Airports and airplanes are among my favourite things. Once those six-flights-in-six-weeks culminate, if someone wants to fly me away again, I’m down.

YWG -> YYZ -> YWG -> YYZ -> YWG -> DEN.

[…Denver yet to happen. Next Monday.]

First was Senior Goalball Nationals April 17-19th. We didn’t win any games, but, I heard from another coach that he hadn’t seen Manitoba score seven goals in a game for about seven years, so, I feel okay about that! Plus Steve, Gerry and I got free stuff at the new Yorkdale Shopping Centre Starbucks (they’re left of me in the picture, #1 and #9, respectively), met Dia for coffee, went to the CN Tower, Purdy’s chocolate, and the Lego Store!

(Thanks to Jamie for snapping this picture when she and Larry came out to check out the games!)

Then less than two weeks after I’d returned, I was back on a 5:15 flight out to Toronto last Sunday morning. The official purpose of the trip was to attend an all-day meeting of the National Asthma Patient Alliance Executive Committee on Monday, the Clearing the Air Conference Gala Monday evening, and the Asthma Society of Canada’s 2nd annual World Asthma Day conference on Tuesday—World Asthma Day.

Sunday.

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Goodbye, Winnipeg…

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Hello, Toronto! (Again!)

My flight arrived 25 minutes early—it was really only the beginning of Transit Nirvana: I checked my phone upon arriving at the Terminal 3 bus stop, and the bus would be there in 3 minutes. I got off the bus at Kipling Station and after a moment of confusion with an out-of-order track, I was on my way to Jane. From there, I’d planned to walk to Humbercrest United Church, but, because of Transit Nirvana, the appropriate bus was sitting outside, so, a transfer it was. Beautiful.

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This picture was my “I’m almost there!!!” text to Jess (below!), who I connected with on Twitter a few years ago. Getting in to Toronto at 8:30 AM on a Sunday meant it only made sense to go to church (…for the first time in two years :]).

(Getting into Toronto at 8:30 also meant that I was awake at 3:06 AM, thus the evident tiredness here!
Selfie credit to Jessica!)

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Listening to the choir warm up before the service! I may have also had Live’s “The Distance” going through my head here:

i’ve been to pretty buildings / all in search of You / i have lit all the candles, sat in all the pews
[…] oh, the distance makes me uncomfortable / guess it’s natural to feel this way / let’s hold out for something sweeter: spread these wings and fly.

I’d discovered while exploring where the church was that my grandma’s friend Alice lived nearby. After the service (interestingly, Jess spoke on John 15, which we’d explored one weekend at a youth leader’s retreat a few years ago—read: five years ago. How did THAT happen?), I met up with Alice at a coffee shop nearby for a couple of hours.

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(Got this picture in the mail from Alice 05/15!)

I reconvened with Jess after her meetings finished to go for lunch and do a drive through High Park to see if the cherry blossoms were out yet. The park was busy, but I felt super lucky to see the cherry blossoms—a few days on either side and I may not have been able to!)

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 Jess dropped me off at a subway station, and while I almost got on the train going in the wrong direction (despite her telling me to go the opposite way!), I made another Transit Nirvana-esque transfer at Bloor-Yonge Station to college… and then proceeded to walk past the hotel and almost back to the station I’d transferred at. Hey, I figure I’d done pretty good up till that point—thanks Google Maps!

Shortly after arriving at the Courtyard Marriott downtown, I texted Stacey, a NAPA executive member from BC who had also arrived on Sunday. We connected in the lobby, went to the Second Cup in the hotel, and then went on a walk around downtown, including finding a Loblaw grocery store, and then returning to the Second Cup to buy dinner.

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(We got lost a bit, but that just means more Fitbit steps!)

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The sole purpose of my ice bucket was to house my berries—my chocolate milk couldn’t even stay in there so I just hoped it had enough preservatives in it ;). I was mostly unimpressed that Gerry wasn’t there to get ice for me ;).

Monday.

I woke up at 7:29 Eastern (6:29 Central—clearly I was tired as I went to bed at what my body would have interpreted as 10:06 PM, and I crashed into sleep rapidly according to SleepCycle), and got ready for the day. Did I mention the weird layout of my room? Yeah.)

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I went on a journey for a plain collared shirt in white or black several days before going to Toronto. I found one such shirt and the small was too big, so I had to resort to getting a Winnipeg Jets golf shirt. Represent! I got business casual down ;).

I got a text from Sue saying she had arrived at the hotel after an early flight from New Brunswick, and headed down to the Second Cup to meet her before my meeting with Erika and Vibhas. I am also that person who gave everyone the keys to my hotel room—Dia actually went up there to work, even! At one point, Erika and Dia had both of my keys and I had none, which was kind of amusing. Erika, Vibhas and I discussed the Asthma in Schools subcommittee meeting later that afternoon, and I thought it was awesome that we had some input from Sue as well, as she was taking part in the Strategic Planning discussion, so my hope was that she could use some of our previous struggles to help influence that discussion!

We started our National Asthma Patient Alliance Executive meeting at 11:30. Dia, as Chair, was keeping things rolling as you can see below.

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From this point, I think the best way I can summarize the bulk of the asthma/National Asthma Patient Alliance/advocacy/World Asthma Day related content is through tweets—real talk in “real time”. I’ve embedded a selection [a hefty selection!] below, and then will return with added commentary (I’ve embedded some commentary through Storify, also!)



(Be sure to click through on “Read next page” to see the last few gala posts, and tweets from the Clearing the Air summit!)

I set up #ClearAir15 on Symplur to give us a sense of how things were going Twitter-wise (no, Noah, I did not just set that up to bug you about my insane amount of tweeting, although that was a nice side-bonus—ADHD lends itself well to live-tweeting mostly), and because I like graphs and things (so does Rob, I learned). I am not really sure whether I expected more or fewer people tweeting (I am, after all, MedX biased, which is the craziest tweeting conference evah).

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Seems about right.

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Sorry, Noah (tweeting as @AsthmaSociety). Final stats say Erika and I out-tweeted you :]. Putting the e in ePatients.
(Of course, the ASC account came out ahead in Top 10 by Impressions. Also, I am glad to see more people tweeting at both Glen Murray and the Asthma Society than me, because that only makes sense.)

My favourite session of the day was Dr. Sarah Henderson’s breakout session on extreme summers and respiratory health. What I found most interesting about this, outside of the graph included above that compared Ventolin dispensed to levels of specific particulate matter in the air (mind-blowing to see that they were able to very much trend peaks in Ventolin dispenses at British Columbia pharmacies [and thus, likely, use of rescue medicine] at the same time as particulate matter from forest fire smoke), and how extreme heat + allergens + forest fires [particulate matter] = higher incidence of respiratory issues—I will say the most interesting part to me was not all of the above, but that Dr. Henderson actually dragged illicit drug use into the frame, noting that not only is use of street drugs a potential cause of death, but the way cocaine use alters the body’s response to heat means that cocaine users are even more likely to die during extreme heat than they might be in the same circumstances but in cooler weather. (Oh, I also got to introduce Sarah AND MENTION PENGUINS. Dr. Henderson is a cool lady.)

My Twitter slowdown came when money and politics were being discussed. I was not only lost, but disappointed when instead of using the policy discussion for good, it came to a political showdown that did not just highlight the good, it began slamming the Tories—yes, I’m really left-wing myself, but a health conference is certainly not the place to alienate those who may not be.

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And that is when Jess and I chose to take selfies instead of repeatedly slamming our heads into the table whilst trying not to breathe in too deeply around the woman who decided it was a good idea to drown herself in perfume before attending an asthma event? (Okay, maybe I was irritated by more than one force…). Anyways, moving back to the positives.

The final session of the day was a patient panel, including two NAPA executive members, Erika and Chantale. This discussion generated a lot of good questions, and I really just wished that the patient perspective was not included last. I think it was a good way to finish the conference, however, I think the patient perspective needed to be woven in throughout the day, not just at the end (by which point many attendees had left, as well). Once again, maybe a “MedicineX sets a precedent for me” thing, but, if we ever hope to see a world where patients are truly engaged in a conversation, and not just—whether legitimately or unintentionally seen as—an afterthought, this needs to happen: we may all be an n=1, but we are why change needs to happen.

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Jess and I following the conference—photo credit to Rob.

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Rob and I (Rob actually recruited me to the exec when he was working for the ASC.
We tried to recreate a picture from Quebec in 2012, when we were both the students taking all the pens from the conference room right before he started law school. And now I’ve also graduated and he is an almost-lawyer!)
Photo credit to Jess.

But, until then, until the change does happen and through that process, I’ll have many amazing friends to share the journey with. Before she pointed me in the direction of a train (look, I only stayed on going the wrong way for one stop!) Jess and I discussed the day over margherita pizzas (thanks, Jess!).

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$3.50 iced tea from Pearson and airplane shirt? Check. (After wandering out of the secure area to not-find Sue because I was not allowed in concourse D? Yeah, check.)

…and, of course, looking back with there realization that if we did not recognize that we are the ones who will help guide change being created, if we didn’t have this stupid disease, we wouldn’t have been sitting at the same table in Toronto for a second time in three days digging through all the topics that we did :). The conversation, the people, and the steps towards change—however small—are what matter.

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Disclosure: The Asthma Society of Canada, via its funding partners (pharma), covered the cost of airfare, one night of hotel, gala and conference admission, and some meals, for National Asthma Patient Alliance Executive Committee members to attend the NAPA meetings and Clearing the Air conference in Toronto. I was not asked to write this post, nor obligated to provide a positive review (as you can tell, probably). 

All tweets cited above as my own are completely that, including mentions of my engagement with both NAPA as present Vice Chair, and the Canadian Severe Asthma Network, as Patient Lead, are based on my own desires to identify [within] these roles/groups. I receive no added benefit in doing so, I just think they’re good people[/things].

I subscribe to about 5 different things that are like Groupon or TeamBuy [so, yes, two of those, plus three or more]. One day, one of them was proclaiming its sale of cold weather face masks. Good idea, internet! My face can not freeze maybe and I can maybe proceed to not continue wrapping very long scarves around my face in a ridiculous fashion as I have been doing since circa Winter 2008.

Except, then I realized the problem with why I don’t wear such items and instead use scarves ridiculously is because they look kind of ridiculous and water just freezes to your face and then you end up cold anyways. My bigger issue is breathing in cold weather, and the issue with these masks is that I invariably end up fogging up my glasses or something and then can’t see, and can’t really get home or indoors or anywhere to be able to see without removing the scarf and then that does not solve my “cold air is among my worst asthma triggers” problem, right?

Enter ColdAvenger.

“If you can’t breathe, you can’t play.”

—ColdAvenger 

Okay yeah, that’s a hell of a slogan there, especially for this Canuck, right?
Then I read about the science behind the mask. Because, let’s be honest here… the black version of the mask looks kind of Darth-vader-esque, and as a 23-year-old-girl who frequently wears pink and purple outerwear, I’m not sure that Darth Vader is the look I’m going for.
Except I’m not into sounding like Vader, either, and we’ve already got enough Darth Vader asthma memes, right?
And so on.
Anyways, I reached out to the cool people at Cold Avenger, told them a bit of my story and offered to review on my blog, and they offered to send me out a media package to try out the Cold Avenger myself. Phil was awesome to deal with, friendly and personable, and—get this—I e-mailed my request in, and had a response within ten minutes. So, clearly their customer care isn’t lacking! Phil and I discussed what I intended to use the mask for, and he decided that the Cold Avenger Pro half mask was the better bet for me, “Just in case you start jumping out of planes with your new ability to breathe in cold weather.”
That’s what I’m talking about!

So, in avoidance of looking like Darth Vader (though very confident in my overall level of badassmatic!) I opted for the white “SnowHunter” version of the Cold Avenger Pro half mask, which arrived in my mailbox from Missoula, Montana little more than a week later.
Except it was still October then so clearly I did not yet need the mask […fortunately. I do live in Winnipeg, after all].
So I tried it out a few times last week once the hardcore chill hit, and damn, I am okay looking the part of a super hero/villain/whatever I am not up on my superheroes really for the way this thing works.
The science (more technical version here): Breathe in cold air to the mask. Cold air enters through vented part up front (which is adjustable—so if you need a higher level of ventilation to accommodate for increased respiratory rates due to activity, you can rock that, but if it’s super windy and too much air is being pushed in, you can make the gaps smaller/fewer and thus allow less air to be forced into the mask.) The very (flexible material) that protrudes out over the nose and mouth also catches the moisture/warmth of the air that gets exhaled, so that the next time air is inhaled, it mixes with some warm particles and… viola, no more breathing in crazy cold air!
A bit of a user-end primer on how the valve system works: if I’m doing something of low intensity, like walking to the bus except straight into a north wind, I’ve got the internal bit adjusted to let less air in at me because my respiratory rate isn’t that high and because more air is already being pushed into the mask. [Science, I tell you. Diffusion is where it’s at.] Keeps the air going into the body warmer and thus, the Cold Avenger team argues that it keeps you warmer by doing so—pretty cool, right?
So… Does it work?
 (Note: I’ve since found it is much better to run my earphones UNDER the mask. Also, on this 10 minute walk to the bus, ice crystals formed on my earphone wires just because of how it was hanging by the mask. Easily rectified by running the wires along the side of my face—and, proof of how cold it actually was outside?)
First thing’s first, you’ll see the gap where my earphone wire goes in on the right side—rectified, as stated above, but this was the culprit for the glasses fogging I experienced. The Cold Avenger, for ski goggle wearers and glasses wearers alike, comes with a nose wire so that it can be adjusted to seal more completely around the face.  This picture is from day 1 of Cold Avenger use. By day 2, I had the kinks worked out with the earphones and my hair and everything (the toque’s real use this day was actually because my hair kept sliding around outside the mask, and into my eyes/face and whatnot, so the toque’s sole purpose was actually keeping my hair back ;).
My asthma is really triggered by cold air (yes, I know, Canadian problems much?). Within five minutes of being outside in weather like it was on day 1 of using the Cold Avenger (-10*C, or -18*C with the windchill)—or even milder sometimes—I’m usually at the very least coughing, or feeling some degree of breathing discomfort. WITH the Cold Avenger? I didn’t cough at all until I got to the bus stop (8 minutes into being outside, walking fairly briskly). In fact, while the Cold Avenger people say [and I won’t dispute them, just an observation!] you’ll be warmer in the mask, I actually think I felt colder simply because I wasn’t hyperfocused on my breathing being crappy! So, hey, if I’m going to feel a bit colder because I can breathe!? I can deal with that, guys.
I’ve had a few friends ask (unprovoked even!) about the mask, and I’ve had nothing but good things to say—I mean, of course with the occasional joke included about being a superhero, how could I not?! I can’t wait to find some ice and try it out while skating or playing hockey outdoors with my friends, because if it can make those things more enjoyable, then I will be excited—and, as Phil discussed, if I find some planes to go winter skydiving out of, then hey, I’m ready for that, too! While I used to sometimes have to pre-medicate with Ventolin before even going outside briefly, I hope the Cold Avenger brings me back to a place where I can simply pre-medicate for exercise outdoors like normal instead of for simply going outdoors!
While I got this thing for free to review, now that I’ve tried it and experienced how it works with my asthma, I definitely think it would be worth shelling out the $60 for if you live in a place like I do where it’s cold for up to half the year and have cold induced asthma, or simply do a lot of activities outside and are looking for a solution that doesn’t restrict your ability to breathe or cause ice to form on your face like many alternatives (the crazy scarf wrap, for example) do. Plus, as you can see, I highly recommend upping your badass quotient and rocking some coordinating sunglasses with the Cold Avenger, too.
…Because I’d say that goes with the badassery of avenging, no?
Disclosure: I reached out to Phil at Cold Avenger who agreed to send out a mask and a kit containing information and stickers (!!!) for free for me to review. I offered to do the review in my initial message, but was under no obligation to provide a favourable review (but, they know their product, so clearly they knew they’d win me over :]). 
edit 5:34 pm 11/24/14: Kat pointed out that I meant diffusion and not osmosis up there. She is correct.

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I have the tendency to often say “____. That’s my favourite thing!” In reality, I have a lot of favourite things. Whereas many people enjoy the exploration and destination parts of travel, I enjoy the travel part of travel just as much. Airplanes. That’s my favourite thing! Airports. That’s my favourite thing! And . . . Helping to empower people with asthma. That’s my favourite thing! This weekend, many of my favourite things combined into an experience unlike any I have had the privilege and honour to be a part of, and helping to be a part of something that will hopefully grow bigger than we had ever dreamed, all with the hopes of creating a healthier country. Saturday kicked off the World Congress of Asthma, where the Asthma Society of Canada [ASC] chose to host the five-year meeting of the National Asthma Patient Alliance [NAPA] Executive Committee. I have been a part of this group for a little under a year, and being a part of the amazing things going on at the ASC has been amazing.

Early Saturday morning, my [amazing] aunt drove me to the airport at 4:30 AM to catch a flight to Toronto. From Toronto, we made the shorter jaunt to Quebec City, and began the immersion into the unique culture of Quebec City. I have never been to Europe, but the Old City of Quebec had an amazing vibe to it, and is what I imagine certain places in Europe might be like [I’ll make that conclusion once I get to Europe]. Following checking into the hotel, my travel companion and fellow NAPA exec member, Cathy, and I grabbed lunch on a patio, where a man playing the accordion stood across the corridor from us (and, while not very French, I ate some of the best pizza I have ever had).

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We wandered the Old City for awhile. Cathy is an avid traveller, and a teacher, so she was an excellent tour guide for my first venture into the province of Quebec. We climbed I-am-not-kidding twenty-six-or-something flights of stairs (there was some audible dyspnea going on. Two prairie-dwellers with asthma trekking up the hills and stairs in Quebec is definitely a sight to see, and we made more than a few jokes at our own expense!)

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(The Frontenac)

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A couple and their wedding photographers. I think we were in the background of a bunch of their pictures.

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And . . . the reason I am here:

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We returned to the hotel late-afternoon to retrieve our bags from the desk and move into our rooms. I had been telling people to come to Quebec with me, and in reality . . .

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. . . they could have! [The funny thing about this, is while I was super impressed to have a more asthma-friendly uncarpeted room, and that they are available, I actually woke up because of my asthma that night. Ultimate in irony being at an asthma conference and representing for the Asthma Society, right?]

We took some time to get ready after our epic stair-climbing/hill-trekking/Quebec exploring, and then headed to the World Congress on Asthma.

World Congress of Asthma ID tag

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We spent some time in the exhibit area, which was my favourite part about my time at the Congress.  It was very cool to be able to talk with some of the people who are on the teams creating products and medications that keep me healthy.

It’s funny, I kept super-enthusiastically walking up to these booths. One of them, NIOX, featured devices to measure FeNO [fractional exhaled nitric oxide, which is an indicator of airway inflammation] and I walked up, listened to her for about 30 seconds and said “Can you test my FeNO?”. I’m kind of excited about these sorts of things if you can’t tell [Mine was 8, which is fantastic, and means the inhaled steroids I’m taking are rocking at doing their job! Maybe I’m cured?].  The drawback to FeNO, is that the tests are expensive, and this is likely why I have never had a FeNO test done. The meter, which is exhaled into slowly for about ten seconds [complete with a visual prompt to blow a hot air balloon across a canyon without moving it outside the set of lines on a computer screen attached to the device, is $3000, and each testing mouthpiece is $15. However, they are attempting to get home FeNO testing accessible with this, or a similar, device, much as peak flow testing is currently used as a self-monitoring system. I suppose though, that before getting home FeNO accessible, there needs to be an increased focus on making FeNO testing accessible in clinic.  But really, how can you not love that happy little cloud in the FeNO machine?

After getting our FeNO tested, I scored a Canadian Network for Respiratory Care stainless steel water bottle from an unmanned booth (I wanted to talk to the CNRC people!), we headed out of the exhibit area to meet with the rest of the the group who was travelling on behalf of the Asthma Society of Canada. At this point, I was able to shake the hands and see the faces belonging to the names and voices on the couple of conference calls I’ve been able to make it to.

(Photo contributed by Noah at the Asthma Society of Canada)

In addition to meeting the other Executive Committee members, I also met some of the ASC staff for the first time, Rob Oliphant (ASC CEO), Noah and Darren. My highlight here was finally meeting Rob, who was my first contact at the ASC when he was working there as the NAPA coordinator, he was also the one who recruited me to the Executive at the end of last August. I also was stoked to meet Bill Swan (I believe I had a few twitter conversations with him in the past), our co-chair for the executive, and works in health economics. We also occasionally finished one another’s sentences at dinner.  After introductions, we headed into the opening lecture by Sharon Straus on Knowledge Translation.

Following the lectures, we returned to the exhibit hall for the reception where we all seem to have missed the food (for the drinking crowd, though, we still made the open bar. Like I said to Rob and a couple others, “I’m boring. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, don’t eat meat . . .”, which lead to Rob and I having a discussion about the overconsumption of meat products in the average North American lifestyle. Verdict: I’m probably healthier this way (and obviously so on the smoking and drugs bit ;)).

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I then had the coolest experience. I walked up to the Trudell Medical table to say hi and see what their current pitch was, if there was anything new in the product lineup, etc. Trudell is awesome, and a couple weeks ago they sent me a huge box of accessories for inhalers and AeroChambers that I can give to kids in the groups I speak to after I sent them an e-mail about how I strongly believe that they need to work on marketing to adolescents and young adults, because we are the population that are missing the boat on increasing our aerosol medication delivery by not using an AeroChamber [Fact: spacing devices can make the medication 110% more effective because of increased deposition within the lungs and not, for example, at the back of the throat.] Part of my e-mail included some blog links and a goofy request for a purple AeroChamber (they have pink, but not purple). So, the first thing I said was “I have the pink one!” and mentioned that Trudell had just sent me a box of accessory stuff, and both people at the table simultaneously said “You’re the purple AeroChamber girl!” I just kind of blinked and burst out laughing and told them I was. I felt freaking asthma-world famous!

After this, however, the woman got to the subject of “How Old Is Your AeroChamber?” Answer: too old. Realistically, I thought buying a new AeroChamber every year was kind of a scam by the spacer-making companies. In Canada, the AeroChamber with mouthpiece costs $35 a pop. For a plastic tube with a valve. It turns out, even if you wash it weekly like you are supposed to (truth: I don’t know the last time I washed my AeroChamber. Gross.) She magically extracted me another pink AeroChamber from under the table. I chatted with them awhile longer, and then asked if I could have a new blue one, too, which she also magically extracted from under the table for me. As depicted to the right, the pink AeroChamber is marketed towards kids–obviously this did not stop me from buying my previous pink one. Like I’ve said before, if I have to live with an incurable disease, I might as well make it a little bit more fun where I can.  My chat with the Trudell people saved me/Pharmacare $70.  Thanks Trudell!  (I’m still waiting to hear back from them if they’d like me to partner with them on increasing marketing and thus product use and thus increased medication delivery in adolescents and young adults as proposed alongside my purple AeroChamber request in my e-mail to them! :])

Okay, so after the Trudell people knew who I was, I saw the Air Quality Health Index people, talked to the folks at Alvesco who didn’t yet have any samples, and got a maple sugar candy from a booth across the exhibit hall. That is the absolute sweetest thing I had ever eaten. I definitely have a sweet tooth, but I had to contemplate between toughing out the sweetness or going to gracefully find a garbage (option 1 won, and I spent the next five mintues standing with the group by the Merck table trying to look sane while this candy probably singlehandedly destroyed my teeth. The candy was good for about the first minute, but then I just couldn’t take it anymore!).

We left the reception and paraded down the street to the diner where I had investigated the menu previously and practiced how to order vegetarian ravioli en Francais. It turned out we walked in and they asked if we wanted French or English menus, and proceeded to speak to us in English (unless we could speak French, which Erika did!) And then it turned out I got fondue [which was not bread to be dipped in cheese as anticipated, but actually like a square mozzarella stick with three types of cheese in it. Still excellent, however.  I chased the cheese and salad [which they threw in unexpectedly] with what Le Conchon Dingue boasted was The Best Sugar Pie in Town. I am unsure as I have had no other sugar pie in Quebec City, but it was awesome.  We had some great conversation around the table, however, Jason (who works with my mom) e-mailed me all the French I would need to know in 30 hours, except I couldn’t access it till I got home since the hotel WiFi chose to quit on me and I didn’t feel like dealing with it. I really could have used the information on how to ask for a fork a little bit earlier (which he legit included, this thing is awesome), since Rob dropped his and Bill didn’t get one for dessert! :] Instead, they just had to ask in English.

 

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Sunday morning, I got up bright and early at five-something and packed up my stuff, tried to find the meeting room, and checked my stuff at the desk and checked out of the hotel. I wandered across the street and up the hill to the Hilton to meet Dr. Sally Wenzel at 7 AM. Sally is a researcher with the Severe Asthma Research Program in Pittsburgh, and is one of the most renowned and respected pulmonologists in the world. We took to the streets and wandered until we found an open coffee shop/bakery, and had a great talk for over an hour. This was definitely the coolest experience of the trip [well, that and the Trudell people knowing who I was]. Sally has not only a ridiculous knowledge of the inner workings of asthma but also a deep understanding of the social/emotional aspects of this disease and how it not only affects our lungs (and the rest of our bodies), but sometimes the rest of our lives, too. Her understanding of this disease from all perspectives is amazing considering she doesn’t have asthma and doesn’t know what it feels like. However, despite the fact that she is so, so full of knowledge and working so hard to make things better for people with asthma, she also is so down-to-earth and sweet that even though I was sitting there talking with an extremely well known and respected research doctor, I totally just felt like I was out with one of my friends (except, my conversation with Sally was about asthma and smart things ;)).  After we finished coffee, I had to head back to the hotel for the day’s meetings and she had to head to the Congress . . . but not before we tried to get some random people in the Old City to get a picture of us!

Sally: Pardon? Pardon?

Girl in group: Um, we don’t speak French?

Me: Oh, neither do we.

Coffee with Sally was an awesome experience, and I am so, so honoured to have been able to meet with her while we were both in Quebec and to see her energy and passion for helping those of us who have asthma in person!

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When I arrived back at the hotel, everybody was gathered in the conference room waiting for breakfast. I skipped the eggs, gave the bacon to Darren from the ASC after his bacon-enthusiast-esque comments, and had some potatoes and toast [yay starches?] and fruit. After we ate, we set to work discussing the first five years of the existence of the National Asthma Patient Alliance, then where we’re headed, how to engage more people in the asthma community, and ultimately, how to encourage Canadians with asthma to live active, healthy lives.  A lot of the meeting was full of brainstorming, and as new programs and initiatives unveil, I will definitely begin sharing those thoughts. Right now it is really just a big jumble of thoughts and questions that need to be hashed out–but a LOT of really good ideas on both raising the profile of the ASC and NAPA to the people who need us, as well as engaging people with the ASC.  The Team Asthma.ca shirt Sally is holding in the above picture is an initiative to encourage people with asthma to become more physically active, and a lot of our discussion revolved around expanding the program beyond running and beyond those who are already physically active. This in itself is one of my passions, but to determine an intervention of that sort is definitely a time-consuming process. By no means is it impossible, but, like any other large-scale outreach project, requires funding and time.  I’d also like to shout to Rob who began the Team Asthma program while he was working at the ASC, because it is definitely my favourite NAPA program.

We were also joined by Antje Fink-Wagner from the Global Asthma and Allergy Patient Platform and learned about the work GAAPP does, including some very cool sport programs that partner developing and developed countries, help them grow healthier through sport, AND educate on asthma.

At this point in the picture, I had gotten cold so you can’t see my nice clothes as they are hiding under the hoodie. I can’t remember what we were talking about here. Photo credit goes to Noah from the ASC, and I totally stole it off their Twitter.

For a quick rundown, our sessions were as follows: NAPA at 5 – where were we going, and where did we get? Education and Advocacy – what are we doing well and what could we change? Increaseing Engagement – growing the National Asthma Patient Alliance through memberships to NAPA, Team Asthma.ca and Asthma Ambassadors, and how to make these programs more accessible, as well as advocate-friendly delivery methods/materials. Moving Forward – plans for the next 5 years.

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(Rob and I. Note the kickass black tape. It is fairly evident the ASC is doing good things with money and not using a lot of it to keep signs attached to walls :])

Even though I am on this committee, it was amazing to hear all of the ideas people had used for advocating within pre-existing programs, like Ambassadors. Honestly, I was a part of the Ambassador pilot, but I had never thought of setting up a NAPA booth at different appropriate venues, like health fairs for example [truth: I didn’t know health fairs actually existed]. And what opened my eyes is that if I as a member of the executive am not thinking of these things at a higher level of involvement with the ASC, it is doubtful that an Ambassadors volunteer is thinking of them when they (like every other volunteer) have this thing called life. We discussed how advocacy opportunities have to be designed to allow the volunteer to have as much or little involvement as they can incorporate into their life, and how to go about this.

(Photo contributed by Noah at the Asthma Society of Canada)

The NAPA meeting brought up a ton of stories, thoughts, and advocacy ideas. It was awesome to be a part of that thought process, and see all of the Good Things that will be conjured up over the next five years. It is an amazing thing to be a part of this group, being representatives for the three million Canadians who live with asthma, and the family, friends and employers of these individuals who are affected by asthma.

After wrapping up the meeting, Cathy, Debbie and I went and wandered the Old City again for a bit.

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I bought a t-shirt [the only thing I bought in Quebec!] and ate some mango sorbet seeing as EVERYBODY was wandering the streets with gelato. I was not disappointed! :]

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My time in Quebec was whirlwind. Within an hour of buying this gelato, I’d consumed it, returned to the hotel, grabbed a taxi, and was at the airport.

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In Jean Lesage Airport, we ran into Keith from the executive committee (who is a respiratory therapy student! I <3 RTs!), whose plane to Montreal had been delayed. We switched our flight to the one he was on since we were ready to go (they run about a thousand flights between Quebec City and Montreal every day, so consequently, they are not full).

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Upon arrival in Montreal, we tried to switch our next flight with no luck. Win some/lose some. We instead wandered around trying to find legit food but settled for Tim Horton’s (so Canadian of us!). Cathy and I were finally split up for seats for our last flight. Being awake since 5 AM, I tried to sleep with no luck (my inflatable pillow was in my backpack that my plane neighbour had nicely stowed in the overhead bin for me. Read: I am short and I couldn’t get to it even if I tried). However, the looking-asleep with my earphones in meant the flight attendant didn’t offer me any more flight beverages, which was good as I was trying to avoid any more airplane apple juice. Three glasses in two days is quite enough, thanks AirCanada.  I essentially pretended to sleep/watched the flight map on TV all the way home. Who needs a movie when you can see the flight map?

I met so many amazing people and had a ton of awesome experiences while in Quebec. I came home feeling so full of good things and the desire to do so much more to engage people with asthma to keep reaching out to one another. To think that I was only there for 33 hours blows my mind, because I feel like I packed about a week’s worth of experiences into the 45 hours I was out of my hometown. Quebec was a place that i really didn’t have a ton of desire to visit before I went, but now that I have been, I definitely want to go back with more time to explore and feel the vibe of the city.  I had an amazing time, and feel both blessed and honoured to be a part of this amazing group of people who are doing serious good things.

Disclosure: Through sponsorship from Merck, the Asthma Society of Canada covered all of my expenses for the World Congress on Asthma and National Asthma Patient Alliance meetings in Quebec City, including ground transportation, meals, conference registration, accommodation and airfare. I am a member of the ASC’s NAPA Executive Committee, but am under no obligation to blog about my involvement with the ASC.

If you would like to help the Asthma Society of Canada be able to deliver the programs we began to formulate this weekend, as well as current and future ventures, please consider making a donation.

I called Quebec this morning. I am supposed to be meeting Dr. Sally Wenzel (the primary investigator for the Severe Asthma Research Program in Pittsburgh, who is awesome) for coffee at a Cafe Supreme on Sunday when I am in Quebec City. I googled the Cafe’s hours and they are not posted, nor have they replied to my e-mail. My first French interaction was a fail:

CS: [Incomprehensible greeting]

Me: Je ne parle pas Francais

CS: No speak English.

Me: Uh, merci.

So, that was awkward.  (We’re meeting at Sally’s hotel now). The thing is, I can stumble my way through reading some basic French. Signage, food labels, etc. Maybe. But as evidenced above, I cannot have a conversation. Never mind that, I could have perhaps figured out how to ask about the Dimanche heures [Sunday hours], except I totally wouldn’t have understood the response.

Fingers crossed my entire 33 hours in Quebec are not filled with French interactions I do not get anywhere with. On that note, I met my local Asthma Society connection/travel companion for coffee yesterday, and we had a fun chat in a Tim Horton’s (in English), which was fantastic. Also I spent twenty minutes on hold with Air Canada before I hung up, which was not fantastic.

Disclosure: Through sponsorship from Merck, the Asthma Society of Canada is covering all of my expenses for the World Congress on Asthma in Quebec City this weekend, including ground transportation, meals, conference registration, accommodation and airfare. I am a member of the ASC’s National Asthma Patient Alliance Executive Committee, but have no obligation to blog about my involvement with the ASC. I just think they’re rad.