Coping with Chronic Disease: A Self-Management Approach


It is difficult to comprehend the full impact chronic health issues can have one’s life. Chronic conditions are usually invisible, and people who live with one often feel judged and misunderstood.

“Many people do not realize that a chronic disease is any health condition that is long-term in nature,” says Melanie Hiscock, self-management coordinator with the Chronic Disease Prevention and Management Division at Eastern Health. “Constant pain, for example, is considered a chronic disease. Irritable bowel syndrome, mental illness, post-traumatic stress (PTS) disorder, cervical stenosis and diverticulitis, to name a few, also fit this category,” Melanie explains.

Melanie Hiscock, self-management coordinator with the Chronic Disease Prevention and Management Division of Eastern Health

Melanie Hiscock, self-management coordinator with the Chronic Disease Prevention and Management Division of Eastern Health

Chronic disease is a growing problem, and one of the reasons why Eastern Health developed a Chronic Disease Prevention and Management (CDPM) Strategy, to help our population be and stay healthy. It is estimated that 59 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans today live with at least one form of chronic condition, such as arthritis, high blood pressure or diabetes among others.

Melanie herself has first-hand experience with chronic illness. In 2002, she was involved in a car accident that ended her career as a competitive athlete, and another car accident in 2013 that further changed her lifestyle. Besides the resulting emotional devastation, the accidents left her with chronic pain and other ongoing symptoms.

Melanie, who holds a Master of Science in Kinesiology degree which specialized in Sport Psychology, shifted gears to focus not only on self-healing, but at the time of her first accident, she started to work with athletes to help them prepare for competition.

Melanie Hiscock in Canadian National Fitness Competition performing her signature move: ‘No leg push-up,’ 2001. Photo by Yves Desbiens.

Melanie Hiscock in Canadian National Fitness Competition performing her signature move: ‘No leg push-up,’ 2001. Photo by Yves Desbiens.

In 2012, Melanie learned about the Chronic Disease Prevention and Management Strategy, including a series of workshops called Improving Health: My Way, which were going to be offered across the province to help people cope with chronic disease. “The skills in these workshops were largely the same used to help enhance athlete performance, but within the context of chronic conditions,” says Melanie. “I was immediately interested. I felt I had found my calling!”

Since then, Melanie has been promoting, coordinating and facilitating the Improving Health: My Way workshops. The sessions use self-management education to create a positive impact on both the health status and behavioural outcomes of people living with enduring illnesses.

“We aim to teach individuals how to live well and healthier within their chronic health situations – how to deal with related challenges, and how to better communicate their needs with their health providers, family and friends,” Melanie says.

So how does it work?

“The Improving Health: My Way workshops are delivered in sessions of 2.5 hours for six weeks, and are facilitated by two trained lay leaders, one of which has a chronic condition or is a caregiver for someone who lives with one,” Melanie says.

Lay leaders are comprised of a combination of Eastern Health employees and community members. To date, Eastern Health has 31 active leaders and 14 more in progress to become fully certified.

Lay leader training in Holyrood, June 2015. (L-r): Trena Snook; Tony Reardon; Gwen; Sharon Bes; Ethel Hillier; Cathy Blundon; Master Trainers Melisa L. Edwards and Dawn Gallant; Sue Leanne Drodge; Christine Boland; Joan Butler and Lisa Stagg. (Carl George.)

Lay leader training in Holyrood, June 2015. (L-r): Trena Snook; Tony Reardon; Gwen; Sharon Bes; Ethel Hillier; Cathy Blundon; Master Trainers Melisa L. Edwards and Dawn Gallant; Sue Leanne Drodge; Christine Boland; Joan Butler and Lisa Stagg (missing from photo: Carl George).

The results have been outstanding. To date, 500 people within the Eastern Health region – and over 1,300 people province-wide – have completed the free workshops!

The self-management workshops teach individuals how to control many of the symptoms they experience, and even reduce their severity.

Melanie warns that although the workshops enhance medical treatment, they are in no way a substitute for professional medical advice.

“Participants will learn how to make action plans, use their mind to manage symptoms and get a good-night’s sleep, problem-solve, manage weight, deal with difficult emotions, prevent falls as well as to make informed treatment decisions,”

“Many participants learn how to accept their diagnosis, and the things they can no longer do,” she adds.

The supportive atmosphere of the sessions is just as critical. “People have expressed they feel a sense of inclusion, many for the first time in their lives.

“The group experience, although not always measurable, can be instrumental in change; and in this case, much more powerful than learning in isolation,” Melanie says.

“Like anyone who suffers from a chronic pain or other chronic condition, I have always struggled with my situation. I always wished there was someone I could talk to who would completely understand my frustrations. Signing up for the Self-Management Program has been one of the best things I have done. I have had the wisdom and experience of leaders who have chronic conditions themselves and are able to offer advice. I have met other people like myself who suffer daily but are willing to share their experiences for the benefit of others. (…) I feel after six weeks better equipped to manage my own personal situation.” – Workshop Participant

Improving Health: My Way

The self-management workshops empower persons who suffer from chronic conditions – this insight has benefitted hundreds of participants, including Melanie.

The Improving Health: My Way workshops are open to anyone who is interested, whether an individual suffers from a chronic condition, or is attending to develop the skills needed to support a loved one who is struggling with long-term health issues.

Follow the link below to find a workshop near you, or for information on how to become a lay leader:

This story was written by Melisa Valverde, digital communications manager with Eastern Health.

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