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Celebrity cancer survivor creates patient gift registry

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
Diem Brown, MedGift, ovarian cancer, cancer survivor, gift registry

Five years ago, Diem Brown experienced both extreme joy and deep despair. At age 23, she had recently landed her dream job as a freelance reporter for Associated Press and shortly thereafter, she was casted to compete on MTV’s Real World/Road Rules Challenge show. One month later, tragedy struck: she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, an often fatal disease.

Despite the devastating diagnosis, Diem decided to forge ahead and participate in Real World/Road Rules Challenge. However, after the show concluded, she experienced depression and a sense of helplessness; she was forced to deal with the impact of chemotherapy, expensive medical bills, and loss of her hair. She noted that when she went wig shopping, she was shocked by their cost. Thus, she was subjected to severe emotional and financial challenges. Friends and family came forward with offers of help; however, Diem did not possess the means to accept, organize, and keep track of the offers. Her dilemma gave birth to the concept of MedGift.

Now cancer-free, Diem is using her fame for a project very close to her heart. She created MedGift.com, the first-ever patient gift registry for hospitalized individuals. She explained that when a friend is getting married or pregnant, online registries are available to streamline the gift-giving; however, no gift registry was available for hospitalized patients. Patient registries on MedGift.com are verified via the patient’s hospital bill. Friends and family can log on to donate a wide variety of items, including money for hospital bills, groceries, and medical equipment. In addition they can donate non-monetary items such as visits, letters, and prayers. Diem explained, “Any item that can help reduce one ounce of stress, they can register for it… It takes the pride out of asking for help.”

The unique gift registry not only serves as a vehicle to assist patients with their needs but also incorporates the benefits of social media. MedGift provides a community of support for patients and an online listing of a patient’s specific Needs, Wants, and Wishes during treatment and recovery, similar to any other gift registry.

The Needs section enables the patient to request assistance with personal medical expenses related to treatment and recovery. At some MedGift-affiliated healthcare facilities, supporters can securely submit PayPal or credit card payments and have them post against the patient's account, directly through the MedGift Site.

The Wants section lists items the patient wants that can be purchased with a gift card, such as a new wig, magazine subscriptions, medical devices, or meals to support the family.

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The Wishes section includes items that provide emotional or practical support, such as prayers, child care, shopping assistance, visits, and transportation to appointments.

The social networking arm of Diem’s Web site provides patients with reassurance that they are not alone in their struggle. Patients can communicate with their loved ones and share updates on their healthcare, celebrate daily victories, and receive comfort to help relieve the challenges that come with illness and recovery.

According to UCLA Health System, ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer among women, and it causes more deaths than any other type of female reproductive cancer. Although the cause is known, certain factors can increase the risk. The more children a woman has and the earlier in life she gives birth, the lower her risk for ovarian cancer. Certain genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) are responsible for a small number of ovarian cancer cases. Women with a personal history of breast cancer or a family history of breast or ovarian cancer have an increased risk for ovarian cancer.

Older women are at highest risk. About two-thirds of the deaths from ovarian cancer occur in women age 55 and older. About 25% of ovarian cancer deaths occur in women ages 35 - 54. Women who take estrogen replacement only (not with progesterone) for five or more years may have a higher risk of ovarian cancer. In contrast, birth control pills decrease the risk of ovarian cancer. More recent studies suggest that fertility drugs do not increase the risk for ovarian cancer.

Contributing to its high mortality rate is the fact that early symptoms are often vague and not worrisome. Often the women and their physicians will attribute them to common conditions that are not serious. Often, the diagnosis is made after the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries (metastasized).

Symptoms of early-stage ovarian cancer include bloating, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and pelvic or abdominal pain. A pelvic examination can detect an enlarged ovary, which might be malignant. An ultrasound exam can noninvasively evaluate an enlarged ovary to assess cancer risk. If the risk is deemed to be low, a repeat scan can clarify the situation. In many cases, the cyst will have resolved.

Reference: MedGift.com