Walking the Walk, Talking the Talk

 

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photo courtesy Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago @EpilepsyChicago.

Jack’s Army marched on Wheaton, Illinois, on Saturday, April 26. The Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago’s annual 5K walk/run was held in our own backyard at beautiful Cantigny Park. The weather cooperated, the sun smiled on all the walkers, and it was a great day.

For the first time Jack’s Army had a tent, which gave us the opportunity to pass out t-shirts, car magnets, and informational brochures. And, of course, it was great to get a chance to talk with people and tell them about KCNQ2-related epilepsy.

Many who stopped by were amazed at how quickly our organization has grown and how much impact we have made already. One family was eager to learn about KCNQ2 because their child had no diagnosis and had not been tested. It was great to be able to tell that family that there is now a rapid test available. Even just last year we would not have been able to offer that idea. Thanks, Dr. Cooper!

There is still much work to do to get the word out. Even within the epilepsy community in our own neighborhood, many people had not heard of Jack’s Army or KCNQ2-related epilepsy. Having a booth at this big event was a great asset to our cause.

We value the partnership between Jack’s Army and The Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago. which hosted the annual fun-filled 5K run/walk. With 1200 people walking, they broke attendance records–up 25% from 2013.

Two more Chicagoland Epilepsy walks are yet to come: May 3 in Libertyville and May 10, the largest of the three, downtown at Montrose Harbor. Need more reasons or locations to participate? Click here.

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The 5-Finger Response—Explaining KCNQ2

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Recently a hot topic popped up over at the Facebook page for KCNQ2 parents and caregivers. What do you say to questions and comments about your child who has KCNQ2-related epilepsy? How do you react to well-intended but unwanted advice such as “have you tried juicing?” How do you respond to observations that can send you into an emotional tailspin, such as “but he looks so normal?” What kind of answer do you give to the person who asks, “How’s your daughter doing?”

The parents had a lively discussion about their different responses for these kinds of questions. Approaches varied, but it was pretty much unanimous that the parent’s prerogative to respond or not respond always trumps the curiosity of the person asking.

While its true that parents and caregivers generally appreciate those who express concern for their child and want to be courteous and accommodating, sometimes the moment is not right or they just don’t have the spare energy to get into a conversation. One wise mom pointed out that being polite is not as important as preserving your sanity.

Perhaps the one question that most consistently flummoxed the parents was this: When someone inquires about the nature your child’s condition, how much of the complicated science do you try to explain? Many parents remarked that even when they did their best to give a crash course in KCNQ2 101, the reaction was often disappointing. Some people ask but don’t really want an answer, or aren’t prepared for a lengthy neurology seminar.

So here’s a handy tool for parents and caregivers to use when faced with the how-much-science question. I’m calling it the 5-Finger K-C-N-Q-2 response.

Keep it simple until you know that the person wants more detailed information. Don’t be a boring professor, trapping your audience in a lecture they didn’t realize they were signing up for. Instead, have an easy answer at the ready, such as: “Jack has a form of epilepsy caused by a genetic mutation that also affects development and muscle control.”

Check the interest level. Pause and assess whether the person is really concentrating. You might be done already. If you are, smile and thank the person for asking. Is he or she genuinely still engaged? Great! Continue with:

“No one fully understands the condition yet–it’s so new.” It doesn’t even have a proper name! This is a useful comment because it says that your child is a pioneer. He or she is not someone to feel sorry for, but someone remarkable whose case is helping to define the emerging science. The answer is honest and leaves room for people to take away a positive impression.

Question. Is the conversation still alive and kicking? You can ask, “Do you want to know more about the science?” If the answer is yes, …

“2” the website! Direct the person to www.Jacksarmy.org. If he or she is truly curious, the website will help you do the heavy lifting. You can mention the recent trip to the research lab at Baylor,  and that the media has recently taken an interest in KCNQ2-related epilepsy. There are some short news clip links on the website that tell the story. For those who want to get down to neurons and potassium channels, more detailed information is available, and we plan to add to our educational resources in the coming months. People who are genuinely motivated to understand your child’s condition can help spread the word, too.  Some may even want to know how they can offer financial support. The website can help with all of those interests.

In the meantime, if you are a parent of a child with KCNQ2-related epilepsy, continue to share your questions and frustrations and helpful suggestions over on the Facebook page. Having a private support group of parents who really understand is an important resource for you as you move forward.

 

 

 

 

Advice for KCNQ2 Parents: Steer a Middle Course

394555_4455083059183_529395712_nMy brother and his wife received some simple but powerful advice early on in their journey with Jack: “You need to avoid the high highs and the low lows,” one of Jack’s doctors told them. “Steer a middle course, and keep it steady.”

It’s easier said than done, of course, to maintain emotional equilibrium when you often don’t know which way is up. But I do think it is important and useful to think of that middle way, where a setback does not have to spell doom and a milestone achieved does not necessarily prove a miracle.

I revisit this advice a lot these days, for good reason. Many exciting developments are occurring for our fledgling KCNQ2 community: research is surging forward, the controversial cannabis-derivative therapies (from Charlotte’s Web to Epidiolex) are generating tantalizing anecdotes of relief and improvement (not to mention a ton of press that serves to increase public awareness of pediatric epilepsies), and our friend Scotty Sims’ Facebook page for KCNQ2 is welcoming new parents seemingly every day, who come together in that digital support group to share their stories, compare notes, and grow our database. Amidst this influx of new developments in the fight against KCNQ2-related epilepsy, it is perhaps wise to remember the importance of moderating expectations.

If you are a parent new to this diagnosis, especially if your child is very young, the amount of advice and information available now to you might seem overwhelming. By reading about a “miracle” marijuana cure or about the struggles of one or several older children on Facebook, you might be tempted to jump to all sorts of conclusions—positive or negative—about your child’s prognosis. But take one day at a time. Steer a middle course.

And if you are a parent whose child is a veteran KCNQ2 warrior, you can’t help but notice how different the situation is now.  A short time ago—not 24 months—we lived in the digital equivalent of radio silence about KCNQ2. Now there are multiple channels alive with conversation. Besides this website, our cause has a robust Facebook page and is on the news in Chicago, Houston, Denver, and other cities. It’s in newspapers—including this story about a boy named Eric with KCNQ2 encephalopathy we read about just yesterday, all the way from Ireland. You can learn about one family’s journey with KCNQ2 in Sara James Butcher’s new book An American in Oz and, in a more focused way, in the 30-minute documentary called A Place for Us run on Australian television. And perhaps most promising, my Google Alert that is set for KCNQ2 emails me multiple times a week about new research being published about this gene.

So steer a middle course, and know that the wind is blowing hard. We’re moving forward at quite a clip.