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The Power of Shared Experiences in Shaping Healthcare

Recently, I had the privilege of addressing the University of Toronto's Temerty Faculty of Medicine Students at the Mental Health & Addictions Conference, where I shared my journey with addiction, mental illness, and navigating the Canadian healthcare system while battling an undiagnosed rare disease. Reflecting on that discussion, I'm reminded of the profound impact shared experiences can have on shaping the future of healthcare.


Emily Foucault speaking U of T

In my talk, I recounted my struggles with alcohol use disorder (AUD) and the toxic culture of the marketing and media industry, where alcohol consumption was normalized and support for mental health was lacking. I vividly described the sponsored bar carts rolling into the office every Friday, perpetuating a cycle of addiction and exacerbating my struggles.


But amidst the darkness, there were moments of light. I shared the pivotal role my family doctor played in my journey, providing unwavering compassion and guidance, even when I felt lost and alone.


One striking moment that I shared was when I was at my sickest, and despite significant findings, a specialist dismissed my symptoms as psychosomatic and suggested I go on a meditation retreat to get better. This dismissive attitude was not only frustrating but showcases the neglect in our system and underscored the urgent need for greater awareness and understanding of complex diseases within the medical community.


Emily Foucault letter from specialist

Throughout my journey this was a constant theme, not being believed, people and specialists attributing my symptoms to stress or anxiety for most of my life contributing to complex PTSD and major depression.


However my family doctor refused to accept their dismissive attitudes, advocating tirelessly on my behalf, ensuring I received the care and support I deserved, even when others doubted the validity of my illness. This was tremendously important to me on my journey, as I had been called a hypochondriac for most of my life, not believed by the people closest to me, the ones who were supposed to protect me. It was her unwavering belief in me that gave me the strength to keep fighting, and moving forward even when the odds seemed stacked against me.


These personal memories underscore a broader truth: the importance of empathy, compassion, and personalized care in healthcare. Speaking with these medical students, I emphasized that each of them has the power to make a tangible difference in the lives of their patients.

By embracing the uniqueness of each individual's needs and advocating for compassionate care, they can help shape a future where every patient feels seen, heard, and supported. Something I longed for in my journey.

My journey also shed light on the systemic barriers that often leave patients feeling unsupported and abandoned. From dismissive specialists to bureaucratic red tape, I encountered numerous obstacles on my path. These challenges highlight the urgent need for systemic change and greater awareness of complex diseases like adenomyosis, mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) and chronic fatigue syndrome/Myalgic encephalomyelitis that are going undiagnosed and becoming more common.


But amidst the struggles, there is hope. Hope in the form of shared experiences that spark conversations and drive meaningful change. By sharing our stories and advocating for those who cannot, we can work together to create a healthcare system that works for everyone.


As I look to the future, I am filled with optimism. With each story shared, each barrier broken, we move one step closer to realizing a vision of healthcare that prioritizes empathy, compassion, and personalized care.


We live in a society where the need for compassionate, individualized care has never been greater. With stats showing the prevalence of mental illness and knowing it’s a lifelong illness and the struggles many face in accessing healthcare, the role of family doctors becomes increasingly vital.

I encourage you to share your story, listen to someone’s story, ask questions, challenge the status quo and above all lead with kindness and compassion because you never know what someone is going through. And know that the only way is through. I’m grateful to the University of Toronto's Department of Community and Family Medicine for asking me to share my story as a Patient Partner, and I look forward to more patients and specialists working together for the future of a better healthcare system that works for all.


Be Well,

Emily

xo

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