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Miles for Migraine Raises Awareness, Research Funding

Miles for Migraine logoThrough Headache on the Hill, patients and healthcare providers lobby members of Congress each year to increase NIH funding for research into headache disorders. The first year, participants were told that they would have to raise “big noise” in their own communities to see a change. This is something people who advocate for more research funding hear often: lawmakers must believe that the people they represent care about migraine and other headache disorders. That is, we won’t get research funding until we raise awareness about the impact these illnesses on people’s lives.

Miles for Migraine Raises Awareness, Research Funding

In 2008, Eileen Jones decided to make big noise by founding Miles for Migraine. After attending the first Headache on the Hill in 2007, Eileen, a nurse who has migraine, founded Miles for Migraine to raise both funds for and awareness about migraine. Since the first race in San Francisco, Miles for Migraine has raised $79,000 for migraine research and advocacy. Their goal is to fund 30+ fellowships to train new doctors to become headache specialists. Prior funding recipients include:

Race Locations

That $79,000 is just the start. Last year, the race expanded to Philadelphia; this year, a race has been added in Chicago. Depending on the city, races range from one-mile walks to a full marathon. If you’re unable to participate in or attend a race, you can still get involved through Miles for Migraine’s virtual race.

Virtual Race

When Miles for Migraine comes up, people inevitably say that exercise is a migraine trigger, they’re too sick to exercise, or migraine makes their lives so unpredictable that they’re unlikely to be able to attend an organized event. I get this—all have been true for me at different times in my migraine life—and the people at Miles for Migraine get it, too. That’s where the virtual race comes in. You can recruit others to run for you, collect donations for a run/walk you do on your own (a short trip on the treadmill counts!), or you can fundraise without running at all. All those options raise both awareness of migraine’s impact on people’s lives and money for research and advocacy. Donations of at least $100 will get you a T-shirt and race goody bag. See Miles for Migraine’s virtual race on Crowdrise for more information.

2016 Miles for Migraine Races

  • San Francisco on Sunday, July 31: San Francisco Marathon (Mission Street & The Embarcadero); 5K Walk/Run, Half Marathon, Full Marathon
  • Chicago on Monday, September 5 (Labor Day): Naperville Last Fling (440 W. Aurora Avenue, Naperville, IL 60540); 1 Mile Run, 5K Run
  • Philadelphia on Saturday, October 8: Valley Green/Fairmount Park (120 W. North Western Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19118); 2 Mile Walk, 5K Run, 10k Run

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Migraine Stigma: The Paris Review’s Infuriating Contribution

“Everyone relishes a migraine. They have a literal aura! Migraines foster the sort of pure narcissism that only intense, essentially benign pain can. We sufferers (that’s how it’s described, “migraine sufferer”) feel it is meet and right that the migraine should be dramatized in films like Pi or White Heat; this strengthens the perception that migraines are the hallmark of geniuses, or at least psychopaths.

“[Joan Didion wrote,] ‘My husband also has migraine, which is unfortunate for him but fortunate for me: perhaps nothing so tends to prolong an attack as the accusing eye of someone who has never had a headache.’ I disagree. What migraine sufferer wants to share the limelight? After all, we all know in our hearts that no one in the history of the world has ever experienced basically unserious pain like we have.”

This excerpt from an article called Head Case appeared on the Paris Review’s blog. The first reading left me furious, but I thought I must have misunderstood the post. I read it repeatedly, trying to identify the satirical angle. I sent it to Hart to see if I’d missed something. Because the Paris Review wouldn’t publish something so trivializing of a disease that can be disabling. Right? Wrong!

My first reflections on Head Case overflowed with expletives and name-calling. That’s not my style, so I set the topic aside to revisit. Here’s what I came up with.

Writers write what they know. The writer includes herself among the “sufferers,” so I can only assume she’s writing about herself—that she relishes the attention she gets from migraine, that she thinks her pain is the worst in the world. Instead of owning her feelings, she projects them onto everyone who has migraine. Of she does. It’s far easier to claim everyone with migraine has such nasty thoughts than to admit that you alone are being a jerk.

Some people probably do relish the attention they receive when talking about migraine. Some do engage in one-upmanship (though I’ve only witnessed this on the internet, never in person). But these represent a tiny slice of people who have migraine. Most of us are nothing like this. Most don’t share our stories to get attention or prove our “genius.” We share our stories to show how incredibly difficult this disease can be to live with. We share our stories because so few people understand how disabling migraine can be.

Migraine stigma is so strong that some people, like the writer of the Paris Review post, internalize it. Instead of believing the severity of migraine attacks, they think they are exaggerating or lazy, that they’re making a big deal out of nothing. My personal experience has shown me this all too clearly. In July 2013, I wrote in a Migraine.com article called Internalizing the Stigma of Migraine:

“No matter how much I write about the needs of migraineurs and work to reduce its stigma, that very stigma has insinuated itself into my self-perception. It will continue to haunt me whenever I have a migraine attack until I accept in both my mind and heart that I am not deficient or lazy, but have an illness that is in no way a reflection of my personality, desires, or attitude.”

I wrote those words almost exactly 10 years after migraine rendered me unable to work and eight years after I started this blog. I didn’t apply migraine stigma to anyone else, only to myself—and did so for years after I knew intellectually it wasn’t true. I have finally shed that internalized stigma, but cannot forget how how fervently I once believed it.

After my initial draft of nastiness, I began to pity a person who would publish such hateful things about herself. I’m still angry and find her pitiful, but it is tinged with compassion and sadness. I feel for someone who turns on herself because she has internalized this stigma. I’m sad that so many of us have done just this. But my empathy only goes so far. I cannot forgive someone for furthering that stigma by publishing such vitriol on the website of a revered literary journal.

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Talking About Migraine at Work: Your Thoughts?

migraine-at-workWhat’s your take on this statement?: “The key to managing migraines and work is communication. It’s important to let coworkers and managers know about your condition and educate them about it.”

That comes from Migraine at Work on UCLA Health’s migraine information page. The article’s recommendations for “initiating effective communication” include (paraphrased):

  • Educate your coworkers—because they don’t know what migraine is, they don’t know how disabling an attack can be. The article recommends getting pamphlets from your doctor to share with coworkers.
  • Talk to your manager—to reduce triggers by modifying your work environment and gain access to a dark, quiet room during an attack.
  • Be honest—say that migraine attacks can be disabling and you hate to miss work. Tell coworkers that you miss out on fun activities, too, not just work.

I haven’t worked in an office in 13 years, but these recommendations strike me as idealistic and tone-deaf. Other than the suggestion to be honest that you don’t like to miss work because of a migraine attack, this advice raised more questions for me that it resolved: Is it really a good idea to tell your coworkers and manager that migraine attacks can be massively debilitating? Is a person with migraine responsible for educating coworkers? Will pamphlets be fodder for gossip? Do coworkers even listen to attempts at awareness-raising? Are managers receptive to requests for accommodations? Do coworkers care if your migraine attacks prevent you from enjoying leisure activities?

I’d love to know what you think. Please leave a comment below (or if you get posts by email, reply to the email with your response).

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Soaring Prescription Drug Prices: Pharmaceutical Companies Pressured to Justify Pricing

Drug Prices Soar, Prompting Calls for Justification

prescription_drug_pricesWhat a welcome headline from the New York Times. The cash prices of prescription drugs have always seemed eye-poppingly expensive, but in recent years, the pricing is closer to heart-stoppingly exorbitant. (Obviously that’s hyperbole, but it feels close to the truth. I’ve been researching triptan costs this week. Treximet, a combination of a (relatively) inexpensive generic triptan and an OTC painkiller, costs $71.10 per pill! That’s with a discount with a prescription card.)

Pressure is mounting for pharmaceutical companies to disclose drug development costs, profits for specific medications, and how prices are set, according to the New York Times article. It’s coming from a wide range of sources: doctors, patients, patient organizations, state and federal politicians, the U.A.W. Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, and even Bill Clinton. At least six states have introduced bills in the last year to require drug companies to justify pricing.

More than 100 prominent oncologists call for a grassroots movement to stop the rapid price increases of cancer drugs in an article that will be published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings tomorrow. “There is no relief in sight because drug companies keep challenging the market with even higher prices. This raises the question of whether current pricing of cancer drugs is based on reasonable expectation of return on investment or whether it is based on what prices the market can bear,” they wrote. Although the focus is cancer drugs, these problems apply to all prescription drugs.

Unsurprisingly, pharmaceutical and biotech companies are balking. You’ve heard the explanations: research and development is expensive, something has to cover the cost of all the drugs that don’t make it to market, and  drugs can lower health care spending in other areas. That’s not the whole story, of course. This anonymous comment from the director of a multiple sclerosis drug developer is telling: “We all look at each other and keep pace with each other. Honestly, there is no science to it.” There’s also the fact that Medicare is legally barred from negotiating drug prices—they must pay whatever drug companies charge.

I’m probably more sympathetic to pharmaceutical companies than many patients are. Drug development is expensive and some drugs have a narrow market limited by a small number of patients with a disease. Publicly traded companies have to earn profits.

And yet. How much of pricing is determined by the fact that the person recommending the drug and the one taking the drug usually don’t even know how much it costs? How much of it is price gouging simply for the sake that it can be done? This article only addresses brand name prescription drugs; generic drug prices are also ridiculously high (and rising).

The media has been covering high prescription drug prices with increasing alarm over the last few years. This coverage and awareness-raising are critical first steps, but what do we do next? How can patients fight back? We can sign this petition, which is focused on cancer drugs, and email our state and federal representatives. But what else? I want to DO something, not wait for lawmakers to maybe, hopefully fix the problem. Boycotting the drugs feels like our only potential source of power. Even the most principled of us are unlikely to forgo medication we need to function or live to make a point. I feel trapped and powerless… which, for pharmaceutical companies, is the perfect place for patients to be.

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Showing Others What Migraine is Like in a Game

14 DaysWe’ve all wished we could place someone else in our migraine shoes so they can see what it’s really like to juggle the demands of the illness. 14 Days, a tabletop game, is attempting to do just that. In this two-person game, players try to manage their time and responsibilities in a two-week period never knowing when a migraine will strike. When a migraine hits, they then have to decide if it’s worth taking meds from a limited supply and what falls through the cracks.

14 Days is a narrative game. The Kickstarter description explains it as: “On migraine days, the other player will ask you a question about how migraines impacted your day. Something like, ‘Who felt let down by you today?’ ‘What promise did you make to yourself today?’ and ‘What new ‘cure’ did someone share with you today?'” Reading that description, I thought, A game that requires me think about how I let people down? No thanks, I already do that every day. But my gut reaction was overshadowed by the games tremendous potential for awareness-raising.

The game provides the chance to really talk about the difficulties of managing migraine (or many other chronic illnesses) and to let someone experience, to a small extent, the daily frustrations we face. Then it encourages players to talk about the impact of migraine and how we cope. In an interview I did with Hannah Shaffer, the game designer, she said that playtesting the game has helped her talk about migraine in ways she never could before.

All that and the game looks like it will be fun, the artwork is gorgeous, and it helps support another person with migraine who is doing great work to raise awareness.

Learn more about the game and hear more from Hannah in my writeup on Migraine.com: Putting Others in Your Migraine Shoes… With a Game. The Kickstarter campaign for 14 Days runs through July 28—just four more days. Pledging $8 will get you a PDF copy of the game when it is released; $25 will get you a full boxed version. With 259 backers, Hannah and her team have met their initial goal; now their stretch goals are within reach. Even if supporting the game isn’t in your budget right now, it’s worth taking a look at this creative approach to raising awareness about the impact of migraine.