As a Patient Educator for the IPPF, I have the fantastic opportunity to travel around the country to different dental schools and give lectures on my journey with pemphigus vulgaris (PV). It’s an empowering experience to have a hundred people listen to my story at once. But it’s also important that the audience relates to me. I’m a person, not just a patient. I have to be open and honest about my journey. The audience must relate to the pain, suffering, sense of humor, and all the ups and downs of having PV in order to form a powerful memory. But how does this happen? How do I find unique ways to raise awareness not only in the classroom, but also on the trip to and from the university?
- Appearance matters – We’ve all heard our mothers tell us to put on clean underwear before leaving the house, right? This is no different. Looking tidy helps provide credibility. It also helps you to look engaging. Plus, the more you enjoy life, the more others will want to be around you.
- Don’t forget the Orange Sunglasses – The orange #healourskin sunglasses are a huge attention grabber. I wear mine EVERYWHERE! I keep them in the car, hang them from my collar, and wear them on top of my head. I wear them on vacation and around town. Many people have stopped me and asked, “What’s with the orange glasses?” It’s important to have a brief, but open answer to this question. Mine is, “You know the pink ribbons for breast cancer? Well, I have a rare autoimmune disease, and these are part of the campaign to raise awareness.” People usually follow up with, “What’s it called?” The conversation takes off from there. I also travel with a couple of extra pairs to give to people I meet along the way, and this leads to others inquiring about the glasses and PV.
- HI! – It’s the single, most important thing an advocate can say. It’s the door that opens communication with another person, group, or audience. It’s not intimidating for the listener, and most everybody smiles when they say it. Don’t forget to make eye contact, too.
- Be engaging – It’s important to not only talk, but also to listen. I don’t usually start off by talking about PV. Rather, I talk about the long line, the beautiful weather, or even a great piece of jewelry that somebody is wearing. Be aware of how people respond to you. While you may want to tell your life story, it can be overwhelming for some. Listen to their questions, and answer them honestly without over-sharing.
- Be Brave – This tactic works the same in the grocery store or at the park as it does on an airplane or at a university. Tell somebody about the glasses and ask if you can take their picture to use as part of the Awareness Campaign. When I fly, I usually ask the flight attendants to take a picture with the glasses. I explain that I’m traveling to lecture at a university and the glasses are part of the Awareness Campaign. What’s the worst that will happen? They’ll say no. In that case, I’ll smile, thank them kindly, and take my seat. I’ll probably never see them again anyway. But if they say yes, it opens a whole dialog. Sometimes, they even ask the pilots if I can take their picture once we’ve landed. I ask the same thing of the professors who invite me into their class. The Profs know I’m part of the Awareness Campaign and are usually happy to oblige. Once one person does it, others inquire about what’s going on. Each inquiry is an opportunity to spread awareness.
- Selfie-sticks – Ok, so maybe approaching others isn’t your thing. But I bet you’ve taken a selfie. Take your picture wearing the orange sunglasses while reading The Quarterly, petting the dog, holding a new baby, or with your best friend. Just don’t forget to post the pic with #healourskin!
There are opportunities to spread awareness everywhere. It just takes a moment to recognize and act on them.
There are also hundreds of other ways to be an advocate that I haven’t even thought of yet. That’s where you come in. Take my suggestions and run. I hope I’ve given you ideas of what you can do to help the IPPF spread the word. Put your unique spin on the Awareness Campaign. Please don’t forget to share your pictures – tag the IPPF and use the hash tag #healourskin. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!