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Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Greatest Wealth is Health

It is said that if you have your health, you have everything. Yet, according to a study of 501 men ages 45 to 65 conducted by Men’s Health Network in 2014, men care more about their cars than their bodies. Almost 70% of men surveyed considered it easier to keep their cars in good condition than care for their personal health. In addition, more than 40% indicated that they would rather resolve issues with their car than address issues associated with their health.

Men are not alone in this thinking as noted by the Society for Women's Health Research where they found that women make most of the health care decisions for their families. But when it's their turn to go to the doctor, many don't. Why? The reasons are widespread and vary from person to person.

Today, there is an emphasis on wellness, prevention of illness and self-care. Employers are starting to compensate employees with various perks when they participate in exercise/wellness programs. Insurance companies are offering their members a number of resources to help them take better care of themselves. Physicians and other healthcare professionals are taking the time to educate the people who they see so they can better understand how they can improve their health and wellness.

The general public is starting to realize they need to take care of themselves if they want to avoid a chronic disease and maintain a good quality of life. Those who have a chronic disease(s) are realizing they need to follow their plan of care so they can prevent exacerbations of their conditions that negatively impact their quality of life.

To help readers of Nurse Advocate, I share 14 tips that you can start to use today to take better care of yourself so you can be the best that you can be!  Please feel free to share this post with your family and friends.   

Schedule a checkup. An annual checkup is currently covered as part of your preventive care benefit through your health insurance plan. Schedule one today. Talk to your doctor about challenges that you are experiences and changes that you want to make to improve your health.

Replace TV time with some light exercise, instead of turning on the TV after dinner, take a 20-minute walk.

If you smoke, talk to your doctor about quitting.

Drink in moderation

Eat more fresh fruits and veggies

Make health a family objective. Instead of pizza and a movie night, try making a salad and having everyone to take a walk or go for a bike ride after dinner. 

Work toward goals together can help everyone succeed.

Read your health insurance member handbook and learn about the tools and resources you can use to manage your health.

If you are in a Medicare Advantage program, see if your plan includes Silver Sneakers. This is a great benefit that will allow you to use local gyms so you can begin to exercise on a regular basis.

Use a dessert plate vs. a dinner plate when you eat a meal. Doing so can help you cut down on your portions.

Drink a glass of water before each meal as it will fill you up and help you avoid overeating

Learn how to read food nutritional labels so you are aware of what is in the food you are eating

If you are trying to lose weight start keeping a food diary so you are aware of what you are eating and where you can make changes.

Don't skip meals. Doing so slows down your metabolism. 

These are just a few things that you can do to help you take better care of yourself so you are the best you can be. Good luck!

This post was written as part of the #CarnivalOfHealth, a Pop Up Blog Carnival hosted by the Healthcare Marketing Network.  
More great posts by freelance healthcare writers on this topic can be found on the Healthcare Marketing Network blog.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Fear Factor is Never Far Away for Patients

As a brain tumor survivor, I know I have a high chance of reoccurrence.  When I completed active treatment, I asked Dr. Lossos, my hematologist/oncologist, how long I would have to see him going forward. He said, “we are going to have a long relationship’. Well, that statement has proven to be true. Three years have passed since I was diagnosed with a central nervous lymphoma and was successfully treated with chemotherapy. As there is a high chance of reoccurrence, I have been getting MRI’s frequently in hopes of ‘catching’ something early. I have been told that this will continue for at least 5 years as that is when a reoccurrence will happen if it is going to happen.

I started out in June 2015 getting an MRI with and without contrast every 3 months followed by a checkup with the doctor. As scans were normal, he moved me to 4 months and then 6 months. I was beginning to feel somewhat normal until September 26, 2017 when everything changed and the fear factor kicked in in full force.

Here is the story

On September 19th I went for my 1st 6 month MRI and then a week later went to the clinic for my follow-up appointment. As a patient, with a chronic disease who sees the same physician over a period of time, you get to know their patterns and the routine of the clinic. I had gotten used to Dr. Lossos routine at our clinic visits but I noticed a few things were different. 

First, it seems my wait time in the clinic has gotten longer.  I usually don’t mind this, as I see the other people going in ahead of me and know how sick they are. So I read or stay busy with my phone.  

On my September 26th appointment, we had an unusually long wait. Our appointment was at 2 pm. We got there early but did not get called in to see the doctor until 4 pm. As I entered the treatment area, I noted that the area was almost empty. We were put in a room to wait for the doctor. A few minutes later he came into the room. Usually, he would come in, say hello and sit down at the desk. He would get on the computer, look at my tests and then turn to me and ask me how I was doing. 

This time, he closed the door and stood there and looked at me. He said, "how are you - any problems"? He did not take his eyes off of me and waited for me to answer.  He looked at my husband and asked him: “how is she”? Have you noticed anything different? We both said, no, nothing unusual, and we both looked at each other ‘a little worried’. Corky asked how the MRI was. Dr. Lossos said we are going to talk about the MRI. He went on to exam me as he usually did. Once done he sat down and looked at us and said there was a change in the MRI. He said he did not think it was anything because if there was a reoccurrence, it usually does not present the way the radiology reported. But he was concerned.  

As an FYI, I had looked at the MRI report before the appointment, so I knew what he was worried about. I had been worried also, but I thought that maybe the radiologist over-read the scan since I felt ok. But now being in front of the doctor and hearing him say he was worried, raised my level of fear.  

The radiologist who read the report had suggested a correlation with dedicated contrast-enhanced posterior fossa cross-sectional study and CSF analysis. Dr. Lossos said he did not think those studies were needed at this point, as I was not having any symptoms. 

The doctor said his plan was for me to have my MRI moved up to 3 months and then he would see him on December 26th. If I had any changes or any problems, I was to call him right away and come in to see him. Otherwise, he would see me in 3 months. We all agreed and we left the clinic more nervous than when we arrived. 

I was scared and I knew Corky was also scared. We had been through hell the first round. I was just getting on my feet and we were finding our way to our new normal. We did not want to go through having cancer again, so we both prayed and hoped.

The time seemed to drag, but then all of a sudden it was time for the MRI. I went to the Cancer Center where I had all of my MRIs up to this point. I have been lucky to have the same technician so I told him what was going on. He said he would make sure the Radiologist read the scan and compared the past two scans to be safe.  

The MRI usually takes about an hour. I am used to the process since I have had about 10 or so MRIs done over the past three years. Once in the scanner, the technician asked me what music I wanted to listen to. I chose Christmas music! I was conscious of trying to lay perfectly still so the technician could get a good picture and prayed that we would not find that my tumor had come back.

I left the appointment with the tech giving me a hug and wishing me a Merry Christmas. He said he would say a prayer. 

I had one more week to wait as I had our appointment with Dr. Lossos the following week on December 26th.  

On the appointed day, we left early for the appointment as we were nervous to see the doctor. We made good time getting to Miami as traffic was light being it was the day after Christmas. We got to the clinic and the nurses were all in good spirits and took me in right away to do my vital signs. They discovered that I did not have the correct blood work, so I needed to get blood drawn before the doctor saw me. We went to the lab and had the blood work done. We just got back to the waiting room when we were called to see the doctor.

Dr. Lossos came in just as we were getting settled. He looked at me and said the MRI was fine. He knew we were worried and wanted to reassure us with the news. We were both relieved and thanked him for letting us know right away.  

The experience made me think of the anxiety people go through when they have cancer and need to have follow-up scans. A friend of mine called it scanxiety!

As a nurse and a case manager, I usually check my patient portal before my appointment. This allows me to know what is going on and to have any questions that I needed to ask the doctor. During those 3 months, while I waited for my MRI and clinic appointment, I read and reread the scan in question. I also googled the terms in the summary so I understood the terminology in the report. I realized that if what the radiologist saw was really there, it would be serious. I knew that I felt ok and it was probably nothing, but that hint of doubt and fear was always there. I wished I had had someone to talk to who was familiar with the process, but I did not want to bother the doctor and did not know who else to call at the clinic.

In the end, I was ‘lucky’. No reoccurrence…thank God. But what if I had not been lucky and heard the words, your cancer is back. Words every cancer patient worries about. If you got it once, you can get it again, right?  

This experience brought home to me again what it means to a patient. It is personal, scary and lonely. Not knowing who to call or ask a question is really hard.
When I look back on the experience I tried to see how my experience of waiting for those 3 months could have been better. Granted the doctor did try to reassure me and I appreciated his words, but I would have appreciated talking to someone during the waiting period.  

I thought it would be a good idea to have a way for the doctor to flag my chart to let the oncology nurses know that I might have a reoccurrence. Knowing this, there could be a process in place that would prompt one of the oncology nurses who I knew to give me a call to see how I was doing and remind me to call her if I needed anything.  

As with the initial diagnosis, being told you might have a reoccurrence is a shock. So you do not hear the instructions or process the information as you normally would. Having a follow-up call from someone familiar would be helpful.

Today there is a lot of work going on in the area of survivorship. I have not been part of a survivorship program as the program at Sylvester was started after I completed treatment, but maybe when a reoccurrence is being discussed, it would be a good time to introduce the program. 

I am sure there are so many people who have abnormal scans and are in the waiting period to learn their fate that could use someone to talk who understands the process and help answer some of the questions that go through the person’s mind. This type of support is needed and would be welcomed. 

In closing, I hope this post raises awareness with ‘those in charge’ of creating programs for cancer patients to realize that small things like communication, empathy, and support are what we hope to get from our healthcare team first and foremost. This is especially true when we are going through active treatment as well as the times we are waiting to hear if we have a reoccurrence or some other nerve-racking experience. These simple things go a long way in relieving anxiety, helping people to cope and to start to accept the things we cannot change.   

Thanks for reading this post. As it is the first post of 2018 I wish you and your families a Happy and Healthy 2018!  

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2017: A Year in Review

2017 was a year of growth, learning and experimenting with new tools and resources to helped me to be productive and realize the topics that resonate most with readers.

In 2017 I wrote 28 Blog posts on a variety of topics. I remained focused on my twofold mission of one: educating and empowering consumers and caregivers so they can better navigate the complex healthcare system. Two: A call to action for members of the healthcare team to recognize the patient is the reason we are all in business and the importance of helping them navigate the system. 

The healthcare system is designed for the healthcare system and not the people who use it.  As consumers are using their voice to let all members of the team know what is important to them, the status quo is changing. 

To understand how my posts performed, I reviewed analytical tools to learn which topics struck a chord with readers and which ones did not. This information helps me know what issues, trends and experiences resonate with readers. This year, safety was definitely a theme that hit a cord. It is empowering to read the comments, see the number of shares for various post and realize the information I share is making a difference.  

In addition to Blogging, I attend a number of conferences that contributed to my own professional development and allowed me to keep up with issues, challenges, and trends impacting the healthcare system. As a Digital Journalist, I shared the information I learned with colleagues and others who I am connected through social media.

I also had the opportunity to participate in three radio interviews and share information on the emerging practice of patient advocacy. As a nurse turned patient, it is my strong belief that every person needs an advocate when they enter the healthcare system. There is simply too much going on for one person, especially when that person is sick, scared and at their most venerable point to go it alone. The advocate can be a family member, a friend or a professional advocate depending on the needs of the person. If you would like to listen to them, I have embedded the links into the title of each interview.

In 2018, I hope to continue on projects that bring me purpose and improve the delivery of care for patients across the care continuum.

As has been my tradition for the past three years, I am sharing the top ten post from Nurse Advocate for 2017. If you have not read them, take a minute to review and feel free to share the links with those who might benefit. Thank you for reading Nurse Advocate. All the best in 2018.   

1.  I Have Bad News was the number one post in 2017. I believe it struck a chord as we all have heard ‘bad news’ at one time or another in our lives. The key is how we handle the news. Being prepared and having a support system is important when challenges sideline us.

2. Ensuring Safe Transitions of Care: We Can and should do better: Trying to find ways to ensure safe transitions of care is on everyone's radar. This post shared a story of a friend of mine who had a serious mishap after foot surgery. The mishap caused her to have a serious injury that caused a readmission, a major surgery and months of pain and suffering. We have to do better.

3. 2017 Professional Reading List was the second highest post in 2017. I was glad to share new books written by various healthcare professionals on topics that challenge all members of the healthcare team. Take a look at the list and choose a few books to enhance your professional development.
4. Taking Ownership: this post highlighted a phone call I had with an Apple Care Team member when my phone was not performing well. I was impressed with the person and the culture that Apple instills in their workers to take ownership of a problem till it is resolved. As I looked back on the experience, I wondered why members of the healthcare team don’t take ownership when issues arise. So much is shifted to the patient who doesn’t have the knowledge to resolve so many of the issues that arise. Let me know what you think.

5. Everyone needs an advocate when they are thrust into the complex world of healthcare: This post shared who advocates are, how to find one and why they are needed. Due to the complexity of our healthcare system having an advocate when entering the healthcare system is a must. Looking back on my own situation, I have no doubt that having an advocate when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor saved my life.

6. 2017 Summer Reading List: I put out my Summer Reading list each year as it gives those who review the list find a way to find a good read when they take time to relax. Check out the list!

7. Cost, Quality, and Access: The Three Ingredients for a Stable Health Care System: I believe this post resonated with so many people due to the political discourse we are having in our country over healthcare. Let me know what you think.

8. The Passing of My Cousin This post resonated with many as we all have lost a family member or friend suddenly. It shakes us to our core and makes us realize how short is so it is important we don't take things for granted.

9. Seven Tips for Healing when you are faced with your own mortality due to a diagnosis or realize you have a permanent injury after an accident, it takes time to heal. In this post, I shared 7 tips I learned that helped me heal. Hope they help you!  

10. Taking Charge of Your Health and Wellbeing: It is up to each of us to be responsible for our own health and wellbeing. This post shared some ideas how we can do this better. Our health is precious, and we need to do we can to safeguard it.  

Thank you again for following Nurse Advocate. I hope all of the posts have given you insights and allowed you to take the pause from your everyday lives. If you have suggestions for future topics, please let me know so I can cover them in a future post.

A Happy and Healthy 2018 to you and yours!    

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Lessons and Learning: How I Turned a Major Medical Event into my New Normal

2017 has been a year of adjustments and learning. As a result of complications I sustained from the chemotherapy that saved my life after being diagnosed with a central nervous system brain tumor, I had to make significant changes to how I live my life and do the work I love. Throughout this last year, I continue to learn what my limits are and be grateful for where I am at today. I am learning that with modifications I can do most of the things that are important to me. 

I hope this article helps those struggling to adapt to a new normal and provides the motivation you or family members, colleagues or friends need to move forward.

 Adjusting to my new normal

As I approach my 64th year on this earth, I faced the fact that due to my disabilities, opportunities in the competitive healthcare marketplace are limited. Instead of settling for something that I did not want to do, I decided to return to independent practice and work on projects that give me purpose.

A renewed focus on Nursing/Advocacy

As someone who has walked in the shoes of a patient, my goals today centers around helping consumers, caregivers and all members of the healthcare team realize to improve the delivery of care and contain healthcare costs, we have to work as a team and ensure that the patient is recognized as the most critical member of that group. My work today is focused on educating and empowering consumers and helping them use their voice to ensure their care meets their goals.

As a patient, I realized that what I needed most from those who cared for me were simple things, like a smile, a kind word or information that helped me understand what was happening to me and the alternatives and choices that I had. The experience of being a patient has given me a renewed sense of purpose to be a change agent and part of the process being used to improve the healthcare system. I learned I could do this through my writings, the presentations I deliver, through interactions with others and through my own professional development. 

Giving Back

In 2017 I have focused my work on helping others reach their goals. I have found that I am good at mentoring and helping to connect people so they can advance in their careers and meet their goals. This work has been satisfying to me and has helped me give back to a profession and vocation that I have been fortunate to have been involved for over forty years.

Continuous Learning

In 2017 I am learning how to live with a disability. I learned that I can do the things I want, but need to slow down, use my braces, my cane and other tools that keep me safe and help me compensate for the deficits that I have. 

I have learned to ask for help when I need it and accept support from those who offer. My husband continues to be my advocate and my best supporter. He has given me the strength to go forward and the encouragement to do the things that are important to me. My family, friends, and colleagues continue to be my supporters, and for this I am grateful.

Looking ahead

As I look to 2018, I hope to continue to find ways to do what I can do to improve my health and work on projects that make a difference.

To all who have followed me on Nurse Advocate this year, I thank you for accompanying me on this ongoing journey. Thank you for your support, your friendship, and your encouragement. I look forward to an exciting 2018.

Editor’s Note: This post was written as part of a Pop Up Blog Carnival hosted by the Healthcare Marketing Network.  

More great posts by freelance healthcare writers on this topic can be found on the Healthcare Marketing Network blog.

If you are a healthcare freelance writer or blogger and are interested in joining our tribe and participating in future blog carnivals, sign up here to receive notice of our schedule and topics for 2018!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Dream Come True: 2017 Christmas Market Cruise

In the early 80s, I took a German culture course as one of the electives for my Bachelor's degree. It was a life-changing experience for me. Each week the professor would share information on German history and the culture of the various areas. She brought the history to life with her stories and memories of living in Germany during the war. One of the lasting memories I had from her stories was how the people celebrated Christmas. She explained that Christmas was not a commercial event but a time for families and friends to come together to share the spirit of the holiday. I learned that the Christmas Markets are a central theme throughout most of Europe and helps to keep the spirit of the holiday.  I made a promise to myself that I would visit Germany to experience the Christmas Markets one day. That promise became a reality this year when my husband, and I took the trip of a lifetime! Here is a short overview of our journey as well as a few links so you can explore this special event with me.

Today, visiting the Christmas Markets has become a popular destination because of River Cruising. My husband heard my stories of my professor over the years and surprised me with the suggestion that we plan a vacation this year and experience the Christmas Markets! As it was late in the year, I called our travel agent and explained what we wanted to do. I gave her some available dates, and she was able to help us book a cruise on AMA Waterways

We left on November 24 and arrived in Prague where our pre-cruise adventure started. We checked into our hotel and asked for a recommendation for a tour of the city. The hotel clerk suggested a few tours, but Tours4Charity caught my eye. We decided to try it the next day so we could learn about the city. 

As we flew most of the night before we were exhausted but we had to take a walk around the town to get the feel of Prague. It is a beautiful city, and we got to experience our first of many Christmas Markets. The food and mulled wine smelled wonderful, despite being exhausted, we could not help ourselves, as we tried a few of the traditional treats before returning to our hotel for the night. 

The next day we found the starting place to begin our tour of the city with Tours4Charity. JP (the owner) gave us an excellent overview of the history of the city, the area and the people on a three-hour walking tour of the city. We were lucky as we arrived in the offseason, so we had a private tour with JP. 

He provided us with insights into the history that allowed us to get a feel for the area. It was excellent, and I would highly recommend this tour if you are ever in Prague.  After the tour, we visited the Charles Castle, had an outstanding Czech dinner and returned to the hotel exhausted! The next day the plan was to get up early for our flight to Budapest where we would board our ship and start our Danube Christmas Cruise!

Our home for the week was the AmaCerto, a beautiful ship and part of the AMA Waterways fleet. We quickly unpacked and made our way to the central reception area where we met many of our fellow travelers. Most of the people were from various cities around the United States. We met people from Canada and also Australia. 

We met our tour director Nick, who gave us an overview of the trip and what we could expect. We also met the Captain and the various members of his team. We had a welcome toast and then we were invited to move to the dining room where we had an excellent dinner. After dinner, the ship did a tour around the city of Budapest to see the city of lights. It was beautiful and a great way to begin the trip. 

The next day we had a walking tour of Budapest where we learned about the city, the area and the people from a local guide. Once back on the ship we set sail on the Danube River. The plan was to travel through several countries, visit the areas and explore the Christmas Markets. I love Europe for the easy access to various countries. The world is indeed connected!  Click here to view the itinerary we followed.

It was exciting to explore the highlights of each city we visited as well as the Christmas Markets. Each country has their own history and traditions of how they celebrate the holidays. Included as part of the River Cruise is a local tour in each city we visited. The local guides were excellent and imparted information that informed and educated us to the area. 

One thing we found to be similar in all of the countries we visited was that families and friends used the Christmas Markets as a way to gather and share the season. I was also impressed with their wares and the hard work that goes into making the Markets special. Everyone we encountered was helpful and friendly and share thier spirit of Christmas. 

The weather was cold (1-2 Celsius) and we even had snow in a few spots which put us in the Christmas spirit. We were prepared for the weather and took advantage of being outside and exploring despite the cold and snow. The weather actually added to the ambiance of the area which made it bearable. 

We did not go crazy with buying gifts but chose some unique ornaments in the various cities so we would remember the trip. We ended the trip in Nuenbrerg where the first and largest Christmas Market was found.

I wanted to take a few days to visit Southern Braveria, specifically the town of Oberammergau, a town in the Bavarian Alps, Germany. I had been there before but wanted Corky to experience it. 

The area is known for its once-a-decade performance of the Passion Play. In addition, this quaint town is famous for frescoes on the homes that tell various stories and also for woodcarvings where the tradition began. 

As we did not have a lot of time, we hired a driver, Chris for two days who took us all over the area so we could see the highlights. One being Zugspitze, the highest point of the Bavarian Alps. We also visited Neuschwanstein Castle before heading to the airport for our flight home. Chris did a great job and I would highly recommend him if you ever visit the area. To find him, click on here to visit his webpage. 

I will be posting photos on my Facebook page if you want to view them. If we are not connected, just send me a request (Anne Llewellyn) and we can become friends!

In closing, I am so glad that Corky and I took the time to experience Christmas in Europe. It was a trip of a lifetime, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity. I have lost touch with the instructor who planted this seed so many years ago. Her words rang true to me as we explored the various cities and got to experience the Christmas Markets!

I will be back on January 1st to start a new year of Nurse Advocate. I hope you had you and your families have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Three Years and Counting: A Cancer Survivor Looks Forward

Today marks three years of being a cancer survivor. Yes, it was November 24, 2014, when I had a ‘little' car accident' that sent me to the emergency department where a CAT scan revealed a brain tumor. Following the diagnosis, I found my way to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami, where I was diagnosed and treated.

Today I am a cancer survivor. Like every cancer survivor, I live with the realization that I got cancer and that IT can return. In this week's post, I want to share six things I learned from being a cancer survivor. I hope these tips help you and your family if/when you hear the words; you have cancer. 

  1. Every person needs an advocate when they are thrust into the complex world of healthcare. Having an advocate, someone who knows you and can be with your through your journey is essential. When you are told you have cancer (or any other chronic condition), having someone with you who can listen to you, to the doctor, and other members of the healthcare team is critical. My husband was my advocate. He was there with me every step of the way and spoke for me when I could not speak for myself and made sure I was safe. I also had two friends who recognized I needed to be in a Cancer Center to ensure I was diagnosed correctly and treated by a specialist. They both helped my husband realize his responsibility and gave him tips on what he needed to do to prepare for the journey we were taking. I firmly believe all three saved my life.
  2. Being a patient is hard work. As a nurse of 40 years, I thought I knew what it was like to be a patient and what they go through. One of the best things about ‘being diagnosed with cancer' was that I got to see up close and personal how hard it is to be a patient. This experience has given me a new perspective on my role as a Nurse Advocate. Turning your life over to professionals is the first step. Being a patient is very impersonal. People don't know YOU. You are a patient/someone they take care of when you are sick. I strongly encourage every patient to introduce yourself to your healthcare team, so they know who you are and what is important to you. As they get to know you, you become a real person to them. You also begin to develop a personal relationship which allows them to know that you have feelings. Together you will work together on the journey. 
  3. I learned I am responsible for my care. In the early days of my journey, I was not able to participate in my care. The Brain tumor that invaded my body impacted me cognitively, so I needed help. My husband was my voice. As the treatment did its ‘magic,' I became more aware and able to take a more active role in my care. I learned that it was up to me to understand what was happening, to ask questions and to be involved. When I was able, I read my chart and the records that my husband collected. I learned how to use my patient portal so I would know the results of my lab work and other diagnostic tests. I asked questions when I was unsure of what was happening or if I knew I needed help as I was having trouble adjusting. I learned who the influencers were, those who could provide me with information and how to reach them. I became my own advocate and every day I learn how important that is.
  4. I realized I had to take care of my general health care while still focusing on my cancer care. After I completed chemotherapy, I made appointments to see my primary care physician so she would know what was going on. As she was in the same health system, she could access my records and coordinate care with my cancer specialist. I made an appointment with a GYN doctor from the same health system and had my annual mammogram and Pap test done. I had my first colonoscopy after I saw a GI Specialist. The first thing he asked me; when was your last colonoscopy.  After I told him I never had a colonoscopy (at the age of 60), his words hit me so hard that I immediately scheduled a colonoscopy. He said; so you are going to die from colon cancer after beating brain cancer! Having cancer opens your eyes to how important it is to stay healthy. I am still learning how to take care of me. Even as a nurse I have behavior changes I need to make and am using the tools my insurance company offers so that I can stay healthy.
  5. I am adjusting my life to accommodate my ‘new normal’. As a result of chemotherapy, I had complications that have impacted my mobility. I have to wear braces when I walk. My doctor continues to advise me not to drive as a result of ongoing cognitive and physical complications, so I use Uber when I need a ride. As far as work, I have not been able to find a job that meets my skills and restrictions, so I am keeping busy with various projects that are meaningful to me and allow me to use my skills, and improve the process. I am slowing adjusting to a ‘new normal.'
  6. I hope you never hear the words, ‘you have cancer’ but if you do, know that today there are treatments, support systems and most of all HOPE. Cancer is a treatable disease, and many people do well with treatment.  After facing my own mortality, I have a new perspective on life and what is important to me. I try to keep that focus as I move forward on my journey. I work to stay positive and live life to its fullest. Facing my mortality has caused me to look at the kind of care/treatment I want if the cancer reoccurs or another event occurs. I have talked to my husband about this as well as my family.

In closing, I want to thank everyone who has supported me. I cannot come up with the words to thank my husband, my family, my friends and colleagues who have been with me during this journey. Their support has been amazing and heartwarming, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I hope this post resonates with you if you have been diagnosed with cancer or another life-changing diagnosis. If you have a comment, suggestion or a tip that year learned on your journey, feel free to leave a comment or email me at

Thanks for reading Nurse Advocate! Anne

Friday, November 17, 2017

Why can’t I use my patient portal to make my doctor’s appointment more efficient?

The healthcare industry has made substantial gains over the past ten years due to the implementation of technology and the realization that consumers are the most important members of the healthcare team.

Today, most hospital systems and physician practices have electronic medical records that have helped them know more about their populations than they ever before. As a result, they can focus on key indicators to help them better diagnose and treat their patients. Electronic health records allow physicians, and nurse practitioners to order medications safely. They also have patient portals that allow patients to access lab work, make and check appointments and send messages to their providers. These are significant advances, yet, we are still behind other countries and industries on learning how to use health information technology to improve care coordination and contain healthcare costs. 

Case In Point:

While I was waiting to see my primary care physician yesterday, I looked around the waiting room that was full of people waiting to see their doctors as well as staff members doing their work. Most of the people were on their smartphones or I-pads. What I found interesting was the number of charging stations placed around the room. I have never seen so many in one place but was glad they were there as my cell phone battery was low. I moved closer to one of the stations so I could charge and still use my device. Having my cell with me helps me make productive use of my time while waiting. 

I noted that there was a wide variety of people ranging in age and from different cultures. People seemed to be relaxed and focused on what they were doing.  I thought it was interesting how we have all gotten used to waiting when we go to our doctor’s offices.  As I sat there, I started to make my to-do list as I will be leaving for a trip in the next few days and needed to organize myself. 

In thinking about my trip, I checked the website for the airline I was flying to make sure I had my seats reserved. As I did this, I wondered why couldn’t I pre-register for my doctor’s appointment like I do for a flight when I travel?

I would love to be able to log into my patient portal and register for my appointment. While there I could check for any instructions from my doctors. List any questions I had for the doctor, note any new medications I was taking, and review any test I had prior to the appointment. Doing these things would allow me to be prepared and be more efficient. This would help me be more actively involved in my care rather than a passive bystander. We have the technology to do all of this so why is the healthcare system not more efficient?

If we are going to improve the healthcare system, we have to engage people to be prepared for their appointments. Doing so will help our doctor identify barriers we have and allow us (the patient) to be actively involved in our health and healthcare. I am putting a call out to readers to let me know how technology has allowed you to be an active member of your healthcare team. Please share your experience so we can all learn.


Here are some articles that point to how technology can be used to improve the delivery of care. Staying up to date on trends and issues is important for us all. Take time to read these articles, then ask questions of your healthcare provider as to what they are doing to enhance your healthcare experience. Get involved and together we can change the system, so that is set up to meet the needs of the end users, YOU and ME. 

Unlocking the value of patient portals: 3 thoughts from Athena Health

What to do While Waiting

Have a good week!