My asthma is a third of my age this year. At least for 3 weeks, anyways. Eight years ago today, I was handed a prescription for Ventolin by a walk in clinic doctor, at my second appointment with him where I adamantly refused his answer that I had “bronchitis” again.

http://i2.wp.com/farm2.staticflickr.com/1580/26429474300_9ed1a87011.jpg?resize=500%2C375&ssl=1I mean, had I been the same as I am now, I would have told him “That’s bullshit, this isn’t bronchitis,” but I wasn’t that patient yet. Although those were my first steps to becoming her—refusing the “authority” of a doctor who was about to misdiagnose me yet again.

The reality is, advocates aren’t born of perfect situations—if care were perfect, we wouldn’t have anything to advocate for. But in order to be effective advocates, we have to believe that our experiences matter, and that our stories can bring change. Advocacy is about creating something positive of the negative: it’s not reminding everybody about the shit we’ve been through constantly, it’s not about wanting to only share the injustices we’ve experienced, advocacy is not about the negative.
Advocacy is not just about me.

Advocacy is about wanting real change for ourselves and other patients. It is about the choices we can make to make our own situations better. Advocacy is about using our stories for good—finding the positive in the negative (and all that other flowery bullshit sounding stuff that is, you know, actually true)—if you don’t push through the shit, you don’t grow.

I’ve learned a lot in eight years. I’ve been places I’d never thought I’d go, and met people I never would have otherwise. Many of those things have nothing to do with asthma, but, would they have happened otherwise? I’ll never know. Eight years later, I know a few more answers, but I’ve got a thousand more questions. So, I’ll keep packing up all the inhalers I take—none of which are really new, and if they are, they’re not novel—and hitting the road. I’ve got hope that something better will come, but I’m not going to wait around 5, 6, 7 decades for it—I’ve got things to do now.

Sorry, science. I don’t believe you’ll cure asthma in my lifetime. And yep, I know pharma doesn’t have any interest in curing me anyways.
Prove me wrong, I dare ya.

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.

alice and kerri

 

(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).

#clearair analytics2

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].

Head on over to my friend Olivia’s blog to check out my guest post/interview from this weekend, where I share a bit about my asthma story and perspective on asthma, what I do with the Asthma Society of Canada/National Asthma Patient Alliance and the Canadian Severe Asthma Network, and living positively with asthma.

Olive lives with asthma and is involved with Asthma UK and shares her stories through her blog, as well as on Instagram. Thanks for having me share my thoughts, Olive!

A few months back, Dia and I began collaborating with the staff at the Asthma Society of Canada [ASC] to build a new resource for patients in the form of educational webinars. As flu season begins to take hold (Flu shot? Check? I hope so!) we decided that the flu and how that whole situation can be far more complicated with asthma, and other chronic diseases, was a good topic for our first go at a webinar!

Prepare for flu season by joining NAPA and ASC’s webinar session on Influenza and Asthma! Thursday November 18th at 12:00pm EST.
Register today at http://bit.ly/ASCFluWebinar

Dr. Shelly McNeil (Dalhousie) is lined up among the presenters, and you can learn more—and register!—at the link above. I hope you’ll join us and engage in better managing your asthma, or helping to protect someone with this disease, during flu season!

Today, I’m happy to share a piece from Justin Castillo, founder of Haika Clothing Company. If you’ve spent some time here, you’ll know I’m a big fan of t-shirts, and even more-so when there’s a story behind the shirt. Today, a true testament to put in the Badassmatics file, Justin shares how he got started, how he refuses to let asthma hold him back from living an active life, and hopes the message within his clothing will help others with asthma live the same through provoking thought and healthier lifestyle choices (though, I can’t say I’d condone his act of leaving his rescue inhaler at home–keep that shit with ya, people, it’s important!).  Thanks, Justin!

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It all started in March 2013. 9 long months ago, but for me seemed to go by in a blink of an eye. I was reading an issue of Entrepreneur Magazine and learning about all these companies starting from nothing and seeing where they were headed. I thought to myself, “Why can’t I think of something?” I kept seeing all these clothing companies that would donate or give back to organizations and charities such as breast cancer, autism, the fight against hunger, etc. These are all great causes, don’t get me wrong, but it seemed like everyone was helping the same cause. Also, the shirts these companies would offer, just didn’t fit my style. All they would sell were message tees. For me, I like to wear active/streetwear clothes that fits the surf & skate demographic. My “Ah Ha” moment came when I realized why don’t I create a something that supports a cause I am passionate about and offers t-shirts that fits my sense of style. Thus, Haika was born!
Why asthma you ask? I have had it since childhood, so it made perfect sense. I searched all over the internet and couldn’t find a anyone that supported asthma, in terms of a clothing company. So, I combined my two passions: helping those with asthma, and, creating a clothing line that fits my sense of style. Instead of creating message tees, I wanted to create something where the message was already in the brand. Don’t let asthma take control of you. You must take control of it! I want people to do what they love, and not let anything get in the way of that. Whether is it asthma or not.
I’ve played competitive sports, such as baseball and football, throughout my whole life. Of course there were times where I would induce an asthma attack, but I didn’t want that to be an excuse of why I couldn’t continue to participate. I felt that those experiences made me stronger physically and, more importantly, mentally. In some sort of weird & twisted way, i’m glad to have asthma. In a sense of not to take things for granted.
I took it a step further and incorporated a more healthier style of living by exercising and eating properly. I found out that this has dramatically decreased the use of my inhaler and asthma attacks, as well as increasing my energy level. All I want to do now is get out and enjoy the outdoors. I still take my preventative inhaler two times twice a day, but I can leave the home comfortably without my fast acting inhaler. To know that you have it that well managed and under control is a big step and confidence builder for anyone who has asthma.
From idea to reality, I want to see Haika as a company and project, grow not only throughout the U.S, but worldwide. With help of awesome people like Kerri and Stephen we can spread this message and help millions of people with asthma by supporting research and study efforts. With each purchase, $5 is donated to an asthma organization or charity in our customers community. That way they can have a direct impact and feel great about what they are doing! Visit haikaclothing.com for more information.

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Beyond a potential conversation-starter, 20% of your purchase of a Haika Clothing t-shirt will go towards an asthma-related non-profit organization. If you’re working in the best interests of people with asthma and are interested in partnering with Justin, drop him an e-mail!