Health Mentor – Season One – Episode 1 – Jennifer

By: Jennifer Ladrillo

For years following my diagnosis, I believed that the only way I could find a job and truly be able to build a genuine, solid foundation for my career, was if I kept my “disability” a secret. I thought that in doing so, I would be protected from people judging me as “un-fit”, and from pitying me in any way. Now though, 14 years later, I am not only happy, but eager to tell my story to people (strangers at that!), openly and honestly – no holds barred!

How had I come to be here?

A girlfriend and past co-worker of mine told me she was inspired to take the Health Mentorship course because of me; as she had seen the obstacles I faced balancing my health, work, social life, and everything in between. After taking the course she approached me, asking whether or not I would be interested in taking part as a mentor – the timing could not have been more perfect. I had made great strides from grieving the loss of my old self, and not only accepting, but actually embracing the life I now had. The challenges I had faced and always struggled not to be defeated by, now filled me with a sense of pride and empowerment as an adult.

I was so nervous getting ready for the first session, fussing over ridiculous details like my hair, and what shoes to wear; and it felt a little surreal being back on campus, but not as a student. I had decided beforehand that if I was going to take part in this program, there was no other way to do it than to be fully open and honest. So I did my best to relax, be myself, and just share my story. The students were really friendly, and many were actually not much younger than me. Part way through my talk, I stopped to ask the students if they had any questions, and one of them pointed out how the stories I told centered on how different health professionals made me feel, citing the famous quote:

“People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

Upon further reflection, I realized how interesting that was. There are so many major parts of my journey that would naturally make sense to highlight, but those were not the stories I ended up telling. Instead I spoke of various interactions and connections I made with my health practitioners – good and bad!

One question that surprised me was, “Now that you are much better, what do you do for fun?”

It really made me smile. This is it, I thought, this is why I wanted to be here; why I think this course is so important. I wanted to convey the message that the most helpful thing a health practitioner can do is to connect with their patients, not simply treat them like just a number. To understand that a patient’s needs go beyond the existence of the physical ailments, to how these ailments actually affect the emotional and everyday stuff…like what you do to have fun!

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