I’m excited to introduce my next guest in the Over 50 & Thriving Series, because even though I have only just met her, her story is just so inspiring that I can’t wait to share it with you.
Despite living with a chronic illness, Pamela certainly fits much more into her life and puts me to shame. I was inspired by her story and I encourage you to connect with Pamela through her website and social media links at the end of her post.
Thriving despite living with Chronic Illness
My name is Pamela Jessen and I’m delighted to share my story of how I’m thriving despite living with Chronic Illness. I’m 56 and I live with my husband Ray and our cat Dorie in Langford, BC, on Vancouver Island. We have two grown kids and three grandsons.
In my former life I was an Administrative Specialist and a Certified Event Planner; however I’ve been on Disability since 2009 due to numerous health issues including Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia and Osteoarthritis since I was 25. Since 2010 I have been diagnosed with Diabetes Type 2, Hypothyroidism, Trigeminal Neuralgia, and a type of bone disease called D.I.S.H. which affects my Thoracic Spine.
I’ve been a passionate volunteer in various capacities starting when I was a kid in Brownies and Guides, and then again during most of my working years, especially the years I spent working at Bell in Calgary. Bell was a major sponsor at the Calgary Stampede, and for those ten crazy days each year that I worked for the company (2003 to 2007), I would go to work at the office for my regular hours (8am to 4pm), then head over to the Stampede Grounds and to the Bell Xperience Tent, where I would pass out flyers at the front from 4:30pm until 10pm or so – whenever we closed. I would dance at the front entrance, make all sorts of new friends and just have a ton of fun!!
I even had the opportunity to take a ride in the Bell Lightship as Hostess to the winners of an employee contest to visit Stampede – and they let me bring Ray along as well!!
There were a lot of other volunteer activities I was a part of during my working days at Rogers and The Forzani Group, including the Calgary Corporate Challenge, Habitat For Humanity, and Blood Donation Drives.
In the years from 2007 to 2009, my health deteriorated and I had to give up my volunteer work. After leaving work and going on Long Term Disability, I wasn’t sure how I could make volunteering a part of my life any longer. I mean, I couldn’t get through my days without needing to nap, I had no energy, was in agonizing pain – I was deep in depression and as much as I wanted to continue to give back, I simply didn’t have anything left in me TO give.
So…volunteering was pushed to the background and left there, forgotten. I worked hard on trying to improve my health physically and mentally over the next several years, working with various Doctors and medical personnel to try and “fix” everything that was wrong with me. The list is quite long unfortunately and most of what’s on it is unfixable – I can find ways to help me feel better, but the issues in question is never going to go away.
I did start to feel better in many ways and in 2013, came to a point where I felt I was able to volunteer again, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity. Most of what I had done before had been quite physical and I knew that wasn’t going to work for me now, so I had to be realistic about my new abilities.
My brain was still capable so when I came across an advertisement about Patient Voices Network I immediately knew this was the fit I was waiting for. The concept that I, an everyday, average British Columbian, could have an impact on how healthcare was delivered, completely knocked my socks off…I signed up on the spot!
I went through the orientation class and immediately began registering for various engagements that appealed to me. In the five years, I’ve been a member of PVN, I’ve had involvement in the following opportunities:
- Attended the 2014 BC Provincial Dialogue on Health and had my thoughts printed in the PVN Voices of Change | Spring 2014
- Judge – Quality Awards (2016)
- The ERAS Project (Enhanced Recovery After Surgery) – Creation of protocol and video – (2016). (I was also nominated by my peers for an award at the 2017 Quality Awards for my work on this engagement.)
- Committee Member: Medical Imaging Quality Council – Island Health (2016-2017)
- Member of the Patient Advisory Committee for the Update of the Canadian Guidelines for Safe and Effective Use of Opioids – (2016-2017)
- Member of the Planning Committee – Quality Awards – (2017)
- Speaker: Information Governance Conference – (Sept. 24/17)
- Judge – Quality Awards (2018)
- Attended the Quality Forum (2018)
- Patient Speaker – Board Governance Training Program (January 25/2018)
- Co-Chair: Oversight & Advisory Committee (2017 to 2018)
- Committee Member: Oversight & Advisory Committee (2018 to present)
- Committee Member: BC Emergency Physician’s Network (2018 to present)
- Committee Member: Laboratory Quality Control (2018 to present)
- Committee Member: Measurement System for Physician Quality Improvement- Surgical Group – (2018 to present)
The best part is, I can pick and choose what I want to do, based on how I’m feeling. Two of these committees meet once every two months via teleconference, one meets in person in Victoria near my home and one meets monthly in Vancouver which I fly in for for the day. Other engagements also take place in Vancouver, often overnight. Expenses are covered and I get a chance to visit my daughter Ashley on those trips, usually for lunch on my day of arrival.
A recent trip to Vancouver was just such an occasion. I was invited to give a speech to a group of approximately 175 people, on the topic of Information Governance and why it’s so important that our Health Records be available in all Health Regions in BC, not just the Region you live in.
I didn’t realize that was the situation here and spoke on the scenario of what would happen if you had an emergency in an area outside of your home Health Region. It was well received and showed the importance of hearing the Patient’s voice in these scenarios and not just those from the Government.
Currently I am sitting on four different committees. The PVN Oversight & Advisory Council provides oversight on all the activities for the Patient Voices Network. For the BC Emergency Physician’s Network, I am working with a partner to update the Patient Information Sheets you are given when you are discharged from the ER. We are making sure the information you receive is clear, concise and correct.
The Laboratory Quality Control Committee is responsible for Quality Control of all Labs on Vancouver Island including all Medical Blood Collection sites. The last committee is dedicated to measuring and improving Quality within our Surgical group in BC.
I am absolutely thriving in my roles on these committees. It feels so good to be back in a position of giving, especially when I look back to 2009, when I first went on Disability and thought my life was over. My career meant everything to me – I was your typical Type A personality who put in long hours in the office and dedicated myself to my job.
Being forced out because of health problems was a huge blow to my ego and it took me to a dark place in my life for several months. I fell into a deep depression after a period of initial healing when I realized I had nothing to look forward to.
My days at that time consisted of sleeping with a little bit of Netflix thrown in, and my only outings were to see doctors. Pain was my constant companion and I honestly couldn’t have predicted things would get better.
It was only after I was able to start getting my pain under control that I was able to start seeing the light again. I am a positive person by nature, so that was a scary time for me. Once my pain became more manageable, I was able to start seeing things for what they really were.
Life wasn’t over, it was just different, and I was going to have to find a new normal.
My Chronic Fatigue meant that I wouldn’t be able to hold down a job again, but volunteering let’s me set my own pace and fits into my schedule perfectly.
Most committee meetings last 2 hours and when I do need to travel, I make sure I build in rest time before each trip to prepare and after each trip to recuperate. If I’m attending a conference, I find ways to build in rest time there as well – a nap at lunch time, early to bed each night, and sleep as late as I can before seminars start in the morning.
I have been blessed with a good life. I refuse to complain about the conditions I live with or play the “why me” game. Why not me? Why should I be spared life’s problems? I’ve learned to live with grace – I’m a Christ Follower and my faith plays a huge part in coping with everything as well.
I have the love and support of my husband and family, I have good friends around me and the support of the people I volunteer with. I’ve been able to carve out the perfect fit in my life for the work I love doing while minding my health at the same time so I think I’ve done a great job at building a thriving life.
My advice for others who are struggling is to learn acceptance of your circumstances, and then to figure out what you CAN do in the situation you’re in.
You may not be able to do the physical things you did before, but there are lots of things you are still quite capable of. If you want to be a Patient Partner, start by contacting your local Health Authority or Hospital and asking them if they use Patients as Advocates in Health Care, and how you can get involved. Contact your local charities to see if they need volunteers.
Think of your passions and then determine how a volunteer opportunity might be possible that corresponds.
Life is for the living and you’re only living when your heart is truly beating, not just going through the motions.
I hope my story inspires others to re-examine their own lives and to make sure they are thriving. And as I say on my website all the time…
There is always hope!
My name is Pamela Jessen, and I live in Langford, BC, just outside of Victoria. I am happily married to my amazing husband Ray, we are proud parents of 2 grown kids and three wonderful grandsons.
I am formerly employed as an Administrative Specialist and am a Certified Event Planner. With my career behind me and now being on Long Term Disability, I am a blogger who writes about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illness. My blog is called There Is Always Hope and can be found at https://pamelajessen.com .
I am currently a Moderator for a blogging group on Facebook called Sharing Inspiring Promoting Bloggers. In addition to blogging, I am an active volunteer with the Patient Voices Network, an organization in British Columbia that gives ordinary people the ability to have a say in how healthcare is delivered in our province. I currently sit on 4 different committees.
Outside of PVN, I have also done volunteer work for Island Health as a Patient Advisor, I was on the Advisory Committee for Opioid Guidelines in Canada, and I recently gave my time to the Downtown Victoria Business Association’s Busker Festival I love to craft and create, play on the computer, write short stories and poetry and I enjoy reading True Crime and Biographies. Despite my daily pain, I am living a blessed life.
Connect with Pamela
Website: There is Always Hope