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

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

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

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.

MS: Reaching Out for Help

“The Value of a Peer”

June 25, 2012

When I was diagnosed, one of the first things I did was talk to a peer.  Peers are priceless; they help immensely.  There is an instant connection and understanding, bringing both comfort and knowledge.

I could have never survived my MS if I didn’t reach out to peers, and I love it when they reach out to me.  Even as an old veteran of MS, I still find myself reaching out to peers for help and guidance.

Recently, I reached out to a MS peer for a different purpose.  I contacted Sharon Baldacci, author of A SUNDOG MOMENT.  Sharon has lived with MS for thirty-one years like me, and I reached out to her to review my new book, MANAGING MS:  STRAIGHT-TALK FROM A 31-YEAR SURVIVOR.

She responded to my email the very next day and agreed to read it and do a review.  I was shocked at first at the quick and agreeable response but I shouldn’t have been.  There is a camaraderie that exists between MSers.

Over the next few weeks, we emailed little comments back and forth.  Sharon just sent me her review, mentioning that after all these years she learned something new about an MS symptom she deals with from my book.  I, in turn, learned a few things from her; and I found another MS friend I can share with going forward.

Here is Sharon’s review of my book:

June 21, 2012

When I was asked to review Debbie Petrina’s new book, MANAGING MS: STRAIGHT TALK FROM A THIRTY-ONE-ONE YEAR SURVIVOR, I had to chuckle. I too have lived with this illness just as long and didn’t think it was possible to learn anything new.

Boy, was I wrong. This small, easy to read book is a wealth of matter-of- fact information interspersed with her memories that add credibility. I learned more about spasticity here than I knew and also the word `clonus’ that describes exactly what my weaker leg does sometimes. She adds practical tips for dealing with so many of the symptoms, and side effects of medications. The chapters are broken down into advice for the newly diagnosed, symptoms, grieving, heat, and what you can do about the variety of problems that come with MS. There are chapters about dealing with people (and how they deal with us) as well as what she calls the elephant in the closet – suicide.

She also makes it clear that it is the person with MS that is in charge of all decision-making, not the doctors. The doctors are there to give all the information needed for decision-making. She explains clearly why and how she made difficult decisions for her and her family and how it has worked out all for the best. She strongly encourages everyone to do the same. This is an empowering book that doesn’t sugar coat anything but makes the endless details manageable – from her 31-one years of experience. I felt like I was learning from an old friend over a cup of tea.

This should be required reading for doctors, health professionals, MS patients and their families.

Sharon Baldacci, author of A SUNDOG MOMENT

It’s incredible that the internet exists now to offer forums for peers of any situation to connect with each other.

Free.

Everyday when I give thanks in my prayers, I never forget my gratitude to all the MS peers I have interacted with over the years.

www.DebbieMS.com

What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

“The Misunderstood, Ignored, and Forgotten Disease”

April 30, 2012

I recently asked the question “How do people without MS react to you?” to an MS discussion group I belong to.  Their responses?  The same I have been hearing for decades:  We feel misunderstood, ignored, and forgotten by so many people.

Why do we feel this way? 

First, on the outside so many of us look good unless we have some kind of walking aid to indicate otherwise.  We’re not bleeding, we have good color in our faces, and we are not coughing or blowing our noses.  When we look good, people automatically assume that we are good.  I’m in a wheelchair, but I still look good and completely normal.  If I would use a store’s scooter instead of my own, I would get dirty looks.  I’m misunderstood.

But very often we are not good because so many of the symptoms are invisible.  Pain, tingling, numbness, fatigue, dizziness, tightness, depression, blurry vision, balance, coordination—the list is endless.  These symptoms interfere with everything we think, say or do.  They are annoying; they hurt; they are frustrating; and they make us crabby. For persons with MS that do or do not show visible impairment or walking aids, these symptoms are very disabling.

Invisible symptoms are difficult to describe, and when we tell someone about them it’s hard for them to understand or empathize.   Sometimes we use examples like “When I walk, it feels like I have a ten-pound weight on my ankle”, “It’s like when your arm falls asleep but never wakes up” or “My hands look normal, but I can’t button buttons.”

When we see these same people again, they forget that we have these symptoms because they are invisible.  If we talk about them, we sound like complainers.  Unless we complain about these things often, who would know we have these problems or that they continue to plague us?  And who wants a complainer around all of the time?

Fatigue is the hallmark symptom of MS.  It is a universal complaint by over 90% of MS victims.  It doesn’t matter if the case is mild or advanced.  It doesn’t matter if one had a good night sleep or if the MS is not currently active. Fatigue is always present with MS, 24/7.  Why?  Fatigue exists because MS is a disease, a chronic illness, that causes other symptoms such is walking problems to intensify.  Constant fatigue leads to our moodiness or depression.  So when somebody suggests we need to get out and take our mind of things, they truly don’t understand why a couch or bed is more desirable to us.

Many times people without MS are uncomfortable around us because they don’t know what to say or do.  Or because of our moods or a previous bad experience, they are unsure what kind of a response they will receive.  Others just can’t deal with it perhaps because of personal feelings like guilt. Therefore it is often easier for them to just ignore it.

Now this can create a catch-22 situation.  MSers don’t want to complain about it; and non-MSers forget/ ignore the MS or say something that clearly indicates their misunderstanding of it.  Here’s an example of a personal experience:

I’ve lived with MS over thirty years, and my 80-year old mother will still tell me about all of her senior buddies who get out there and bowl and do all sorts of things despite them being in a cast or using a cane.  Or, how she has to get up every night now to pee because “that’s what happens when you get to be my age.”

Well, mom (I think to myself), I have been getting up every night to pee for the last twenty-five years.  In fact, I have had the problems of an 80-year for the last three decades of my life and I am only 57.  Did you lose your ability to have an orgasm at the age of thirty?  And, at least that guy in the leg cast will get it off in a month.  With regard to bowling, I haven’t been able to bowl since I was thirty and not only because I was using a cane.  With my fatigue, balance, and coordination problems, I would have fallen on my butt every time I threw the dang ball.

Then there are the countless misconceptions because of lack of understanding.  “If you had your leg removed and got a prosthesis maybe you would walk again.”  “Did you ever look into surgery on your spinal column?”  Uh, hello…we’re talking the entire central nervous system here!  I actually responded once that “a new brain and spinal cord transplant may help but they haven’t figured out how to do that yet.”

Finally, many of us with MS feel that the news media never give enough attention to MS like they do with cancers, heart, arthritis, etc.  Or if they do, it is usually done with snippets that really create more misunderstanding than understanding of it.  I bet if they understood MS better they would find plenty of interesting stuff to write or talk about.  Or if they talk to any of the half million people and their families in the US that have MS, a really good TV drama series could be launched.

So, what can we do about it?

We need to be educators, communicators and advocates to everybody, everywhere—beginning with the basic question and a simplified, clear answer.  Forget the boring textbook medical details.  Something like this:

What is MS?

Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune, inflammatory disease of the central nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.  That means that potentially anything controlled by the CNS can be affected–such as motor function, sensory function, sight, or cognitive/emotional functions.

It is not fatal, contagious, or congenital.  There is no cure; the cause is unknown. It is generally progressive.  That means that because there is no cure, the majority of persons afflicted (2.5+ million worldwide) will become disabled during the decades of their lifetime with no way to fix the damage.  Current estimates are that 20-25% will end up in a wheelchair.

From the day those of us received our diagnosis, we have no idea what course our disease will take.  What will be affected, in what way or how rapidly will we be affected, and how disabled will we become? MS is unpredictable and uncontrollable; the losses never stop, the grieving process never ends.

There are new drugs that are trying to slow the progression, and meds to help with relieving symptoms and shortening relapses.  But they all have side effects. Nothing is available yet to prevent MS or restore most function lost resulting from its damaging effects.  However, there are many things one can do to manage it effectively.

Peer-to-peer, we understand it, share our stories and how we cope with MS. We count on our peers, close family/friends and MS organizations for knowledge and support to help us manage it during our lifetime.

But we would like more.  We want everyone to know and understand what MS is all about, not just be aware of MS being something that people walk for or bike for.  The more people that UNDERSTAND multiple sclerosis, the less we with MS feel we’ll be misunderstood, ignored and forgotten.

Let’s all get started now:  hand, send or post this article to everyone you know.  Do it today!

www.debbiems.com