As a patient advocate, I’m often asked in interviews how and why I came to follow my unusual career path. Here’s the reason: When I learned that I’m one of the more than 30 million Americans estimated to have a diagnosed or undiagnosed thyroid condition, awareness of thyroid disease was low, there was little discussion of innovative ways to apply integrative medicine to the condition, and open-minded physicians like the National Academy of Hypothyroidism’s Dr. Kent Holtorf were few and far between.
Doctors were sternly discouraging their patients from using the Internet to learn more about thyroid health. Would you believe, thyroid ailments were not even taken seriously by many some unevolved physicians, who saw nothing wrong with joking about goiters, or telling thyroid patients with weight problems that they had “fork in mouth” disease!
Happily for thyroid patients, we’ve seen many positive changes on the wellness landscape. Doctors like Kent Holtorf share valuable information — in consultations, webinars, and via the Internet — that help patients stay on top of the latest medical and nutritional developments. This enables people to optimize their care, and incorporate lifestyle changes — this ends up with patients actively partnering with their physicians for maximum healing.
But in the end, the final responsibility for staying well still lies with us, the patients. I do a great deal of one-on-one thyroid advocacy support in coaching sessions with patients and their families; but in the end, the patients I coach are their own best advocates, and you can be your own champion too! Here are five steps to help you get started.
1. Step One to Wellness
Accept that you have a disease — but it doesn’t have you. Never let a thyroid condition, or any medical challenge, ruin your state of mind, or enjoyment of life. At the same time, don’t let anyone belittle your condition either; especially a physician you’re consulting for help, whose job it is to listen and treat patients — not just with medications and procedures, but with respect and fairness in equal doses. Always remember, you’re a patient — not a lab value!
2. Enroll in Internet U
The Internet is an amazing tool; we can stay in touch with old friends via Facebook, and meet new ones via Twitter. The Internet can also become our virtual study partner if we diligently use it to research our disease area to stay on top of the latest medical news. This information is now available to all Internet users, not just those with an MD degree. So do your homework; study up by making use of the Internet. In this case, homework is fun: You’ll be surprised at the fascinating things you learn, and how empowered that knowledge will make you feel.
3. Get an Advanced Degree in Web Browsing
My fellow author and advocate Julia Schopick, author of “Honest Medicine,” is an ace at using Google for health and medical research. You’ve doubtless heard of Google Chrome; well, she’s Google Platinum! When patients are stumped in their online research, they’ll ask Julia to “Google it up” — and somehow, she’ll manage to unearth something that previously eluded them. One tip from Julia is that whichever browser you use, remember to make your Internet search as advanced as you can. And remember to vary your search terms — don’t just enter [hypothyroidism] the same way each and every time. Try [hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's], then [hypothyroidism and nutrition]. This will increase your odds of finding new and useful nuggets of information each time you surf the Web.
4. Don’t be Afraid to Ask Questions
Arriving empty-handed, or -headed, for your doctor’s appointment is counterproductive. Be prepared by bringing along a prepared list of questions. But don’t make it too long of a list, and keep the questions short and to-the-point — remember, the doctor has a waiting room full of other patients every bit as high-priority as you, and time is limited. Try to answer as many of your own questions via your own independent Internet research and ask only the ones for which you couldn’t find definitive, or satisfactory, answers. Do ask the doctor if s/he will share an email address where you may send followup questions.
5. Treat Disease as Learning Experience
It’s never fun to battle any illness. But with the right attitude, you can manage your disease, whatever it may be, and make surprisingly fascinating discoveries along the road it takes you. I’ve learned so much about nutrition, exercise, and living my healthiest, most fulfilling life — but I probably wouldn’t have even half of the knowledge I prize today had I not received a diagnosis of hypothyroidism. So think of getting well as a challenge, and rise to it with the most positive outlook you can muster.