An estimated 25 million Americans have what is considered a “rare disease.” I am one of those
lucky few people. Actually, a whopping 5 of my diagnosed conditions are considered rare: Trigeminal Neuralgia, Sjogrens, Vasculitis, Gastroparesis/IBS and the “Big One:” Relapsing Polychondritis. To be qualified as “rare” the disease has to effect fewer than 200,000 people. Relapsing Polychondritis effects only 3.5 people per million, making it an extremely rare disease. Yippee!
Why is it important for you to be aware of rare diseases? We all know someone with a rare illness, even if you don’t realize it… for many it is as close as a dear loved one, for others, a co-worker or neighbor. Rare diseases impacts us all. 1 in 10 Americans has a rare disease. Many are disease names that would sound completely foreign. But others are startling familiar; all but a few cancers are considered “rare.”
The biggest challenge of living with a rare disease is treatment. Very little research is done on rare diseases and therefore most treatment options are considered “off-label.” More and more insurance agencies (especially Medicare and Medicaid) are beginning to deny these treatment options. I am all too familiar with this struggle:
One year ago, I started an infusion (IV) therapy that was showing remarkable progress in the decrease of my symptoms and increase in my quality of life. I was hopeful about my disease and the possibility of remission for the first time in a long time. Then on the eve of my third treatment, the doctor notified me that my insurance decided to deny the treatment because they could not find any research on record of it being effective (obviously!). They not only halted all future treatments, they retroactively denied the treatments that had already been given, totally ~ $7000!
I have tried to appeal this decision, get help from government agencies and representatives, receive grant or medical support funding, and to find clinical trials I qualify for. All to no avail. There are many trials being conducted with this particular medicine, but all are on already studied and established diseases.
Beginning this calendar year, I have run into the same situation, but now with drug options that I have been receiving for long periods of time, all shown to be effective in my individual care. But these documented facts are not being taken into account. And my medical insurance is either denying them, or placing such high deductible payments on the prescriptions that I can no longer afford them.
For some reason, the insurance community has yet to recognize that by denying these effective, albeit unstudied treatment options, it is only increasing the cost of medical care in the long-term as my, and millions of others, diseases rage out of control.
This same situation is happening to millions of Americans. Most likely someone you know has experienced this. We all know someone battling a rare illness, even if they are living in silence with it. Currently, there are about 7000 rare diseases… and less than 400 FDA-approved treatments. Just pause and think about the impact of that for a moment.
This is why rare diseases are often referred to as “orphan diseases.” For we have been abandoned by the medical, insurance, and pharmaceutical communities.
People with rare diseases have difficulty obtaining an accurate diagnosis, and oftentimes wait 3-6 years to receive any diagnosis. But that’s just the first hurdle, because once a diagnosis is given, it can be even more difficult to find a doctor with experience and knowledge to treat the disease. For me, I have to see a myriad of specialists who each treat one part of my disease, or one set of symptoms. They rarely communicate with each other (if at all) and no one doctor is looking at the “whole picture.” Many times, I am the one educating the medical provider on my disease. This puts a lot of pressure on the patient to be their own advocate and teacher. It’s exhausting!
This can all begin to feel overwhelming. And you may be wondering how on earth you can even make a dent in this problem.
Well, today is National Rare Disease Day. An event that is really only in its infancy, but growing globally every year. It began in Europe in 2008 and the US adopted it in 2009. It is sponsored by NORD (National Organization for Rare Diseases), who since 1983, has been the biggest proponent in the advancement of research and treatment develop for rare diseases.
This year’s focus is on recognizing the stories of those living with and alongside rare diseases.
For the biggest challenge of living with a rare disease, is not the lack of medical care, or knowledge and accessibility in the medical community… It’s actually the feeling of isolation that comes along with these rare diagnoses.
But, by sharing the stories, your own or that of a loved one; by posting them on social media; and publicly showing support for all of the 1 in 10 Americans diagnosed with a Rare Illness, you are shining a light of love, support and hope on all of us.
By bonding together, through not our individual disease, but through the collective difficulties and trials that come along with a “Rare Disease,” WE are no longer alone. WE are no longer isolated.
As the NORD motto states: “ALONE WE ARE RARE. TOGETHER WE ARE STRONG.”
You have all given me that gift over the year and a half that I have shared my journey through this blog. Thank you for that .
For today celebrates not only the super human strength of those who get up to face each day despite the challenge of their disease, it also celebrates YOU… the caregivers, spouses, medical providers, friends, and co-workers who support us and carry us through. And it is for the anonymous “kind strangers” that open the doors when we’re struggling and give us smiles of encouragement. Today is for ALL of us. For Rare Disease is not an individual problem, it is an American Problem.
Rare Disease Day Video (watch, post and share!)
To find out more about Rare Disease and ways you can help, follow the links in this blog and below:
Dr David Trentham (article on Relapsing Polychondritis by leading physician for disease)