Pat Elliott is among the growing number of cancer patients who are living full lives today. She shares her story of surviving two types of cancer in her work as a health journalist and e-patient advocate. In this video Pat encourages others to take charge of their own health.
Pat Elliott: Hi! My name is Pat Elliott and this is my health story. I am here today as a two-time cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35 and more recently I was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.
In the summer of 2009 I was a business owner going about my life. I actually had a business that was doing well in the recession, which was not the norm and things seemed very good. I felt a little bit tired but wasn’t much of anything.
One night after teaching a class for about three hours I found my feet suddenly were swollen. They hurt really terribly bad and as a precaution my doctor advised me to have a blood test.
To make a long story short, it was a good thing he did because I was at a tipping point with leukemia, ended up in an emergency hospital admission in a bone marrow transplant center at a hospital in Phoenix, and it was caught at the right time for me to start a medication that today is controlling my disease and I am doing really well.
I know this is going to sound strange because when I tell people they look at me in strange ways, but when I was told that I had leukemia I knew in my gut I would be fine and the reason I knew that was because I had been diagnosed with breast cancer at 35 and had already been through one cancer and surviving one cancer. And it never entered my head that I would not survive leukemia.
And I think that’s one of the benefits of people that are cancer survivors, being public and sharing what they have been through with others because when you know that it is possible to survive this disease and go on with your life then you can give hope to other people.
During that time I had started blogging and I started writing about the things that I was doing as I was dealing with my cancer, and these included things like firing my first oncologist because I wasn’t getting the support I needed and demanding copies of my test results so I could track how I was doing. And people said to me, “You can do that," and I said, “Of course you can do that”.
I have done that for years and what I realized from all the feedback I was getting from people reading my blog was that most people did not know how to work with the health system, and one of the things I have learned in my journey with cancer is that you need to be educated and do everything you can to help yourself work well with your medical team and those who are part of your support system.
You do have rights as a human being, as a person that is part of the healthcare system and it’s not a big deal to ask for copies of your test. They are your tests. Now I have learned to become an educated patient. I like to joke that I have an MBA now in chronic myelogenous leukemia because I have entered a whole new realm of vocabulary, medical professionals, specialized DNA, blood testing that has to be done and a world of things that are part of staying healthy and staying alive.
People sometimes ask me if they should join a support group and my answer is of course you should -- but not just one. You should join several because they have different flavors, different forms and you are going to get different things out of the different groups. What’s important is that you understand that you are the one responsible for your health and these are information sources.
There’s no one particular group or website that I could recommend to somebody. It really is an individual matter so test a few, try them out, see what works for you and make your own choice.