The best way to summarize what #MedX means to me is to leave you with a story.  (We really like stories at #MedX!):

I woke up having some concerning diabetes issues on the first day of my #MedX experience, the pre-conference Healthcare Innovation Summit event.  To be honest, I felt quite ill.  My mother convinced me to take the shuttle to the conference location.  There would be plenty of healthcare geniuses around if I needed assistance, she advised.  How very, very true.

As the day went on and I took many insulin injections, my diabetes situation began to improve.  The group disbanded for an afternoon coffee break, and I walked to a bench in the shade of the Stanford campus.  Eventually, a professionally-clad woman sat down on the neighboring bench.

“This shade is so welcome,” she noted.

“Absolutely, and it’s nice and quiet here- a good opportunity to take a breather,” I replied.

And so we chatted.  She was at #MedX representing her healthcare company’s new technological product.  Her excitement for the tech’s potential to improve lives was palpable, and it was clear she loved her work.

“Can you explain to me what an ePatient is?” she asked.

“We’re all here to advocate for our respective causes.  We believe wholeheartedly in improving healthcare, in humanizing the story.”

“Is diabetes… hard?  As in, does it impact you a lot?” she asked tentatively.

“Sometimes…,” I admitted.  “We fight hard for our health every day.  But we believe in a brighter future.  Isn’t that why we’re all here to begin with?”

And with that we walked back towards the conference hall, two people on different sides of the healthcare equation, united by a common ambition to help others.

That’s what #MedX is all about.  It was my greatest honor to attend this year, and I would like to sincerely thank everyone at Medicine X for sharing their perspectives.  Keep doing big (and meaningful little) things.

Disclosure: I attended #MedX on a partial scholarship as an ePatient delegate.  Opinions expressed here are strictly my own.

     Zoe Chu                         MedX sign

^ With the world-famous #MedX mascot, Zoe Chu!                ^ Excited for #MedX!