I wish my Dad could have been at the National Lyme disease Framework conference tonight. He would have been so proud of this community, and of what we hope is the beginning of big changes. Dad never made it a secret that he was proud of me in all things, but especially of my advocacy work and writing, which meant the world to me <3.
I am so beyond drained. It’s been a rough past month, emotionally and physically, but I’m not going to talk about that right now. I really want to talk about the incredible evening at the commencement of the Framework Conference in Ottawa, our nations capital. After literally years of work. lobbying over 80 MP’s and Senators, community activism, letter writing, and speech making, we’re nearing the home stretch of the goal of Elizabeth May’s Bill C442, which called upon the Federal Government to host a strategy conference to confront Lyme Disease. We heard from well over 100 patients and advocates tonight, whose 5 minute talks were extremely compelling and emotionally intense. Over 12 hours of testimony was recorded tonight, with four rooms of simultaneous speakers. It was incredible to see a community of the disenfranchised, seriously ill, and medically neglected come together in such a strong show of support. I think we sent the message very clear that we are here. We aren’t going away…the movement is only growing in strength and sadly, in numbers.
I hope you had a chance to catch the speakers tonight (you can register here although I’ve heard people had some trouble with this!). There was an incredible feeling in the room, and our collective stories inform the conference, moving forward. I’d like to share with you my speech from the evening.
Hello. My name is Nicole Bottles, I’m 23, from Victoria, BC and a board member of the Lyme Disease Association of BC. I would like to tell you how I ended up rolling in here today, 8 years after my initial diagnosis. And it begins with a tick the size of a poppy seed. My story reflects the experience of many Canadians, who follow a similar journey: a mysterious illness, multiple specialist visits, extensive lab work, and culminates – possibly years later – with misdiagnosis or no diagnosis at all. Tragically, delay in treatment gives the borrelia time to disseminate, and makes it more difficult, if not downright impossible, to treat and eradicate.
In 2008 I was a healthy, straight-A student. I loved my school, choir, hiking and kayaking. It took several months, and one tick bite, to change my life. During my grade 10 year, I never recovered after a prolonged flu-like illness. Not having the strength to get out of bed, even for an hour of school was one of the hardest, and scariest realizations of my life. I went downhill very quickly, and within a few months required a wheelchair, and experienced intense chronic pain, swollen joints, exhaustion, and severe short-term memory and cognitive impairment. Trips to many specialists and diagnostic tests were fruitless. By chance, we learned about Lyme Disease, and the host of seemingly unconnected symptoms made sense. The symptoms I developed were a classic manifestation of Lyme Disease and I was so relieved. I thought “now all I have to do is a quick treatment and I’ll have my life back”. Needless to say, 8 years later, it is not that simple.
I had a negative Lyme test result, like so many other Canadians, and versus making a clinical diagnosis, most doctors rely on this flawed lab test to diagnose Lyme disease. If someone is diagnosed and treated immediately, a $100 of antibiotics should see them returned to health. The cost of my own treatment has been well over 1000 times that amount. I am one of the lucky ones who was able to seek guidance of four leading US experts. Friends, family and community donated at fundraisers to support my treatment outside the country, which isn’t covered by our health care plan. A 2006 study from the US CDC by Zhang et al. (who we’re fortunate will be speaking later), found that the annual “burden of disease” (the BOD) when Lyme was treated early was under fifteen hundred dollars, for only one year. If the illness was left untreated, developing into a chronic infection, the “BOD” jumped to sixteen thousand per year, every year. The cost of being misdiagnosed is astronomical for our health care system. The cost to patients could be their lives.
Our nation is on the cusp of creating a paradigm shift in the way we confront Lyme disease. Time is ticking as our communities encroach on wildlife habitat and the climate changes, leading to an explosion in tick populations. The National Lyme Disease Framework has the potential to be the catalyst for change. It has already brought us together; patients, advocates, physicians, researchers, Public Health Officials. Through reconciling the two standards of care into a workable set of guidelines, we can transform a static situation into a constructive environment for patient care.
I could talk about the need to rewrite the diagnostic algorithm, invest in active surveillance, address the limitations of testing, and physician awareness, but the overarching theme echoed here today is concise; education, prevention, treatment, and testing. Simple enough, in practice, to implement. However, patients continually battle an incredible stigma every time we walk into a doctor’s office, which is why we need strong leadership and open-mindedness from all of us here in order to move forward. We have been extremely patient. But as more and more Canadians fall ill, our community feels a sense of urgency to ensure that others don’t have to experience devastating affects of not only loosing their quality of life, but struggling to receive treatment. We must do better. And we’re optimistic that this chance to work together for the well-being of all Canadians will finally commence an era where a walk in the woods is no longer a debilitating activity. ~
I feel such gratitude to be part of this conference, and to do my part to ensure others don’t have to face similar problems. Is a 3 day conference going to fix 3 decades with of problems? Of course not. But I’m optimistic that this is the real beginning of the paradigm shift, that the tectonic plates of patient advocacy, medical research, and collective compassion will press together and create the first ripples of change. Drinking tea and eating pineapple in the same room as public health officials and scientists from all sides of this issue is a damn fine start.
This quote that keeps playing through my mind tonight, and as I look forward to a very early morning and full day tomorrow;
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
~ President Barack Obama
So welcome, bringers of change. Keep fighting. Keep moving forward. It’s the only place we are wiling to go.