How much better can I help people now that I have been through it myself?
Editor’s Note: This piece was submitted by a contributing writer and does not represent the views of CURE Media Group.
I have been working as a medical paralegal on medical malpractice cases for many, many years. My interest in this area of law and medicine, led me here. I found that I was good at helping others. Being part of the team that helped fight for one’s justice when they were wronged and couldn’t fight for themselves seemed to be what I was on this earth to do. The feeling I would get when we were able to help them was beyond satisfying.
As time went on, I noticed hearing similar patterns of what brought people into our office. This had me asking all sorts of questions. “Did you get a copy of your medical records? Did you get a second opinion?” and others along those lines. I was shocked to hear how many people didn’t know they COULD do that, or that they even had the RIGHT to!
Shortly thereafter, I helped my grandmother through her journey with melanoma — from diagnosis to treatment and then to the transition to hospice care. Around the same time, someone very close to me was diagnosed with cancer. Her diagnosis, as well as the presentation and recurrence, were all unusual. This is when I realized that I was also a patient advocate and that going forward, I should use this ability to help as many others as I could along the way. This journey had me researching, reaching out to doctors from around the world, getting information about clinical trials and sharing this information with the patient. I attended appointments and assisted in asking the right questions and getting answers that were acceptable when dealing with the “fight of your life.” I understood, more than ever, that you had to be your own advocate when dealing with a serious illness or diagnosis.
Taking charge of your health care and participating in the decisions was critical to getting the best treatment possible. This was an eye-opening experience and led me to my next venture.
That is when I teamed up with a colleague and together we co-wrote a book, “Medical Tips From the Inside…Things You Need to Know!” which was published and released a few years ago. We decided to help educate people on their rights as a patient. This was extremely important when faced with a life-changing diagnosis. There are no “do overs” when it comes to your health. Oftentimes, you have a very small window to get the right information and the best opinions from doctors. You can’t choose to stay with the doctor who is around the corner because it is convenient and then complain later on when your disease has advanced and that you want other options and want to go seek second and third opinions. Usually it is too late by then. You’ll get the best results by seeking out as many opinions as possible when you are first diagnosed. Yes, it will be overwhelming and even inconvenient, but it is your life we are talking about. Isn’t it worth it?
The book was the beginning of a whirlwind tour of book signings, radio interviews, newspaper and magazine stories and reviews, local television interviews and speaking at charity and community events and meetings. The most incredible part was meeting tons of people who let us know that they learned something from the book or what we had to say. Some even thanked us for our help — having already used our advice during a medical crisis and letting us know the great outcome because of it. This is exactly why I continued on this journey and truly believed that this was my path in life. If I helped even one person avoid a medical mistake or become the victim of an error or misdiagnosis, then it was all worth it.
Next it was on to our own TV show at our local community station. “Medical Tips You Need to Know!” has been running for approximately eight years now on Princeton Community TV! On the show, we have had guests from every walk of life: patients, doctors, lawyers, nutritionists, acupuncturists and so many other interesting people. Again, I have found that so many of the stories we share on the show really do help people. Whether it helps them cope or learn what to do or even become inspired, it’s a positive thing. It is a service that is necessary and one I don’t mind to help provide.
As the years passed, countless family and friends needed assistance through many a very serious medical diagnosis. We all offer a helping hand when we know someone is sick or going through treatment for an illness. We will throw out the proverbial, “Let me know if I can do anything to help.” Well, providing information on the condition, lists of the best doctors to go see for it or helping them understand how to set up a second opinion appointment are things that I hope really do make a difference.
Then it was my turn.
Life has a funny way of changing your path so you can grow or learn more. I had helped more cancer patients than I could count, but the help came from a medical/legal perspective, not because of any personal experience. This would all change in October 2016 when I was diagnosed with metastatic thyroid cancer. Navigating the medical maze while experiencing all the emotional and physical aspects of the disease broadened my perspective of what patients truly endured. I now knew what it felt like to be scared, overwhelmed, exhausted and drained, while also needing to manage my care. I knew how important it was for me to find the strength to search out the best doctors, get the necessary opinions and decide, along with my chosen medical team, what the best course of treatment was going to be for me. No longer on the outside looking in “giving” advice, I was “living” it. It changed my perception of things. It changed me.
Then the “ah-ha” moment came when I realized that this must be one of the lessons in this difficult journey. How much better can I help people now that I have been through it myself? And so, the mission continues. I have joined many a support group and thyroid cancer community, to not only learn helpful advice and tips from those who have come before me, but to turn around and help those behind me. I share my story whenever I can because I want people to know what I have experienced. If my experiences can help someone else who is newly diagnosed, then fantastic!
No one gets out of this so-called life without some level of struggle, devastation and despair. It comes with all those amazing parts. It’s a package. We don’t get a choice or a vote. We just get what is meant for us. So be sure to savor every calm, happy and peaceful moment you can because there will be a not-so-nice one right around the corner. But you will be OK. No matter what it is. You will dig deep and handle it your very best. And this is what this ride called life is all about, so buckle up and enjoy the ride and don’t forget to always help others along the way. It makes that ride all the more meaningful.