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

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

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 and Your Relationships

“Strategies & Tips”

On February 15th, I facilitated a workshop entitled “MS and Your Relationships” in Phoenix. The workshop was part of Genzyme’s One Day for Every Day Event. This is a summary of that workshop, as I want to share this information with a larger audience.

I began by telling the attendees that a one-hour timeframe was not enough for this big, important subject. It’s bad enough that everything about MS is complex, from the diagnosis to the symptoms; after all, the nervous system is involved. But people are highly complex too because of their thoughts and emotions. So when you put the two subjects together—yikes!!

Just about everyone in the room with MS was there with someone else—either a spouse, sibling or friend. This was good because everyone living with the MSer is also living with MS. And that goes beyond the immediate family.

My presentation was to discuss communication strategies and tips to create a foundation of open and honest communication. I adjusted this goal to first, make the group interactive, and second, address two other critical aspects of relationships: support and knowledge.

• Support and knowledge reduce the fear one has with an MS diagnosis. The more you have of both, the better chance you have to survive this disease. One has to be careful though where one gets the knowledge since because of social media, there is much information available today that can be overwhelming and inaccurate.

• Since MS is still a lifetime illness, knowledge and support will change many times as time marches on due to disease progression and lifetime changes that will occur.

• Everyone in the room needs it; everyone outside the room needs it. What is NOT a strategy? Doing nothing—doing no communicating, obtaining no knowledge, getting no support. Anyone dealing with MS will not survive it if none of these are done.

Who are the relationships the person with MS interacts with? What do we say to whom? Who do need support from?

• Family: partners, children, parents, siblings (Needs communication at appropriate level; “show & tell” is a great game to play to help a non-MSer understand invisible symptoms. For example, have men walk in spike heels to understand balance issues; put 10-lb, weights around ankles to experience walking heaviness and fatigue; put a knit glove on a person and have them find objects in a purse like tissue, quarters, etc.)

• Friends (How much you share depends on depth/closeness of friends.)

• Workplace people: boss, colleagues, human resources (very subjective area—many reasons to disclose or not to disclose)

What groups were missing from the power point slide in the presentation that are just as important?

• Peers (They are a lifeline for both MSers and non-MSers—someone you can easily relate to because they are “in your shoes.”)

• Healthcare team (Make sure all of them understand and have experience with persons with MS!  For example, a physical therapist needs to understand the effects of heat and fatigue of MS. Also, you need to like and trust your neurologist; if you don’t, fire him/her and get another one, as this is a lifetime, crucial relationship.)

• Strangers (I have had to ask strangers for help many times since I had mobility problems since my early years. For example, helping me reach something in a grocery store, or assisting me in a dressing room. People in general–in all of the above groups too–like and want to help. It makes them feel good, and they hate to see someone struggle. Personally, I will let people help even if I don’t necessarily need it!)

• Pets (Wow—they understand/comfort us the most, don’t they?!)

I had all eyes on me from my audience, and many nods or claps. It was interesting to see hands go up when I asked how many felt they needed better support in various groups or who didn’t like their neurologist.

Talk is good, even if it doesn’t solve anything. It feels good to get things off our chest. I have an old MS buddy who called me recently and asked, “Can you talk to me? Is this a good time?” But if there is someone like a stranger or a fellow employee who asks you something that you don’t want to talk about, just simply say: “It’s a long story…”

Venting is also good, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. For example, when I get stressed out or frustrated, I cry or call a close friend of mine who is a peer. My husband on the other hand will yell or throw things in an un-harmful way. We go our separate ways to vent because I don’t like his yelling, and he doesn’t like my crying. When the steam is released from the pressure cooker, everything calms down. Holding things inside without a release is dangerously stressful, and we all know how stress negatively affects MS.

What if the people we need to talk with will not communicate or talk? Then it is essential to find someone who will…

In the beginning of my MS, my family was in denial. I went straight to the local chapter of the National MS Society to get literature and meet others who had MS. Later, when both my husband and my mother wouldn’t talk to me about my MS, I went to a therapist who understood MS to help myself deal with these two close people in my life. Years later, I went to a therapist again when deciding whether to give up my career. My MS was aggressive and it was progressing rapidly.

There’s no question that people living with a person with a chronic illness such as MS, is also living with it too. While open communication is essential for all involved, it unfortunately doesn’t always happen effectively without having an “outside” person/s involved. Perceptions are different, emotions are involved, and more often than not, negative consequences result. Ideally, partner/family counseling is essential in most cases.

Realistically, there are obstacles with professional counseling. The first is that many people–whether they have the illness or not–do not want to go to counseling. This was the case in my own personal situation and though I pleaded with my family to go, it didn’t happen. So I went to counseling on my own and fortunately, it helped me tremendously to figure out how to handle my family relationships and how and where I could get support that I needed. Secondly, I believe it is imperative that a good, reputable therapist who UNDERSTANDS MS is found. MS is complicated in many ways, is generally progressive, and currently lasts a lifetime. Finally, many people unfortunately cannot afford therapy; however, many county health departments have resources available for financially strapped people.

So what are strategies to foster healthy communication?

• Should you always be honest about your feelings? When I asked everyone in the room if they were ever dishonest about their feelings, every single hand went up! It obviously is a judgment call, depending upon the people involved, and their personalities. With your healthcare team, you need to be honest. With everyone else, the group agreed that you can’t be a constant complainer or whiner. Be selective with whom you are comfortable with and trust to discuss your concerns, problems, fears, etc.

• Keep a journal about important things that need to be communicated, whether it is info to discuss with your doctor, modifications that need to be made at work, or just notes about what you want to talk about.

• Pick an appropriate time and place for a discussion. Trying to talk when one is tired, hungry, or stressed out will be a disaster. Try to be in a relaxed frame of mind, when interruptions will not occur.

• Be respectful of what the other person is saying—this is a two-way conversation. Actively listen to each other, and avoid accusations, finger pointing, name calling, yelling, etc. How and what we say matters, as well as the tone that we use. Avoid negativity.

• Two-thirds of communication occurs through body language. Your posture, facial expressions, eye contact, etc. speaks volumes. When someone rolls their eyes or points a finger at you, what does that indicate?

• Ask for help and ask to help. People want to help, and people need help. Be explicit or give examples when talking about this to help clarify your statements. Ask questions and share perspectives. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. And remember—none of us are mind readers. Not only are you communicating here, you are educating.

• Everyone should show and express their gratitude often. Give complements.

• A hug, kiss or smile goes a long way.

• From experience, I believe that we MSers set the tone and comfort level. If we are relaxed and open, the other person will be too.

• My personal advice to all: show and give empathy, not sympathy.

• Use humor when appropriate. Many times, the subject being discussed can be very sensitive and not funny at all. Or, it is hard to be humorous when you are not feeling well.

• Avoid arguing and be patient. If an argument develops or patience is lost, quit the discussion and regroup later.

• Always try. If it doesn’t work, try something else.

Well we ran over our one-hour timeframe, which was no surprise. But it was a start, and I always say that “Getting started with anything is the hard part.” Now everyone has a framework or some ground rules they can try to use to enhance their communication, support and knowledge.

At the conclusion, I gave everyone a copy of a previous blog that I had written entitled “MSers and Their Loved Ones.” http://debbiepetrina.authorsxpress.com/?p=61

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

Please visit my website for more articles, videos, my book, MS information and resources.

 


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…

Kristie Salerno Kent’s New Memoir “Dreams”

“My Journey with Multiple Sclerosis”

December 10, 2013

Kristie Salerno Kent is a singer, songwriter, producer, wife and mom. At the prime of her life, she is gorgeous, successful and now an author of a book. To look at her or listen to her, you would say she is lucky. But she will tell you that at one time in her life she didn’t feel lucky. Kristie has MS.

In her new memoir, “Dreams: My Journey with Multiple Sclerosis”, Kristie travels full circle as she talks about her dreams before her MS began, how her life and dreams became disrupted with her MS diagnosis/progression, and how she overcame the disruption through her music to once again dream and fulfill her life. Kristie feels blessed.

As Kristie openly tells her story, she takes us through her steps of the grieving process that one goes through when diagnosed with a chronic illness: denial, depression, anger and finally acceptance. Within the context of own experience, she specifically incorporates details of the challenges one faces with MS—the invisible, unpredictable and interfering symptoms—that create confusion, limitations and fear since there is no cure. Am I imagining this? What should I do? Where should I go? Who shall I tell and what do I say? How can I make this better?

She experiences the other severe implications of MS like fatigue and heat, and how they significantly impact even the smallest tasks. How can you explain these things to someone and help them understand the disturbances they cause when on the outside “you look so good?”  Kristie will tell you about this.

As the years go on in her life, she also tells about the adjustments, changes and choices she made to move forward in her life while never losing hope. Kristie writes in a fashion that is engrossing, easy to understand, and inspiring. One main message in “Dreams” is hope. Hope for herself. Her hope to help others understand the complications of living with MS. And hope that despite having MS, one can continue to pursue dreams.

When Kristie overcame her denial and depression, she wrote and produced her first album, “Believe.” She wants others to believe in themselves to fulfill their dreams despite difficult challenges that life can cause them. Kristie also produced an award-winning documentary, “The Show Must Go On,” to explain the symptoms of MS (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oraM8IF2Gc). Now a mom of two small children, Kristie is a paid spokesperson for Acorda Therapeutics and travels across the U.S. to advocate for people living with MS.

The holiday season is meaningful. Starting with Thanksgiving, it is a time to be thankful for what you have and can do. Christmas and its sister holidays are a time of peace, joy, love and giving. With the New Year comes hope, new dreams, and reflection.

So if you want to read a book that packages all those things together, read Kristie Salerno Kent’s “Dreams: My Journey with Multiple Sclerosis,” available through a free (yes—free!!) download at www.DreamsTheEBook.com.

You will learn, relate, and walk away feeling inspired. I certainly did! And tell your family and friends about it, too. The more people both with and without MS understand this neurological disorder, the better off we will all be. 🙂

www.DebbieMS.com

Office Visits with your Neurologist

“Good Advice for Being Prepared”

December 10, 2012

Not having enough time with your neurologist or feeling that you didn’t get your questions answered is a common complaint by patients today. Often we blame the doctor and his/her office but there is the other side of the story—the doctor’s!

Be Prepared!: How to make the most of office time with your neurologist… is an article worth reading. Written by Avitzur, Orly M.D., M.B.A., it was printed in the current issue of Neurology Now—the American Academy of Neurologists Magazine for Patients and Caregivers.   http://bit.ly/QSp1uH  I’m taking the liberty of sharing this via by blog, since you are my friends I am given the option by them to share this with my friends :).

Finding a neurologist that you are comfortable with, one having high credentials/reviews, and one that has a specialty in your particular chronic condition is essential. After you read this article, ask yourself: do you do this before your visit, and does the doctor respond in the way this doctor suggests?

For those of you not familiar with the magazine Neurology Now, you take a look at it online and subscribe to it for free. While it addresses many neurological disorders, I have found useful information relating to multiple sclerosis for myself. And other things like Parkinson’s disease that my friends have…

www.DebbieMS.com

Giving Thanks to What Really Matters

“Positive Perspective & Attitude”

November 19, 2012

Recently an MS friend of mine and I were having a chat, and we were talking about how MS has impacted our abilities over the years.   Ah, the value of a peer to share with…

Being an optimist, I said there is a silver lining in everything.  If it wasn’t for me having MS, I would have never met the truly wonderful friends I have today or the beautiful people I met during the major part of my life.  Good friends are priceless, and I am so grateful to have them.

I would never have met them if I didn’t engage myself in the world of being a volunteer.  Volunteers are special people.  They give of themselves and ask for nothing in return.  They are there when you need them, smiling.  That is priceless, and there ARE free things in life.  I would never have survived MS because of their support, and will be ever grateful to them.

Sure, I have my boatload of problems due to the MS.  Just like others who have problems with cancer, special needs children, loss of limbs because of a war… Life is not equal for everyone, and things surly can be a lot worse.  I’ve lived through many major-life crises not related to MS—deaths, job losses, melanoma—but I always came through them.  I give myself time to grieve, vent and complain; then establish my priorities and focus on what really matters.

Sometimes I make a list of what I have to be thankful for, and it is very long.

Things like these keep me optimistic and having a good attitude.  Without a good attitude and a positive perspective, I would have shriveled up long ago; like a flower that would die without sun and water.

So before this Thursday, make that list, and thank everyone that has helped you in some way.  It will make you feel good.

Happy Thanksgiving!

www.DebbieMS.com

 

 

 

The Sensitivity of MS Symptoms

“It’s only a Pay Day”

November 5, 2012

Two days ago I participated in two events that lasted all day with only a two-hour break between them. I normally only plan one outing per day, but both events were very important to me and just happened to fall on the same date.

When I planned for the events, I knew I would be fatigued and my MS symptoms would be whacked out afterward. So I made sure I got a good night sleep the night before, planned to lie down for an hour between events, then do absolutely nothing else the rest of that day when I returned home.

The fun and adrenaline enabled me to sail though the day. And sure enough, I returned home exhausted but fulfilled. The mental and emotional satisfaction was worth the physical stress I endured. After some Chinese take-out, I went to bed.

Yesterday, after nine hours of sleep, I woke up still feeling wiped out. It felt like I had a virus. My muscles ached all over, I felt nauseated and dizzy, and all I wanted to do was lie down. Not only did I have overwhelming fatigue, but many of the symptoms I handle with my own case of multiple sclerosis were intensified. The spasticity flared to the point that my legs were “frozen” straight, the pain in my back was unbearable, and the bladder medication wasn’t working. My mental faculties were off– I couldn’t concentrate and I kept forgetting things. Both hands were exceptionally tingly and weak.

It was a “pay day”.

I knew from experience not to freak out. A couple of days of mostly rest and minimal activity would calm the symptoms; I would revert back to my “normal” state. It was just a temporary worsening of symptoms triggered from the excess stress. And I also knew from experience that I didn’t do any permanent damage to my nervous system.

Neurologists like to use a fancy term for this, and call it a pseudo-exacerbation. I don’t like that term because to me it is misleading, implying an actual flare-up or attack. But it’s not! I was “paying” for overdoing it on the previous day, which is why I call it a “pay day”.

It’s like a hangover after a night of too much wine! Rest up, drink plenty of water and eat well. All will pass. Once in a while it’s okay to do this; but if you over indulge everyday then it become a chronic problem.

Any stress can intensify symptoms, as well as other things such as heat, hormones, or even forgetting to eat. I know from experience what causes my symptoms to temporarily worsen, and I know how to manage to call them down.

Aggravating and annoying? Yes. Cause for worry or calling the doctor? No.

I’m still extra fatigued and not quite my “normal” self after that long day I had. But it was worth over indulging and I will do it again.

www.DebbieMS.com

Managing MS vs. Living with MS

“Are they the same thing?

October 1, 2012

Is there a difference between Managing MS versus Living with MS? Yes and no. It depends on who you ask.

On September 24, The NPR Diane Rehm Show 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.

My first response after listening to the show was that the doctors in the discussion did not truly address “living with MS.” The responses were dominated by treatments and medications that patients should take. Questions that were asked about symptoms like spasticity and fatigue or lifestyle activities like diet, stress and exercise were glossed over with comments like “research hasn’t yet shown…” or reverted back to the necessity of getting on a treatment ASAP.

I have had MS for 32 years, and while I think the treatments available and new ones on the horizon are exciting, I would like to point out that there are so many effective ways to manage MS daily that should be understood that are non-medicinal.

Management of MS should be a two-pronged approach: medicinal AND non-medicinal. A person should not only rely or be concerned about drugs to solve their problems with MS. It’s not enough to just “live with it” and think that having an injection or popping a pill will magically take away or minimize the problems MS burdens a person with.

There are numerous things an MSer can do to manage and control (yes, control!) both the symptoms and the course of their disease without the drugs. But this all takes knowledge, support, work, dedication and discipline. There’s no easy way out of it, but trust me, it works!

First, a healthy lifestyle should be maintained to prevent illness, stress, etc. that can help minimize further relapses/damage to the CNS. This means keeping your resistance up and body healthy through proper exercise, diet, stress management, sleep/rest etc. Illness/infections often trigger a relapse by activating an immune system response with subsequent damage to the CNS. Extra precautions to prevent accidents/falls (like using disability aids) would help accomplish the same thing.

Second, there are many things a person can do to manage symptoms. For example, I suffer with much spasticity; by doing daily stretching/exercising, while taking baclofen (a medication to reduce spasticity), the stiffness and tightness is greatly reduced for me. Another example is the importance of learning good bladder management from a neuro-urologist. Eighty percent of persons with MS will suffer from a bladder issue at some point. Putting up with a leaky bladder by wearing pads is not only distressing, it is dangerous. Urinary tract infections (UTI’s) are common and can lead to complications and undesirable consequences.

Understanding the sensitivity of MS to so many factors that intensify symptoms can enable a MSer to take certain actions to calm their symptoms. A prime example is the negative effect that heat has on symptoms like fatigue, endurance, balance… One can learn easy ways to counteract it quickly by using a cooling vest, ice packs, drinking ice water and taking a cold shower. Fatigue—the hallmark symptom of MS that affects 90% of MSers—is another symptom that can often be managed by frequent resting, lifestyle changes, support from others…

Alternatives therapies have helped physical, emotional, and mental issues for many, many folks with MS. These things include yoga, trigger-point therapy, pilates, deep breathing, tai chi, reflexology to name some of them. Finding things to make a person feel better goes a lo-o-o-o-ong way. Some things work for some better than for others, but how do you know if you don’t try them?

After the Diane Rehm show was over, the doctors continued to answer questions submitted by people. Dr. William Shaffer, an attending neurologist who also has lived with MS since 2002 had this to say in response to a couple of off-the-air questions:

“The disease modifying medications do not directly help with symptoms in MS. At the same time, if the disease is being modified with a proper medication, sometimes people do feel better with their symptoms. However, there are many medications/management for the many symptoms we as people with MS can experience.”

“I don’t know any specific numbers on people who didn’t take medications and how they are doing. If you look at it like this, 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.”

Finally, one of the doctors had this remark: “We encourage patients to really think about lifestyle issues, to maximize their activity and exercise, and also to maximize healthy diet, because we now know those things do impact the amount of residual disability people have.”

I wish that comment had been made and talked about during the show.

So if you asked me if there is a difference between managing MS and living with MS, I would respond “yes!” Managing MS should be an integral part of living with MS. I know many people who have had MS for 20-30+ years and I know they would respond to this question the same way.

But the opinion of the person with MS is what ultimately matters. Do you want to just live with MS, or do you want to take some control and manage your MS while living with it?

The choice is yours!

For more info about me and what I am talking about, please go to www.DebbieMS.com