Head Up; Heart Strong #MedX



Images by Gilles Frydman


As I waited nervously back-stage to deliver my Ignite speech at the Stanford Medicine X conference last week, I watched the speaker before me on the monitor. His name was Matthew Dudley, a family medicine trained physician, who was sharing his story of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and his stem cell transplant.  His story was searingly honest and when he finished there wasn’t a dry eye in the building. I brushed my own tears away from my eyes and gave Matt a big hug as he came backstage. The only way I made it on the front stage was to repeat the following words from his speech

Head Up; Heart Strong

Head up; heart strong – these words have echoed through my head and heart on the long plane ride home and are still echoing now.  I’ve been to many, many conferences in the past few years, but believe me this conference is like no other. I’ve been accused of becoming a Med X evangelist on Twitter, but it’s hard not to be when for the first time ever you witness patients accorded VIP status; patients being listened to and their self-care made a priority.  I’ve never been at a conference where patients take center stage  – I’m used to being the token patient when I speak as a patient advocate at conferences. And each and every one of these patients are articulate, impassioned, and powerful speakers – heads up and hearts strong, brave enough to be vulnerable. I learned that admitting our weaknesses can unite us; making ourselves vulnerable can be a powerful way to cut to the truth of our shared human experience.

There is so much I want to tell you about the people I met and the experiences I had, but the thoughts are crowding my mind such that I can’t get them all down fast enough. For now I will content myself with this brief post and will come back and add more impressions later.

I am indebted to Gilles Frydman, co-founder with Roni Zeiger of Smart Patients who took these pictures of myself and Matt sharing our stories with the following observation:

“This couple of photos of e-patients presenters at Stanford Medicine X reminded me of Susan Sontag’s quote:

To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.

The active presence of all the e-patients make Medicine X different on so many levels. I’m convinced that the repeated vision of forceful people telling their medical stories, and showing us, in parallel, how they looked at some of their most difficult moments, profoundly changes not just the content but also the entire dynamic of the conference.”