Saying those words out loud sounds really weird to me. I never set out to be a "health activist" when I started blogging over three years ago but today that is exactly what I was called. I spoke on a panel at the 9th Public Relations and Communications Summit in Boston along with two other health activists. I was invited by Wego Health to be a part of this panel and even when I saw the words up on the screen I still chuckled to myself and thought. . . "health activist?!"
I felt so honored to be asked to speak at this conference. I looked out at the room filled with people and thought "these people really paid all this money to attend this conference and they are looking forward to hearing me speak?" I had been told by several people that they were excited for this portion of the conference. This surprised me especially knowing the we were following the amazing Dick Hoyt.
I wasn't nervous. I've done plenty of public speaking in my day. I enjoy it. Especially when it is speaking about a topic I am so passionate about. But today for the first time something happened that has never ever happened before. . . I cried. I should have know better when I agreed to share about this post. When I emailed the link to Jack (from Wego Health) I even told him that I still couldn't read the post without crying and if he felt it was too sad he could use this post instead. Why didn't I know better at that moment!?
We all knew what to expect. We knew what questions we would be asked. Jack had prepared us and even asked us to send him links to blog posts pertaining to our answers which were then displayed on slides for the audience to see. After a short introduction it was time for the questions.
"What post - any kind of content - got the most response, attention or shares?
Why do you think that happen?"
I started sharing about this post and why it was special to me and that is when it happened. I got choked up. What the heck? This has never happen to me! I paused, took a deep breath and tried to compose myself. I was SO embarrassed. I couldn't believe this was the first impression I was making on this audience. I mean really! With a shaky voice I shared about hope. I shared that Annette couldn't have hope because when she was diagnosed she had no treatment options but when I was diagnosed I was lucky because there were several and now even more today including brand new oral treatment options. I have hope. This is what keeps me going.
I shared that this post inspired many people to donate to my Challenge Walk fundraising efforts - many of them first time donors. Not only had I raised awareness about MS with this post but I had raised money which will hopefully lead to a cure.
I think this post got the response it did because I was sincere, honest, vulnerable. . . and HOPEFUL.
The panel continued answering the questions and I fully recovered and composed myself for the remaining questions. Hopefully I redeemed myself to the audience too!?
As I was driving home I thought more about why this had happened to me. I hardly ever cry. I'm not a crier. Especially in public when I am attempting to present myself in a professional manner! I didn't cry because I am sad. I didn't cry because I am scared. I didn't cry because I'm worried about dying from MS. . . I cried because I am grateful. Grateful that I CAN have hope. I cried because I feel so fortunate to live in a city with excellent medical care. I feel fortunate to have good health insurance. I feel fortunate to have treatment options that have likely contributed to no relapses since my original diagnosis. I feel fortunate for all of these things. So believe it or not my tears were happy tears. But I still feel a little embarrassed.
Upon leaving the conference room an audience member was waiting outside (another speaker went up to the stage and started immediately so audience members did have a break) to tell me and the other two panel members how much he appreciated hearing from us. He said we were really good and thanked us. Wow, really? You liked us? Me?!
On the walk back to my car I pulled out my iPhone and checked social media. It was actually my first time on twitter in many hours. Guess what? There were NUMEROUS tweets from audience members thanking us. Not only that but there were personal tweets to me. . .
Is this why I "got" MS? Maybe?! I've never been a "why me" type of person but maybe this is why. Maybe it is because I have a voice. I am a health activist!
Thank you to Jill, a Crohn's Health Activist, and Alicia, a Cancer Health Activist, my fellow panel members. It was an honor to sit next to both of you. I am quite impressed by what each of you do. Keep up the great work!
Thank you to Wego Health especially Jack for inviting me to speak. I am reminded of my place in this big, wide, chronic illness world. This is what I'm meant to do. I will continue to share my story even if it means crying in public!!!