An MS Journey

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“A Picture of Health on the Outside”

I was only 25 in 1980 when my MS symptoms started. My career was taking off, I was newly married, and my husband and I were active outdoors doing things like skiing and dirt bike riding. Life was good. But like all newly-diagnosed people with MS, the fear of having the rest of my life ahead of me with a chronic, debilitating, progressive disease with no cure was frightening to say the least.

What kind of life could I expect?

Flash forward to present day, 35 years later. Life has been good despite the challenges of living with MS while also dealing with other challenges in life that “normal” people endure. Adjustments to changes in my life seemed constant, as my MS Blogger Buddy Nicole Lemelle would say, would become “My New Normal.” And I’m currently facing two more…

Truthfully, I hate MS—it’s interfering, unpredictable, and invisible in so many ways. I didn’t have a choice about getting it, but I did have a choice about whether I was going to let it control me or manage my life. It took time, but I learned to manage my MS well. It helped that I am a positive person with an “I can do this” attitude.

Difficult decisions had to be made—giving up my career, having only one child, going on disability, having to move out of my house… It was hard. But amazingly for me, in the end each difficult decision resulted in a good outcome.

I can honestly say that I have, and will continue to have a fulfilling  life with my husband of thirty-seven years and my 32-year old son. Not only have I been an avid swimmer, crafter, and reader for as long as I can remember, my love of history and nature was satisfied after visiting all fifty States, seven countries in Europe, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Many of these trips I made in a wheelchair.

As I journeyed through motherhood, I enjoyed being a soccer mom, wrestling mom, homeroom mother, and a volunteer in my son’s school, church and community. In-between, I learned Spanish and tutored high-schoolers for fifteen years. And I was involved as a volunteer and in other roles in the MS community for the past thirty years. I’m proud to say I authored a book, Managing MS: Straight-Talk…  published in January 2012, and since then learned social media and built a website through which I have interacted within the MS community since.

I have always practiced health and wellness as a critical component of managing my MS and chose my medications carefully. Good sleep, regular fitness, healthy diet choices, stress management… Recently at my annual physical, my doctor said to me “I have good news and I have bad news.”

The good news? Out of all her patients that day, I was the healthiest– perfect scores on all my tests: blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, pulse, circulation, Vitamin D, calcium, and all the other things that are measured when blood is checked.

The bad news? I have severe osteoporosis in my hips and osteopenia in my spine—the worse she has ever seen. I had most of the risk factors for it: genetics, years of steroids, being thin, post-menopausal, and little weight-bearing fitness due to being in a wheelchair for fifteen years. The first of two new adjustments that I have to research and work on. This is serious stuff.

When you look at that picture of me, it is a definite portrayal of that old expression that makes all of us with MS cringe: “But you look so good!” You can’t see the osteoporosis, just like you can’t see so many of my MS symptoms. Though I use a scooter or wheelchair because I can’t walk anymore, many folks have asked me if I had an accident. They can’t see the pain, the numbness, weakness, the bladder/bowel problems, or the fatigue and emotional issues that I live with daily.

And now that the new ridiculous TV commercial about Tecfidera is airing, people are getting the misconception that there is a pill—a cure—that Relapsing/Remitting MSers can take that will give them the ability to be active and normal all day long. What a hurtful setback for me and all of the other MS patients that have been trying so hard to get people to understand what MS really is all about.

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                                                     Shame on you, Biogen.

I don’t know. At first I thought that no awareness was better than misleading awareness, but maybe this commercial will stir up the pot and get people talking more about MS.

 

Throughout my entire life, I have always been a doer and a helper with some purpose to serve. Even in the toughest spells throughout my life due to MS or something else, I forged forward to reach out. However, I’ve reached the point where I’m so tired and I hurt almost all the time now. I have been wrestling with this question for a while, “Is it time to quit?” That means the second, big adjustment into unknown territory—true retirement.

 

Actually, I won’t let go of everything completely; I will share and care about MS on a limited basis through my social media sites. But I’ll let the MS blogging be carried on by great, credible others that I got the privilege of knowing from social media and attendance to a MS Blogger Summit sponsored by EMD-Serono/Pfizer:

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MS Bloggers and some Significant-Other Caretakers

   (Sitting, L to R)
Laura Kolaczkowski
Lisa Emrich
Nicole Lemelle,
Lisa Dasis
Yvonne Desousa
Debbie Petrina
(Standing, L to R)
Jon Chandonnet
David Lyons
Stuart Schlossman
Dave Bexfield

There are other great MS bloggers around too, such as those on Multiple Sclerosis.net, that can be trusted to obtain quality MS info, inspiration and education.

Living with MS for 35 years and being involved with the MS community in so many ways teaches a person a lot of things. This is the last page of my practical MS guide book Managing MS: Straight Talk From a 31-Year Survivor that I published in January 2012:

Final Words of Inspiration

September 28, 2011

Life is precious, challenging, and worth getting out of it what you can.
Being a lover of American history, one of the items on my bucket list was to visit the actual trail of the Lewis & Clark expedition. I just returned from an RV road trip with my husband and brother to do this. During the trip, I reflected on the similarities of their journey and life with MS.

When Lewis & Clark began their journey to the Pacific Ocean across the continent, they went into unknown territory. Daily they encountered obstacles in the wilderness they had to overcome, and had to rely heavily on the support of each other/ strangers, their skills, ingenuity, and creativity in order to survive and prevail. The team of thirty-three persons suffered; one died. They experimented. They documented. They learned. They managed and accomplished incredible hardships. There were moments of the deep despair and defeat, and moments of high joy and success.

They found their way. I found my way. You will find your way.

                                                                                       Debbie

www.DebbieMS.com 
Author, MS Counselor/Consultant

 

*Image courtesy of “rakratchada torsap” portfolio at Free DigitalPhotos.net

Learn Quickly about Multiple Sclerosis–All in One Place

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                                        Need Easy and Accurate Direction?

Confused? Afraid? Newly diagnosed? Think you or someone you know might have MS but don’t know where to start? Weird things going on with your body and you don’t know what to do? Your neurologist is not helpful or available? You are lost in cyberspace trying to get info?

Since I have lived with MS since 1980 and have been involved with the MS Community for almost thirty years, I know this disease inside and out. Seeing a great need to have a lot of credible “What-to-know—What to Do” MS information all in one place, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. It now exists, and the positive feedback I have received from people has been equally overwhelming and gratifying.

I can help in two ways:

My Book: Managing MS: Straight Talk From a Thirty-One Year Survivor

I wrote a simplified, practical, all-in-one self-help guidebook for managing and understanding MS to help others dealing with this invisible, unpredictable, disabling disease. Within hours, you will gain knowledge and support so you can take action, which will reduce your fears.

Recently I received this email, one of many:

“OMG what a fantastic book in many ways. I want to give it to everyone I know so that they can understand it from the inside. Your section on invisible symptoms is fantastic. Everyone needs to read this book. Thank you, Debbie.”

Why should someone read THIS book? (Click here)

There are many books about multiple sclerosis; but I like to point out these things about mine:

• I felt it crucial to make it an easy read using a tone, words and expressions that would enable the reader to feel comfortable. Like I am talking at the kitchen table with them. Living with MS is frightening; one of my objectives was to help reduce the fear.

• Living with MS is not easy and is very complicated in many ways: the symptoms, the treatments, the medical professionals, relationships with people, the emotions, and the advancing disabilities. Thus, another objective of mine was to offer guidance and tips for managing these things in a manner that is easy to understand—like an instruction manual. I strived to make it compact, informative, and inspiring.

• This guidebook is a collaboration of both my experiences and those with peers, professionals, and others that I interacted with about MS in for decades.

• My manuscript had been read and endorsed by health care professionals in different fields that I believe lends credibility: An MS specialist neurologist, an internist, a MS physical therapist, and nurses.

• Though I share personal experiences, it is NOT an autobiography, full of medical terminology, nor does it contain the latest breakthrough drug or study.

WHO should read this book? Anyone who might have MS, has been diagnosed with MS, family, friends, or people who deal with MS patients such as doctors/healthcare personnel.

Diane Perry, NPC, AT Consultants in Internal Medicine in Glendale stated:
“As a nurse practitioner, the book opened my eyes to the effects of the disease on my patients’ lives and their needs. This is not a textbook read.”

Carol Daily, CRNP MSN, in her review said “This book should be given to every person having MS, I encourage any MS organization, medical staff, family or friend to do so and to read it also, especially the medical staff, (so you guys can give better advice).”

I encourage you to check out reviews on Amazon.

My Website DebbieMS: A Wealth of Info in One Place

I counsel, write, educate, research, and advocate awareness/understanding of MS through my website www.DebbieMS.com and other social media. In addition to info about my book Managing MS: Straight Talk…, the website includes my background/credentials, self-help/educational videos on a wide variety of topics, links to my 80+ MS Blog articles, an extensive list of helpful resources/articles, and other activities I engage in to help persons dealing with MS.

I continue to add to it, and especially use twitter and various MS Facebook group sites to share current research and developments about MS on an ongoing basis. People can also write to me through my site and ask me anything.

Please go to my website and check it all out. You have nothing to lose, and a lot to gain!

www.DebbieMS.com
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS

 

**Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

MS Bloggers, Old MS Vets, and the MS Community

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“Engage and Listen to the Real Experts”

The MS Community is unique. There is an immense connection between MSers to share, ask and learn information about living with multiple sclerosis. A comradery of support to each other to continue moving forward through good and bad times as they are saddled with a “progressive”, lifetime disease with no cure. Friendship and gratitude are beyond words to describe them.

The MSers in the MS Community work their butts off trying to create awareness, education, advocacy, and fundraise. They initiated and are now collecting patient information through iConquerMS to enhance MS research for patient treatments.

Within this community of MSers that I have been a part of for three decades, I distinguish two groups of who are the real MS experts, who can be relied upon and trusted for credible knowledge and guidance:

The “Elite” MS Bloggers
These are MSers who have lived with MS for years, and dedicate their lives every day writing to help MS patients survive. I call them “Elite”, because these bloggers aren’t just writing stories; they immerse themselves in a variety of activities and social/media platforms related to MS for a dedicated purpose. Each one has their special purpose in the MS arena—to educate, advocate, inspire, provide humor, research, or focus on wellness such as fitness, being active, etc.

As a group, they work and share with each other and more recently, some of the best MS bloggers had the opportunity due to several Pharma summits to meet each other. Both individually and as a group, they are a powerhouse of experience and ingenuity. Prior to their roles in and for the MS community, their professional backgrounds would knock your socks off.
I know, because I have met, shared, and worked with them.

The ‘Ol MS Vets

“The ‘Ol MS Vets” are the MSers that have lived with MS for more than thirty years. They are the ones whose life started in the Dark Ages—no MRI’s or sophisticated diagnostic tests, no Disease Modifying Treatments, limited research, scant MS awareness or literature, no social media…

‘Ol MS vets know MS well, and are full of wisdom. So many learned to manage their MS well and led full, quality lives. Yet, they are sadly passed over as a source of realistic and honest knowledge and support by non-MS patients.

It is amazing why these folks are not included in discussion panels at events. Pharma companies just within the past year or two recognized what MS bloggers could offer them. They reached out and hosted MS blogger summits to get their expertise, information and ideas to help them create their own MS support services. Then they took a step further and invited these MS experts to lead workshops around the country on specific MS-related topics and symptoms.

Why aren’t other large MS or neurological events and conventions including these MS experts for their input, participation, and guidance? Neurologists are in the forefront as the primary presenters and Q/A panels. Sure, all these events will have a person with MS tell a personal, general story about their MS experience, but that is about as far as it goes. Why isn’t there a group of MS experts on a Q/A panel for the audience? Or a table set up with actual MS peer counselors in an area where MS patients can speak face-to-face with someone for guidance? Why aren’t they used as credible spokespersons?

Neurologists may be pros on MS methodology and gathering research, and but WE are the pros on actual MS experience. I bet each of us bloggers have spoken to thousands of people that would supersede the number of patients a neurologist would have as MS patients.

Personally, I would go toe-to-toe with ANY neurologist on ANY MS-related subject or issue. I cringe when I see or hear “consult with your doctor about…” So many MS patients have a poor relationship with their neurologists. Patients don’t know everything, but neither do the neurologists, or researchers. Why isn’t there collaboration?

Last month, there was an event in Rome called the International Multiple Sclerosis Conference. They stated:

“Unlike many other events focused on novel MS treatments, the conference in Rome, entitled “Raising standards: The voice of people with MS,” will be focused on MS patients and how their expertise can help treat the disease. “This event is different,” explained Kaz Aston in a press release. “Because it’s all about the patient, and about the ‘expert patient” as a concept — recognizing that MS patients have a lot to bring to the table.”

Sure, the MS community is interested in learning about the latest research to stop, prevent, rehabilitate, and cure MS. But there is a whole lot more than research and drugs that the MS patient needs in order to manage their MS–which includes a broad spectrum of things both inside and outside the MS community.

Truthfully, I have to crack up when we are told research studies are needed and are now going on for the impact of things like stress, fitness, and massage on MS. Are you kidding me?

When will we MSers be included, listened to, and taken seriously?

www.DebbieMS.com
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS

* Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

MS: Health and Wellness

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“Critical for MS Management and Control”

It’s the new buzz phrase for multiple sclerosis. And it’s about time it’s getting attention.

But will it get the proper messages and info out about what MS “Health and Wellness” actually is? I’ve seen the words “Diet” “Exercise” and “Emotions” as the main categories for the new Health and Wellness strategy for helping to manage MS. But there are a lot of sub-categories under each of these groups, and there is much more to Health and Wellness than just these groups.

I wrote my book three years ago (Managing MS: Straight Talk…) and listed “My Ten Commandments” as my primary way of handling my MS. Guess what? It’s about the health and wellness ways I follow to not only manage my MS, but also to control the progression of it.

t’s the other side of that coin for MS management strategies—non-medicinal vs. medicinal. A side that has been neglected or not addressed for years.

Here’s the goal for MSers: Until a cure is discovered, or restorative abilities to damaged areas are found, it is paramount that a person with MS lives with their primary goal to prevent as much damage to the nervous system as possible.

HOW DO WE DO THAT?

We know that MS is an autoimmune disease, and when our body is under attack by something like sickness, infection, physical or emotional injury, etc., our immune system’s army of fighter cells screw up on their job and attack our brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves instead of the foreign invaders. Attacks lead to inflammation, relapses, lesions, damage and so on.

• Major attention has to focus on keeping our immune system CALM. Good, conscientious health and wellness will keep the body’s resistance strong against those culprits that trigger activation of the immune system. Develop habits to prevent sickness, infection, injury and chronic stress. For circumstances beyond our control (e.g. a death, a catastrophe…) reach out to get as much help and support as possible.

There are many dimensions of health/wellness that include but are not limited to:

**Physical Wellness: such as sleeping, eating, and exercising properly; watching your   weight; avoiding the use of tobacco, drugs, and excessive alcohol consumption.

**Social Wellness: having healthy, positive interpersonal relationships with family, friends, pets and others.

**Spiritual Wellness: finding meaning and purpose in life. This may or may not include religion.

**Emotional Wellness: understanding our feelings and emotions and knowing action plans to follow when needed

**Intellectual Wellness: maintaining cognitive stimulation to prevent mental stagnation. It is a lifelong process of mental challenges and creativity.

All DMTs (Disease Modifying Treatments) work by suppressing, or altering, the activity of the immune system. These therapies are based on the theory that MS is, at least in part, a result of an abnormal response of the body’s immune system that causes it to attack the myelin surrounding nerves. Corticosteroids used to treat relapses also suppress the immune system.

What does this mean? When the immune system is suppressed, the body is more susceptible to infections and illness, and thus relapses. Therefore, it is imperative that all good health and wellness habits be followed. For example, if you take Solumedrol, avoid people with colds and viruses. At the first sign of a UTI infection, get on an antibiotic. You can take care of your health so that your immune system isn’t ‘triggered’ to act due to illness, etc.

• One must think of health and wellness both in the short and long term. After all, there is no cure yet and nobody knows if/when that will happen. We have one body, and we need to protect it, be proactive, and make prudent choices. For example, every drug that is taken has to be processed through the liver; what are the risks vs. benefits of any drug we take regularly after 10, 20, 30 or 40 years?

Everyone has their own stories and experiences with MS. Here’s mine:

In 1980 when my first major attack happened, I was only 25. Since there was scant literature about MS, it took a awhile to understand the disease and figure out what to do. I finally learned proper health and wellness for MS that I followed for decades and am still learning as new things emerge.

Flash forward 34 years. I just turned sixty. I never took a DMT, had only two MRI’s, quit smoking in 1987 and having been swimming 3x/week for thirty years. I weigh 115 lbs., and have perfect scores on all my tests: blood pressure, cholesterol, pulse, circulation, Vitamin D and all the other things that are measured when blood is checked. Although I have been self-cathing for 28 years, both my bladder and kidneys are as good as a “normal” person’s due to good neurogenic bladder management. Meds are taken for spasticity, depression, and bladder regularly, and for sleeping/anxiety as needed. I practice yoga, deep breathing and stretching for pain and stress. Tutoring Spanish for years and reading/researching technical data surely help my cognitive function.

Yes, I am the one in four who ended up in a wheelchair, but the strength and agility in my upper body and trunk enable me to do many things independently, including driving.

Is it easy? Quite frankly, no. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline, determination, and control. And now that I am starting my seventh decade of life, I am slowing down.

But I know two things. First, if I didn’t practice good health and wellness, my MS would be so much worse. Second, if/when that breakthrough for remyelination or a cure arrives, I’m in great shape for it.

www.DebbieMS.com
Author/ MS Counselor/Living with MS

 

*Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

Why MS Doesn’t Scare Me Anymore

“Overcoming Fear”

January 11, 2015

Fear can be paralyzing. It interferes or overtakes one’s thoughts and actions. Fear causes immense stress. People with MS are confronted with it before, during and after diagnosis constantly. After all, there is no cure for MS, no two cases are alike, and it is highly unpredictable in its course.

To make matters worse, fear is intensified by what is read or said by others, health professionals and social media. The fear of ending up in a wheelchair or becoming very mobility impaired; the fear of losing cognitive abilities, the fear of losing employment or becoming incapacitated….

Even MS Associations who try to portray MS in a positive light often unintentionally create fear due to their messages of “get on a treatment ASAP” or “you need to call your doctor…” Lately, all of the emphasis on cognitive issues causes misconceptions that losing one’s mental faculties is inevitable; or a memory problem such as brain fog is due to MS.

I lived with that fear of the unknown, and with the thoughts of the many “what-if scenarios.” After my first ten years of living with MS, I didn’t fear it anymore; and I still don’t.

Why not?

• As time went, I realized that the more knowledge and experience I gained, the less fear I had. I got to know my body relative to my own MS patterns and responses, adjusted my lifestyle, and learned how to manage both my MS and my personal life. I felt more in control of my MS; the more control I acquired, the less fear I had. Yes—MS is a manageable disease.

The most common triggers of MS symptoms are stress, fatigue, and temperature/weather changes. Learning how to manage these triggers usually settle the symptoms down and prevent a relapse. By not managing them, they will become chronic which will lead to a flare/relapse.

• Research taught me that statistics were on my side. Here are some major fears, with research to show that they are not as bad as many think:

**It is estimated that 40-50% of people with MS experience mild to moderate impairment; severe cognitive decline like dementia are extremely rare (source: MSIF.org). Check out this MS post—“Are Cognitive Problems Blamed Too Much on MS?”

** Over a lifetime, only 20-25% end up confined to a wheelchair. That was the statistic in 1980, and it probably is less today due to the development of the disease-modifying drugs that have been available since the mid-90’s.” Check out this post “The Truth about MS and Wheelchairs”

**There are more benign cases of MS than publicized. For example, a current starting point is to get specific data on DMT’s from reliable sources. On Page 13 of “The Use of Disease-Modifying Therapies in MS: Principles and Current Evidence” (The MS Coalition– http://bit.ly/1oEnTqY ), the colleagues point out that 50% of persons diagnosed will have “benign MS”. People with benign MS will have an Expanded Disability Status Score (EDSS) 6 and 23% had converted to SPMS.
Read closely, and always double-check hear-say. Another post to read–“Where and how to get your information.”

• Reaching out and accepting support from family, friends and the MS community helps immensely in minimizing stress. My physical, mental and emotional states were significantly improved. I wasn’t alone. Those that really want to help—let them and tell them how.

• Having a focus on overall wellness and health is a priority. When one feels better physically, one will also feel better emotionally and mentally. It is common sense but it’s amazing how many people lose sight of this. In addition, I take all measures to prevent flus, colds, sickness and injuries. These will lead to relapses, thus frequently resulting in MS progression.

• The advancements in research for treatments and a cure have been increasing exponentially. It WILL happen in your lifetime.

• The brain is a powerful organ, and it is gratifying that brain health is finally being addressed. The brain CAN be retrained and repair itself to a certain degree. I had symptoms for years that I no longer have.

I’m an ol’ MS vet, and there are many of us out there. We are folks who have lived and survived MS well for decades, and most would agree with what I just wrote. We know, and we are a positive group. And more positivity will also reduce fear.

It took me ten years to get over my fear of having MS; nowadays, that span of time should be much shorter. After all, it was still the dark ages for both MS and me between 1980 and 1990. Times have changed.

www.DebbieMS.com
Author, MS Counselor, Living with MS

Explaining MS Fatigue

November 6, 2014

Ninety percent of patients with MS suffer with fatigue. Fatigue is an extremely debilitating MS symptom and difficult to manage.

MS fatigue is more than being tired from a lack of sleep or a very busy day. It is a direct result of the disease itself, and is easily intensified by the other MS symptoms (such as extra energy required to walk), external factors (such as heat or dehydration), and health issues (such as colds/viruses, being overweight…).

Being an invisible symptom, fatigue is hard for people without MS to be aware of it, understand it, and realize the severe limitations it can impose on MSers.
I started an MS group discussion on LinkIn entitled “How do/would you explain your MS fatigue to people to try to make them understand it?” Over fifty comments were received to date, and here are some of the comments:

“I tell people that it is like the exhaustion you get when you have the flu- only multiplied by 20 and NEVER goes away…”

“I heard it explained once and it seemed exactly right. MS fatigue is using every ounce of energy in your body just to breathe.”

“Add 5 lbs. weights to both biceps, forearms, calves, thighs…etc.”

“There is no way to explain it properly. Everyone still thinks it’s just plain tiredness. They don’t get that fatigue is totally different. I once said “when I am fatigued and am in bed, sometimes I feel that peeing the bed is my only option.”

“I ask them to imagine they are coming down with a flu/cold, then recall how tired they are.”

“There is no explaining to others why my body needs to sleep when I have only been awake a short bit.”

“I liken it to hitting a brick wall so hard that you don’t bounce back but instead just slide to the ground and not able to pick myself back up.”

“People just don’t ‘get’ the difference between extreme fatigue and general tiredness – some think they are feeling the same as you are but they don’t know the half of it!!”

“Thank you guys so much for this discussion! I hear all the time “Well, I have trouble sleeping too… maybe you should just go to bed earlier.”Errrrgh! It’s not like that people!

“I tell them that my best day fatigued (tired) is like their worst day. Then they seem to get it.”

The truth is, most people don’t get it. But the upside is that our neurologists and peers DO get it, and that’s where we can get our comfort. And fortunately, fatigue is a symptom that is finally recognized by Social Security when applying for disability benefits.

For those that don’t get it, you can try handing them a copy of this post or a previous post of mine entitled “Fatigue and MS”. It never hurts to try.

www.DebbieMS.com
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS

Where and How to get Your MS Information

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                                                  “Tips and Cautions”

The upside of the internet and social media is that mounds of information about MS are available immediately with the stroke of a few keys and searches. Folks need as much knowledge that they can get to help them understand and handle this complicated disease.

The downside of the net–besides being overwhelming–is that one has to be very careful with the validity of the source and information of what is read. I read discussions between MSers on Facebook, other social media, and MS Association sites and am concerned by how much info is misleading, incorrect, and cause for fear. Bad information causes bad decisions.

1. Understand which treatments/drugs help symptom improvement.

While it is gratifying that DMTs (Disease-Modifying Therapies) are reducing relapses for many MSers, participants in some discussions talk about how their symptoms improved when they were taking a certain DMT.

This is not true. Here is what one MS specialist-neurologist stated:

“The disease modifying medications do not directly help with symptoms in MS. these medications are to delay disability, slow progression and some can have improvements on MRIs. I can tell you that I have seen people in my clinic that had been doing well for years and so didn’t start any medications. But, then they had an attack that hit them quite hard. Then they wanted to go on a medication, “to get better. I told them that the medications are to keep from getting worse and not to make one better.”(see Source #1 below)

Now, there ARE drugs to directly and successfully treat symptoms (e.g. depression, bladder incontinence…), and relapses (e.g. steroids). These often improve symptoms and help a patient feel better, but not alter the disease course or direction of the disease itself.

2. No treatment exists today that will stop the disease activity/progression and damage completely, or reverses it. (see Source #2 below)

Recently, I followed a discussion on FB about stem cell treatments that miraculously accomplished this for them.  Most of the participants that had the procedure were diagnosed within the past two-three years. These participates probably did not know their personal pattern of relapses; it’s not uncommon to lose one’s sight or have impaired mobility for a long stretch of time in their initial relapses. Their recovery was more likely due to the relapse being over and they’re being back into remission with little residual, which is very common in the early years of the disease.

Furthermore, it takes a while for a patient to understand their own case of MS and how their body responds to a variety of things—both medicinal and non-medicinal. Nowadays, it is even more difficult since a newly-diagnosed person during their first couple of years are receiving DMTs and drugs for relapses and symptoms all at the same time. What is doing what?

3. Be careful with reading statistics, study results, etc.

I worked a number of years in my professional jobs doing financial analyses and market research. One of the things I know from that experience is that conclusions of studies can be misleading by what numbers are used and how numbers are presented. I’ve become quite the cynic about this.

For example, one might read “according this study, 50% of patients using XYZ showed a 38% reduction in…” How many people were used in the study, what were their characteristics, how long did they take XYZ, what were their side effects, who did the study, etc. You have to dig deeper, be cautious, use common sense and talk to your professionals when you hear something of interest and want to pursue it (like trying a new medication).

How would you feel if you discovered that a study was based on eight people?

4. When gathering information, consider the following:

• Use common sense and logic.
• If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
• Listen to your gut, not what you want to hear.
• There is no cure, and if something says you will be cured, throw it away. You can manage MS and even control it in many ways, but there is no cure yet.

5. What are good Sources of Information?

MS associations and Pharmas are good sources of information that can be trusted for acquiring basic MS knowledge about the disease itself, the symptoms, current research/events that are happening, and treatments that are available. They also can be helpful in providing programs and forums for people dealing with MS to get together and interact.

Where to use caution?

• When listening/reading information that MS associations, Pharmas, and neurologists present statistical information about study/treatment results. They all recommend DMTs as the first line of defense, and one has to be careful of taking this information at face value. Re-read #3 above, and know that numbers/statistics can be arranged to project just about anything. Dig deeper into what you are told. You may be surprised.

For example, a current starting point to get specific data on DMT’s is Source #2 below. And read closely. On Page 13, the colleagues point out that 50% of persons diagnosed will have “benign MS”. People with benign MS will have an Expanded Disability Status Score (EDSS)<3 after 10 years.  After 20 years they found while 51% remained benign, 21% had progressed to EDSS >6 and 23% had converted to SPMS.

The point? Stats like these could help a patient weigh their options more carefully.

• A standard line of advice is “consult with your doctor.” Do you trust your doctor? How experienced is your doctor with MS? Does your doctor listen to you and talk with you, respect your questions and doubts? If the answer is no to any of these, it’s a red flag. Remember that doctors get kickbacks, and truthfully are limited to prescribing drugs and giving referrals. Get second and even third opinions.

• Social media sites are wonderful for sharing information and feelings with other peers, but remember that two-thirds of effective communication is through body language. There is no eye contact, no voice to hear, etc. that can make judgment of people difficult. Learn the background of the people you engage with. If reading an MS blog, make sure it is a credible, respected and experienced person that is doing the writing.

Here is a link to my Resources/Links page on my website that is quite comprehensive, not overwhelming, and judged by many to be trusted http://debbiems.com/links-resources_271.html . (You can check out my background, experience and credentials in other sections of my site.)

(Sources)
#1 The NPR Diane Rehm Show (9/24/2012) aired “Diagnosing, Treating and Living with MS.” A panel of experts—neurologists/MS Specialists including a doctor who has MS—answered audience questions about diagnosing, treating and living with multiple sclerosis.

#2 The Use of Disease-Modifying Therapies in Multiple Sclerosis: Principles and Current Evidence http://bit.ly/1oEnTqY  September, 2012

www.DebbieMS.com
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What MSers Really Need from Others

“The chronically ill, too.”

Even though this post was written for a MS Blog, the following list can apply to supporters of patients who are chronically ill. As an MS patient myself who was trained as a MS peer counselor thirty years ago, I found myself talking with and listening to patients who were chronically ill with something else.

This list is for family, friends, co-workers, health care professionals…i.e. the people we associate with in our lives. While it seems to be simple and just common sense, it is amazing how many folks say the wrong things or don’t even know what to say.*

1. Empathy vs. Sympathy
Most MSers don’t want you to feel sorry for them. They want you to try and understand MS and their symptoms/problems. Visualize putting yourselves in their shoes.

2. Listening vs. Talking
Sometimes MSers like to talk about MS and sometimes they do not. If they wish not to talk or get emotional, do not take it personally or compare them to others. More often than not, they need others to listen to them.

3. Inspiration vs. Reality
Inspiration is vital and wanted. However, there are times when MSers are so sick or fatigued, they don’t want cheerleading, humor, or advice. Give hugs and be sensitive to their feelings.

4. Knowledge and Support
The more accurate knowledge that is obtained from reliable sources, the less fear there will be. The more support that a MSer has from whom they interact with, the easier it will be for them to manage their MS, lives, and adjustments. What kind of support? Just ask the patient, or offer to do something to make their life easier (like make a meal, watch kids, do laundry…).

*Here is a link to view my background/credentials http://debbiems.com/about-debbie_269.html

www.Debbiems.com
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS

The Truth about MS and Wheelchairs

“My Personal Insights”

If you asked anyone “What do you think of when you hear the term MS?” the answer usually includes “wheelchairs.”

When my first relapse happened back in 1980, a picture of a person with MS in a wheelchair was always shown, even by the MS Society. Perhaps it was to help with fundraising, or perhaps it was to a way to draw attention to a disease that was not usually heard of.

Whatever the case, it did create a picture of “this is MS” and the huge fear of living a life in a wheelchair. That vision still exists today, despite the advances in awareness and research that have occurred. Despite the reality that MS involves many other neurological symptoms in addition to a life in a wheelchair.

I know much about this because I am one of those MSers who ended up in a wheelchair. And I want to speak up about MS and wheelchairs to try to correct that picture and reduce that fear for anyone dealing with MS.

1. Over a lifetime, only 20-25% end up in a wheelchair. That was the statistic in 1980, and it probably is less today due to the development of the disease-modifying drugs that have been available since the mid-90’s.

I have many friends who have had MS over 30 years, and I am the one of a few who is in a wheelchair permanently. Now, of course many patients use walkers or canes since MS and mobility problems usually go hand-in-hand, but few are not hunched over paralyzed, completely debilitated in a wheelchair.

2. A person can have a quality life living in a wheelchair, though admittedly the limitations it causes can be frustrating. Again, I know.

I manage my MS well and despite having lived permanently in a wheelchair these past thirteen years, I have had a happy life. I travel, swim, volunteer, take care of many household responsibilities… And the other MSers I know who are in my position would agree their lives are full and active.

Having MS certainly is not a cakewalk, but it certainly isn’t the end of the world either. There are far worse things in life. Plus, I must add that there are other MS symptoms that can be difficult, such as vision loss and overwhelming fatigue. However, so many of these symptoms can be successfully managed to minimize their interfering effects.

3. Wheelchairs should be viewed as a friend, not the enemy. So, you ask, what the heck does THAT mean? I’ll explain.

At many MS events and online, I see and hear people with mobility issues struggling with trying to walk without a walking aid, or one that is not suitable for them. Part of it is due to vanity, or part of it is a desire to not “give in” to MS.

• Is vanity worth the risk of falling down and getting hurt? In truth, I purposely started using a wheelchair full-time even though I could walk with a walker for 15-30 steps. The years on steroids, the osteoporosis, and my age put me at great risk for breaking an arm or leg. Instead, I used the swimming pool to walk and exercise safely.

• Before I went into the chair permanently, I used a power chair on a part-time basis around the house and scooters that were available in stores for customers. It is a tremendous help in reducing fatigue and getting more things done. This was a great morale booster. In addition, the pain from overused muscles and poor posture was lessoned substantially.

I wasn’t giving into my MS at all. There are many persons with MS that will use a scooter or wheelchair because of fatigue, weakness, balance problems, or to assist with conserving energy.

4. The majority of people with MS do not become severely disabled. Three out of four people who have MS remain able to walk, though many will need an aid, such as a cane or crutches.*

Before I decided to post this article, I talked to a couple of good friends of mine to ask them about the content of this article. They, like me, are the “Ol’ MS Vets”, i.e. who have lived with MS for decades and also have been involved with the MS community for the same amount of time. We know this disease because we have lived with it and been continuously involved with its research. 

We are a reliable resource you can trust.

www.DebbieMS.com
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS

*Note: This statistic is listed in many reputable resources. The Nat’l MS Society used to use this percentage until several years ago, but changed it to 35% based on some study. I question their revision, as well as the study, because with the numerous DMDs that have been/are available, the percentage of MSers in wheelchairs permanently should have declined, not increased.

Important Things Others Should Know about Chronically ill People

“An Educating Tool”

I was in the middle of writing a blog about what folks with MS really need from others when I came across this pin I found on Pinterest. What an extraordinary pin to share with my peers!

Because I still look so good after all these years and rarely complain, people around me sometimes still don’t seem to understand my difficulties since MS is invisible, unpredictable, and interfering. And it is probably because I am so good at the way I manage this disease, despite the fact that I use a wheelchair. I make it look so easy, when the truth is, it can be a real bitch.

For people who are just learning about how to live with a person with MS or who is chronically ill, a copy of this will be a good, educating tool.

“People with chronic pain and illness want everyone in their lives
to know these important things about them…”


1. Don’t be upset if I seem on edge. I do the best I can every day to be “normal”. I’m exhausted and sometimes I snap.

2. I find it very hard to concentrate at time for a lot reasons. Pain, drugs, lack of sleep… I’m sorry if I lose focus.

3. Letting my loved ones and friends down by cancelling plans is heartbreaking to me. I want more than anything to be as active as you and do the things I used to do.

4. My health can change daily. Sometimes hourly. There are a lot of reasons this happens. Weather, stress, flare-ups…I can assure you that I hate it as much as you do.

5. I don’t like to whine. I don’t like to complain. Sometimes I just need to vent. When this happens, I am not asking for pity or attention. I just need an ear to bend and a hand to hold.

6. During rough times, I find it hard to describe how bad it is. When I say “I’m fine” and you know I am not, it’s okay to ask questions. Just be prepared if the flood gates open because “I’m fine” is often code for “I’m trying to hold it together, but having a rough time. I’m on the edge.”

7. If I am hurting bad enough to tell you about it without being asked, please know that it’s REALLY bad.

8. When you reach out to me with suggestions to help me feel better, I know that you mean well. If it was as simple as popping a new pill, eating differently or trying a different doctor, I’ve most likely already tried it and was disappointed.

9. All I truly want from you is friendship, love, support and understanding. It means everything to me.

10. When someone gives me a pep talk, I understand the sentiment. Chronic illness just doesn’t go away. I wish it did, too! I appreciate your wanting the best for me, but save the pep talk for the gym or the kids’ next volleyball game.

11. It hurts worse than you can possibly imagine when I’m thought of as lazy, unreliable, or selfish. Nothing is further from the truth.

12. I do a lot of silly things to distract myself because any part of my life not consumed with pain is a good part.

13. The simplest tasks can completely drain me. Please know that I do the best I can every day with what I have.

14. Come to me with any questions you may have about my condition. I love you and would much rather tell you about this face to face without judgment.

After all these years I have lived with MS, I may put this on my refrigerator at times; or give a copy of this to the forgetful numbskull or the insensitive ostrich that has their head in the sand! (Yes, I think we all have a person or two like this in our lives.) And, the next time someone says “What’s wrong with you?!” I think I will tell them to read #___.

www.DebbieMS.com
Author/MS Counselor/Living with MS