Meet Dawn Green: Turning My Pain Into Purpose
Here at the Autoimmune Association, we often hear about long and frustrating diagnostic journeys. On average, patients see four physicians over 4.5 years before receiving a diagnosis and beginning treatment. Dawn Green is beyond average. Dawn, a former librarian, spent an astounding 35 years going from doctor to doctor before being diagnosed with stage 5 Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune thyroid disease with systemic symptoms. She had to resign from her teaching career — a job she loved — with only four years left until retirement because her symptoms were so severe, and without a diagnosis, she was unable to treat or control them.
Finally, a diagnosis. And then more roadblocks.
When Dawn was finally diagnosed, her doctor was shocked to see a giant grin come across her face. Dawn was excited and grateful to finally be “seen” by her medical professional. For years, she had repeatedly shared her symptoms with several doctors in the desperate hope of getting answers. She knew her body wasn’t functioning properly, and she feared she might never get the help she needed. During one particularly frustrating appointment, she not only felt unheard but also ignored. She broke down in tears, and her doctor sent her to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist encouraged more testing to be done but to no avail.
After Dawn’s initial diagnosis, she sought help from other doctors concerned about the progression of her symptoms, which were creating additional health problems. Further testing revealed that Dawn was also suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, polycystic ovary syndrome, late-stage osteoporosis, Raynaud’s phenomenon, and liver disease.
Unfortunately, despite many promises from doctors, she has not been able to get the individualized care she needs to relieve her daily symptoms. The only thing offered to Dawn was pain medication, which she declined because she worried about dulling her senses.
Dawn, the librarian: Personalized research
While medical science has let her down, as a former librarian, Dawn has feverishly sought ways to help herself. She spent a considerable amount of time researching the effects of food on her body and various modalities that could improve her quality of life. Using online databases and peer-reviewed articles, Dawn has spent more than 20,000 hours finding hope and help on her own. She has found a routine that works for her: daily time in an infrared sauna, eating only raw food, utilizing essential oils, using only natural products around her house and on/in her body (including hair and skincare), and enjoying frequent Epsom salt baths. Dawn still feels sick on this rigorous schedule. However, If Dawn deviates from her schedule, she almost immediately feels sicker.
Turning her pain into purpose
Dawn recently wrote and published her memoir titled “Facing My Giants: Overcoming Obstacles for Optimal Health,” where she shares her journey and serves as a beacon of hope for those who have not been heard or have been unable to tell their story yet. Additionally, she created a website as another resource for the autoimmune community. An excerpt of the first chapter of her book can be read there, along with more of her story.
Throughout her journey, Dawn has gathered several tips to share with other autoimmune patients, some of which she shares here.
Dawn’s recommendation #1: Find what works for you
Dawn made changes out of desperation but doesn’t universally recommend them. Her advice? “Don’t do what I’ve done. Find what works specifically for you and keep trying until you can at least sustain yourself, if not feel better.”
Dawn’s recommendation #2: Keep a journal
From the first day of her diagnosis in 2015 until today, Dawn has kept a journal of her symptoms and how food, stress, and the environment have affected her. By paying attention to your body and learning what impacts your symptoms, you can have direct data to show your doctors.
For years, Dawn would tell her doctors what she was going through and get blank stares. They weren’t hearing her. So, she started bringing them journal entries and even photos. This direct evidence led one doctor to put her on pharmaceutical grade enzymes, which she still takes seven years later.
Dawn also learned that many components within your body are replaced or changed every three months. This is why doctors often request follow-up labs or visits at this same frequency. So, she keeps an eye out for how any changes she makes are affecting her three months later.
Dawn’s recommendation #3: Have a script
When talking to your doctors, have a script. They don’t hear emotions. Type or write out a script before your appointment with facts only – “This is what’s happening, this is what I experienced on this date, what do you think of that?”
Dawn’s recommendation #4: Don’t give up!
If one doctor doesn’t hear you or can’t help you, find another, and another, and another until you get the support you need. Bring someone with you to your appointments who can be objective, such as a family member, a friend, or a patient advocate.
Dawn’s recommendation #5: Find something you love
When dealing with a flare, try to find something you love to distract you. It can be small and doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, but it should bring you joy. Some examples from Dawn include creating handmade cards, learning a new language, connecting with people online (or in person!), reading, or watching a good TV show or movie.
Spreading hope to the community
Dawn’s main takeaway from her experiences is that we must find hope, even if it’s small. She implores everyone living with an autoimmune disease to not give up. Dawn’s message to the autoimmune community is: “Your life is valuable, you are important, you’re special. You are not your sickness.” Finally, she shares her personal life motto: “You, too, can heal.”
Learn more about Dawn Green, her autoimmune journey, and her memoir at her website, greenlivinginc.com.
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