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

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 Optimist and the Pessimist

“Attitude is Everything”


August 6, 2014

I am an optimist. My husband is a pessimist. If I say “wow, the sky is so blue”, he’ll say “I hate the sun, I like it cloudy.”

They say opposites attract but sometimes I don’t know how I have survived 36 years of marriage with a person who is a pessimist.

My husband and I just got back from a mini camping trip in our RV and truthfully, it really was frustrating. It rained constantly for almost the entire trip, so we were confined to stay in the RV. For me, it was cozy listening to the rain while reading a novel and watching movies. For him, he seemed to complain about everything and didn’t even want to play cards with me.

After being in this situation, I started writing a post about why the need to vent from time to time is essential to your health. This morning I was going to finish it when I came across this article about optimism and pessimism in the newspaper. I felt like it was written for me.

This article is so important, I once again decided to postpone my post-in-process and share this. Not only is optimism necessary to survive life, it is necessary to survive MS. Pessimistic people drag you down, something that is not good if you are trying to cope with a chronic illness.

Optimism trumps pessimism in workplace, life

President Harry S. Truman once said, “A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities, and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.”

Which do you think will reach their goals, live a happy life and achieve their dreams?

Imagine interviewing two people who have identical skills, but one is always grumbling about how unfair life can be, while the other one talks about what wonderful possibilities exist.

Naturally, you would gravitate toward the optimist. If you choose the pessimist, you would be setting yourself up for plenty of aggravation and disappointment, not to mention the negative impact on your staff and customers. Pessimism can bring everyone down, not just the person with the negative attitude.

Pessimism is nothing more than self-sabotage. Expecting only the worst is not being realistic. Realists hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Pessimists can’t imagine the best, so they prepare for the worst. And then if the worst never happens? Pessimists often find the worst possible result simply to prove that their concerns were right.

The question becomes, would you rather be right than be happy? That’s not being realistic, either. That’s being self-defeating. Pessimism can rob you of your energy, sap you of your strength and drain you of your dreams.

Optimism is the remedy. Optimism doesn’t mean pre¬tending life is always wonderful. Optimism means embracing reality. You accept that there will be bad days, but also good days. When you’re grounded in reality, you know where you are and how far you need to go. Once you know how far your goal may be from where you are, optimism can give you the motivation to make plans to get to where you want to go.

Pessimists see life as one problem after another. Optimists see life as one opportunity after another.

How you look at life can drastically affect how much you enjoy your life. Optimists expect the best out of life.

Does it make sense that pessimists tend to blame others or circumstances for their failures?

Optimists help create some of the good they come to expect, so they are probably right more often than not — and they don’t waste time worrying about what they’re not right about. Optimism relaxes people. When we’re relaxed, there is better blood flow to the brain, which results in more energy and creativity in your life.

There is virtually nothing that you can’t do if you set your mind to it. You cannot control events in your life, but you can control how you react.

Do you want to be a pessimist and have no hope for a better future? Or would you rather be an optimist and believe you can achieve a better future?

Mackay’s Moral: Attitude is the mind’s paintbrush — it can color any situation.

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” He can be reached through his website, harveymackay.com, or by e-mailing harvey@mackay.com.

In my situation, I learned years ago how to ignore or escape my husband’s negativity. While I succeeded most of the time, the times that I couldn’t get away from it caused tremendous stress. Not only did the stress impact my MS symptoms negatively, it would make me moody and stifle my motivation to move forward. Fortunately, I am a strong-willed person and almost always found alternative sources of optimism (e.g. friends, enjoyable interests/activities…) to lift me up before I got dragged into the depths of an abyss.

Now, in all fairness, my husband is a great guy and has many positive attributes. None of us is perfect. I am a sensitive person who cries easily or pouts. Personality traits are difficult to change; a person has to recognize a change needs to be made and then take great effort to make the changes. But this is a slow process that requires much patience.

If you don’t live with a pessimistic person, it’s easy to get away from him/her. An optimist living with a pessimist will be a lethal combination if coping mechanisms can’t be accomplished.

I know from experience. And I know that one of main reasons I have survived managing my MS is because I am an optimist. Attitude is everything.

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

Making Decisions when Managing MS

In many online MS discussion groups, participants discuss what is the best thing to do or take for MS, and what is “bunk.” Subjects range from treatments, diet, and stress to exercise, experimental drugs and alternative medicine.

If one seeks information from MS organizations or medical websites, the standard directive is “ask your doctor.” But realistically, if you ask your doctor, most will recommend drugs. Drugs for symptoms, for relapses, and long-term DMD treatments. There are two reasons for this:

1. What else can they do for you in the fifteen minutes that they see you? They can’t cure you but they will want to make you feel better and try to prevent you from getting worse. In addition, doctors certainly don’t have the time to educate you or answer a lot of questions. They will refer you instead to physical/occupational therapy, pain clinics, etc.

2. Relative to prescribing drugs, doctors depend on the scientific evidence of these substances. They will send you off with scripts for tests initially and ongoing. Relative to body wellness for MS, while they would agree that exercise and proper diet is good for you, they will not specifically address these topics because there has not been enough scientific evidence done to determine their positive/negative impact on MS. So again, the patient is referred elsewhere.

Everyone’s body and MS are unique, and everyone responds differently to anything you take or do to your body. No two cases are alike in response to these actions just like no two cases of MS are alike. While some things work for some, often they don’t work for others.

So, when you need to make a decision regarding something about your MS and are stuck, what should you do?

Personally, I practice common-sense, logic, and balance for both my body’s wellness and medications I choose to use. I ask myself these questions:

• Does it make me feel better?

• What are the short/long term risks of doing or not doing something?

• Do the benefits outweigh the risks that I am willing to take?

• Am I doing everything I can possibly do to prevent infections, sickness, falls…?

• Did I gather enough research from reliable sources to help me make my decision?

There is no question that proper diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, weight control, etc. are essential for vital body functions and helping to manage/control MS. This is true for a person without MS, but especially important for a MS patient to help managing/controlling their disease.

I am open-minded and listen to others in online discussions as part of my personal research for making my own decisions about managing my MS. I dig through the internet for studies and statistics. And I consult with doctors and other health care professionals for their insights; but a health professional is not my only source of action or fact-finding, giving him/her a carte blanche.

Then I document and keep journals of what I do and what the effects are.

There are no absolute rights or wrongs. I know my body well, but I leave myself open to trying something new if I feel it is safe and I have nothing to lose by trying. Like everyone else with MS, I want to feel better and get better.

One rule I follow for myself with regard to making any decisions about anything: “When in doubt—don’t!” I can always revisit the situation later.

Ultimately, decisions are made by me. I only have one body and am the one who has to live with it.

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

MS Blogs

January 12, 2014

I am proud to announce that my MS Blog was selected for Neurology Now Magazine’s list of Patient Bloggers! http://journals.lww.com/neurologynow/Fulltext/2013/09060/Neurology_News__Having_Their_Say___Patient.16.aspx

Neurology Now Magazine:
December/January 2013 – Volume 9 – Issue 6 – p 14

Neurology News: Having Their Say: Patient Bloggers

“While your doctors can give you information and guidance about your condition, they’re not always the best source for practical advice. Patient bloggers offer that in spades as they chronicle their own journey with neurologic disease—sometimes funny, sometimes painful, but above all else, familiar. We tried to find blogs that are well-written, honest, and responsible in the way they handle medical information.”

Neurology Now is sponsored by the American Academy of Neurology and the American Brain Foundation. Free for subscribers, information is provided about various neurological problems in their publications. Included in each of their issues are also stories written about individuals—both well-known and unknown—who are dealing with a disorder/disease successfully. Here is a link to check it out http://patients.aan.com/index.cfm?axon=redirect&&path=/go/neurologynow  .

Also check out my 57 articles within this blog at the bottom of this blog page, as well as my website that contains much info about multiple sclerosis www.DebbieMS.com .

Best-

Debbie
Managing MS, Straight Talk…

Does the Doctor Really Know What’s Best for You?

“It’s your choice.”

June 18, 2013

I have seen doctors for almost all of the forty years of my adult life, and this is what I learned:

While I need to have doctors in my life as I deal with MS, I ultimately know what is best for me to do—not my doctors. I know my body and I will always make the final decision relative to how I want to be treated by a doctor. My doctors are there for support, knowledge, prescriptions, consultation and referrals. If I believe I am not getting from a doctor what I (or my insurance) is paying for, I will fire him/her.

It is a viewpoint other older MS veterans have shared with me.

Many MS specialist-neurologists are experts—they have seen numerous patients and are trained with knowledge. But I am an expert too, with a lot of common sense. I have talked with numerous people dealing with MS (both patients and professionals), and constantly research information about my disorder.

Each case of MS is different with regard to disability, rate and duration of relapses/progression, symptoms, response to medications and treatments, etc. It is a fact that that no two cases are alike. I believe I know my body best in terms of how I feel and how my body acts/reacts; this is information that I must note and share with my doctor.

I live with MS, monitoring and documenting many things regarding my own case, 24/7 every day–symptoms, side effects, triggers… A doctor looks at my case and evaluates me for only about fifteen minutes every 6-12 months. As one recent MSer complained to me, “I just wish a doctor would listen to my symptoms and not just do their little neurological test of pinch here, pock here and say nothing wrong here. This sucks.”

Recently, I spoke with a person with MS who was complaining how bad MS had been affecting her cognitive abilities. During the discussion, I learned the doctor prescribed her a sleeping pill, an anxiety pill, and a pain pill—all at the same time!! It was no wonder why her mental faculties were impaired. Where’s the common sense here?

Other patients receive scripts to treat two or three things at one time with no instruction to start them at different intervals. How would someone know what is affecting what, positively or negatively?

Since I am not on a DMD treatment, I choose not to get MRI’s. Personally, I don’t care how many lesions I have or how big they are because that by itself isn’t always reliable in terms of what to take, do, or how bad I am. For me, going for an MRI every six months is a waste of my time and money. But that is my choice and my decision.

And doctors are not always right. Doctors make mistakes or poor decisions as well. Maybe they are having a bad day, are overloaded, or were given faulty test results. Let’s face it—why do people get second or even third opinions before having major surgery, for example?

Truthfully, I like, need and want my doctors. Doctors have things I don’t have–the ability to write prescriptions, order tests for evaluation, and referrals for things like therapy or specialists. I use them to get these things. Also, I really do want to listen to their expertise and judgment, and consult with them about any course of action.

Now I do not have major cognitive issues that interfere with my judgment. But there have been times when I was distraught with anxiety or depression and I felt I didn’t want to make a decision alone. I asked the doctor if he was in my shoes, “What would you do?” I have enough trust in my primary professionals to follow their advice. In these situations, I also have a close family member or friend with me to listen and help evaluate the circumstances. Teamwork is good.

When I choose a doctor, I find one that has very high ratings and one that I am compatible with. It enhances my confidence when I make my final decision about a course of action.

I have been blessed to have two MS specialist-neurologists in two different states that were both opened-minded and respected my personal choices. They talked with me, not at me or down to me. They also recognize that I am the one living with MS and know my body best. However, “Two heads are always better than one” when evaluating anything, so I am open minded as well. And throughout the years, there were certainly good reasons to see and confer with my doctors.

So choose your doctor and your course of action wisely.

www.DebbieMS.com

 

MS Support: Know thy Neighbors

“My Eleventh Commandment”

If you have read my book Managing MS: Straight Talk…, you know about my own ten commandments I follow to manage my MS. I’m adding another one. As I was walking my dog around the neighborhood today, I reflected on how important my neighbors are to me. When I moved from Pittsburgh to Arizona in 2001, I lived alone for several years since my husband couldn’t join me until he retired. Being a planner and organizer, the first thing I did after settling in was become a co-director of our volunteer neighborhood block-watch program. I hosted the committee meetings and arranged quarterly weekend social events. The result? I immediately met and got to know everyone living around me. I made good friends, I found professionals (a mechanic, an a/c and heating technician, a computer guru, a lawyer…) and I felt safe. My dog and I have walked and patrolled the neighborhood daily for all these years, and if people don’t see me for a few days, they’re wondering why.

When a new neighbor moves in, I want to meet them. Recently, a new neighbor was putting the finishing touches on a new paint job for his new house. I introduced myself and told him how much I liked the color. It was instant rapport!

I love my neighbors, and can count on them if I/we need something, and vice versa. One terribly hot summer morning, my air conditioner stopped working. My a/c technician neighbor came to fix it within the hour I called. Another time when my husband was back East, I accidently pulled my Christmas tree over with my power chair at ten o’clock in the evening. I was surrounded by broken bulbs and lights! My girlfriend across the street came over immediately and picked it all up for me. If I’m home alone and I need assistance, I have a phone around me at all times so that I can call someone for help. They can get into my house by using the security-code keypad on my garage door. Many of our neighbors now are not only friends; they are like family to us and to each other. They are invaluable to me.

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