Sunday, November 14, 2010

Finding A Voice

Original Date: November 10, 2010 

So, if you know me at all, you know I’m not exactly quiet. But the truth is, I’m still pretty shy sometimes. Public speaking has never been my thing (unless you are a room full of six year olds, then I’m all good!).  But, I’m also pretty vocal and I’ve found the relative anonymity of  working online to suit my personality very well. It gives me time to think out what I want to say, to change it six times, to stress over it and change it three more times after that, and t0 finally put forth to whomever cares to read it something I really want to express.

I believe that when you have something like PH you simply can not sit around waiting for something better to happen to you, and you must take your destiny into your hands by being proactive. For some, this involves fund raising. It turns out I am not one of those people! I’ve done fund raising and quite honestly, I don’t like it too much! I admire those who do it so well, but it makes me uncomfortable to ask for help. What works for me though is writing about my experience (clearly, a lot!) and what I know (some, and a little more everyday). It has become my message to other patients and their families that each of us must find our voice, whether it is through fund raising, or networking, or writing, or art, or… well, what’s your voice for PH?

A few months ago I was approached out of the blue and asked if I would be interested in speaking at the annual meeting of the REVEAL registry ( In short, this is a massive national study that is endeavoring to put a modern face to Pulmonary Hypertension. The hope is that the new data will drive more focused research, better treatments, and ultimately a cure.
Would I like to speak to about 130 people who are instrumental in making this study happen: doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, project managers, etc. Um, no, I was shaking just thinking about getting up in front of all those people…. and YES YES YES! What an incredible opportunity.

The YES! won.

So, in early October, I traveled to Boston and did just that. Writing the speech was a process. I sat down one night and banged out seven pages (about 15 minutes worth of talking). Then I started my obsess, revise, obsess, revise thing. As I said to my audience that night, “What does one say to a room full of people working to make your deepest desire come true – a cure for Pulmonary Hypertension?”

The general assignments I was given was to put a face and a story to the data – “A Day in the Life of a PH Patient” kind of thing, I guess. I’m okay with that, I don’t mind telling my story. But I also wanted to tell our story, the story of the PH experience… how any doctor that isn’t a specialist often risks a PH patient’s life because they simply do not know better, how medications and the fear of the future effects a patient’s ability to cope, how there are patients out there who get to defy every odd and how they inspire me to keep fighting. Many of my PHriends  all chipped in their ideas and stories, helping me to shape what I ultimately would say.

The biggest message that I wanted medical professionals to come away with is that when they are treating PH they are treating a whole person, one with hopes and dreams and fears. I’m sure on some level they know that, but the clinical needs can trump other parts of a person’s needs during a routine appointment. I’d like to share the same idea with you, and to that end, here is a brief excerpt of what I spoke about that night. I hope it inspires you to take care of your emotional needs if you are a patient, to understand your loved ones needs if you are a caregiver. And if by chance you are a medical professional, I hope you can remember in the midst of all the incredible physical care you give us (thank you) to step back and say, “and how are you doing with all of this?”.

Having PH is like having a dark crystal ball. You know all the statistics. You know the words “degenerative” and “incurable” are ultimately pretty true. It is a little like living your life just waiting for the darkness to fall, and that is no way to be. So, in so much as is possible, I choose not to be that way.

I have a son to raise. Failure to do so without all the vivacity and energy I feel he deserves from me is simply not an option. Truth be told, if PH can be beat by pure stubbornness, then I’m your girl. I’ve been both credited and chastised for my stubborn Irish ways, but either way, I am quite sure the unstoppable fight in me takes some part in my ability to not just survive PH thus far, but to actually truly thrive with it…

In a particularly rough time a little over a year ago, a wonderful man with heart problems of his own gave me Dr. Bernie Segal’s classic, “Love, Medicine, and Miracles”. Through reading that book I came to the profound understanding that I needed to take spiritual control of my destiny with PH. I truly gave this whole thing up to God, and took the very conscious path of thinking always in positive terms, always with the belief that the cure will be found.

To say this and to live this are two different things. It has to be with every fiber of my being, or I loose a little strength and a little of my fight with each negative thought that enters my mind.
This is not to say I don’t have bad days. I am a strong patient. I am a strong woman and mother. But, a rough appointment or a scary test will still sideline me for a while. My smile and spunk in the doctor’s office, or the positive report to my parents on the phone, can turn to torrential tears when I am first alone after rough news.

I have learned to give myself permission to feel these things for a while, and then to pick myself back up, dust off, and begin again with new resolve. To deny the crappy hand I have been dealt with PH would be unhealthy, to wallow in it would be the same….

(and later)

Co-leading Generation Hope has given me a sense of purpose. Before it started, I was sitting around hating PH, but not too sure what to do about it past that. Now I feel like my ability to share my story, and my assurance that I can rest on these people when I struggle, makes me feel stronger and more powerful against the disease than ever. I hope every patient is encouraged and inspired to find their own outlets and their own ways to fight back.

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