New MSAA Guest Blogger

Meagan Freeman

I am thrilled to join the MSAA organization as a guest blogger, and I would like to introduce myself. My name is Meagan Freeman, and I am a licensed family nurse practitioner, blogger, MS patient and mom of 6 from Northern California.

I was diagnosed with RRMS in 2009, after experiencing dense numbness of my right torso. This was numbness like no other I had felt, like my torso was not even a part of my body. I was in the middle of my Bachelor’s program in Nursing, working as a full time ER nurse, and a mom of 6 at this time. The diagnosis was devastating, and demotivating. Quitting school was something that I thought about almost immediately, and over and over for months. I tried to ignore those demotivating voices in my head. The ones that say, “you should just stop now. What is the point? Take the easy road, forget it.” I was halfway through my Bachelor’s program, should I quit? I was just going to end up in a wheelchair. Bedridden. Nonverbal. Just like my grandmother. What was the use of finishing school? What was the use of doing ANYTHING now? Images of my grandmother raced through my mind. My maternal grandmother was incapacitated in my memory, due to a long battle with progressive MS. These images were terrifying to me, and I pictured myself in that same state.I thought about quitting school many times, but fortunately I continued.

I finished by Bachelor’s degree in 2010, and began my Masters in Nursing/Family Nurse Practitioner program that fall. It was the greatest challenge I had faced since diagnosis, and I would not be allowed to take “short cuts” because of my MS. This was the first time in my life that I realized that my disease would not grant me any free passes. I would have to achieve and complete this program purely on my own, despite any illness.

An important lesson I learned during the 3 years of higher education I pursued as an MS patient was that we are capable of self -defeat. It would be so much easier to quit, right? On those difficult, painful, fatigue ridden days? It is so tempting to give in and take the easy road, and many people succumb to this path. It doesn’t require MS, either; many individuals find any excuse to give up and take the easy road. You must find that voice that encourages rather than discourages. Find that voice that will carry you through those days. Nothing worth doing is ever easy, so make the choice to be the hero of your own story. You have the ability, now you just need the psychological strength.

On my graduation day, in May of 2012, there was light. Spring, warmth, and brightly colored flowers surrounded me like a renewal, out of the cold winter and into the sun. Every detail of that day is frozen in my memory, never to be erased. The smell of the freshly cut grass, the slow march into the ceremony, the smiles. Like a wedding or the birth of a new baby, this was a day that would live in my mind for the rest of my life, though there was a sense of disappointment along with the accomplishment. There was a pre-graduation let down, and I knew that with the completion of this goal, I would need another. Yes, this was a successful endeavor, but what would be next? For now, I could not focus on anything but that moment. This was a day to spend celebrating, laughing, and feeling a sense of pure joy and relief. Why trouble myself with the future today? Today was a day just to be present.

After graduation, I began to practice in a primary care office as a nurse practitioner. I saw many patients during my day, managing chronic illnesses and performing physicals. I experienced the irony of being both a healer as well as a patient, and some days were not easy. I also began to write more frequently, which was always my lifelong passion. I started to blog, and it was incredibly therapeutic to get feelings down on paper. Today, I have the opportunity to blog weekly on my website, and guest blog for several wonderful organizations. I am happy to be able to pursue these things, and with the support of my husband and family, I hope to continue for many years to come.

Being the “hero” of your own story is the theme of most of my writing today, and I encourage every MS patient to think of life as a story that will someday be told. You have the power to make that story whatever you want it to be, so make it incredible, powerful, and positive. Make that story one that will inspire generations to come. You have the power to achieve anything and everything, regardless of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis.

*Meagan Freeman was diagnosed with RRMS in 2009, at the age of 34, in the midst of her graduate education. She is a Family Nurse Practitioner in Northern California, and is raising her 6 children (ranging from 6–17 years of age) with her husband, Wayne. She has been involved in healthcare since the age of 19, working as an Emergency Medical Technician, an Emergency Room RN, and now a Nurse Practitioner. Writing has always been her passion, and she is now able to spend more time blogging and raising MS awareness. She guest blogs for Race to Erase MS, Modern Day MS, and now MSAA. Please visit her at: http://www.motherhoodandmultiplesclerosis.com.

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From Junk Food Junkie to Health Food Nut: My New Year’s Resolution

By: Jeri Burtchell

Happy New Year! I don’t know about you, but I’m starting fresh, determined to make this year better than the one before.

I try not to make unrealistic promises to myself in January since I’m not so “resolute” when it comes to my resolutions. Instead, I set the bar low so I can cross it–even if I have to trip and fall to make it over.

This year I chose only one goal: to eat better. I figured if I can do that, maybe there will be side benefits like losing weight or feeling better.

I confess I’ve been a junk foodie in the past. I use air quotes when I say the word “food” as some people would beg to differ. Yes, I’ve eaten leftover french fries from the bottom of a McDonalds bag a day later. Am I ashamed of that? You bet.

It’s hard to be a freelance writer covering MS and ignore my own bad habits. The latest news regarding the gut microbiome and how it can influence a whole host of diseases has been in the news and on the internet so much I can’t help but feel guilty hoisting a Coke to my lips as I look on and take it all in. Maybe there’s no definitive proof that diet influences MS, but if I can control what goes in my mouth on the off chance I might feel better, don’t I have an obligation to do that?

So enough was enough. I slurped up the rest of my Wendys frosty and pledged to tighten up my definition of food. I mentally stationed a miniature bouncer at the corner of my mouth who only lets the good foods pass.

I wish this bouncer had a wallet full of cash, though. My first stop after I (loosely) defined my resolution was the grocery store. Who knew eating only organic whole foods and raw honey or cold-pressed virgin coconut oil was only a pastime the rich and famous could afford?

The upside to taking out another mortgage in order to eat right is that you are hyper-aware of expiration dates and the gradual decomposition of your quality fruits and veggies. If I wanted everything to turn to compost in the vegetable drawer I would have cut out the middleman and simply buried my hard earned dollars in the back yard.

Not everyone in the house is on this health food bandwagon, however.

My teenager hates vegetables and my 91 year old mother is set in her routine, and she’s in great shape. “She’s earned the right to eat what she likes,” said her doctor, and I swear I saw Mom stick her tongue out at me.

Even though this is my resolution, I’ve found myself asking “every day??” when I think about how often a person is supposed to eat like this. For a terrible cook (another confession), eating things that aren’t ready to “microwave and enjoy” has been a huge challenge.

So I started out with something easy. We all like shakes, and smoothies are like shakes, right?

I got out the old Hamilton-Beach blender and blew the dust off. I looked at all the fancy stuff I’d bought at the grocery store and began flinging in a handful of this, a spoonful of that. I topped it all off with a generous heap of kale (because you can’t toss an Oreo cookie without hitting a story about how good kale is for you), and I set the blender spinning.

It looked…disgusting! The green of the kale, combined with the red of the strawberries gave the concoction an overall brown color. Even though it looked kind of like a chocolate shake, my teenager wrinkled his nose, well aware there had been no chocolate involved in the making of his mom’s new drink.

Ignoring my own urge to pinch my nose closed before gulping it down, I sipped mine and smiled, nodding to him to give his a try.

It turns out we both loved it so much it has become our daily ritual–and the uglier the better. We throw every healthy thing we can find in there.

Besides the smoothies, I cut out processed foods, refined sugar, and carbs. I have no clue how–or if–it affects my MS, but I can tell you this: in the 22 days since I began, I’ve lost 5 lbs., I don’t need afternoon naps, and my brain fog seems to be lifting.

I can’t wait to see how I feel a month from now. Unlike past resolutions, I think I just might be able to keep this one!

*Jeri Burtchell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. She has spoken from a patient perspective at conferences around the country, addressing social media and the role it plays in designing clinical trials. Jeri is a MS blogger, patient activist, and freelance writer for the MS News Beat of Healthline.com. She lives in northeast Florida with her youngest son and elderly mother. When not writing or speaking, she enjoys crafting and photography.

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Do What Makes You Happy

Happy. It’s such a simple word that carries with it so many huge notions and feelings. It is strived for and achieved every day and thought of as an important goal by many. People wish to be happy. I think there is an innate characteristic that many people hold that strives to make other people happy also – to obtain their approval, to have others’ needs be granted and satisfied too. It is human nature to put other’s needs ahead of your own at times, especially in close and supportive relationships. But I think too often people tend to ignore or forget their own needs and their own paths to achieving happiness. It’s not through any fault of their own; when we care for others it sustains us and creates rewarding and happy feelings that tend to satisfy us. But what about the things you can do for yourself that make you happy?

Ok, so realistically life can be crazy and hectic at times, so who has the extra time to spend to do all of the things that ultimately make you happy? Challenges arise, life gets complicated, and things get in the way so it’s hard to focus at times. But sometimes it’s about the little moments, the small fragments of time where you can step away from the obstacles and do something that makes you happy, no matter the task. Life is too precious and too valuable to not do the things that you enjoy and that will bring you happiness and moments to treasure in the days ahead.

It doesn’t have to be every moment of every day, but when you can, take some time to think about what it is that makes you happy, what you would enjoy doing or something new you’ve wanted to try. We’ve again stepped into a new year where people can start things fresh and reflect on their wants and needs. So why not start these new beginnings by doing something that makes you happy?

dental

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Monday is a Day of Service

by Kimberly Goodrich, CFRE, Senior Director of Development

In 1994, Congress declared the federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King to be a day of service. Each year, citizens all across the country honor Dr. King’s memory by participating in acts of service that benefit their community. This Monday, January 19th, we encourage you to help improve lives today for the multiple sclerosis community as your act of service.

MLK 2015

Start volunteering today!

Need some ideas to help the MS community?

1. Donate your time by creating a fundraising event to benefit MSAA.
2. Participate in Swim for MS.
3. Make a purchase from a company that supports charitable causes.
4. Make a monetary contribution.
5. Sign up for our Street Squad program and begin spreading the word about MSAA.
6. Perform random acts of kindness for someone in your community.

We would love to hear how you are spending your Monday. Let us know what fun activities you’ll be doing either here or on our Facebook page.

MLK Day infographic

*About Kimberly

I am the Senior Director of Development at MSAA and have worked in the nonprofit arena for over 15 years. I love reading, running, theatre and the Green Bay Packers. I volunteer with the Disabled American Veterans teaching outdoor sports like skiing and kayaking to injured veterans and find that I receive much more from them than I am able to give.

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We need a clean-up on aisle 7…

Sometimes it is easy to decide when to let something go. When a child outgrows his/her clothes or toys it may be easy to identify that those items would better serve someone else and then look to donate or trash/recycle the items based on their wear.

Other times it may be much harder to identify what needs to stay and what needs to go such that the clutter and chaos of too many “things” begins to build. It might be the clothes you were hanging onto in case you lost/gained some weight, not knowing which financial statements or receipts are important to hold onto, or it might even be the gifts and knickknacks which looked so cute when they were received but have never found a home on your shelves. For many people it is a combination of different types of clutter which may cause of sense of dread or feeling of being overwhelmed with not knowing how to get started with the clean-up.

Whatever is muddling up your life try the following tips to get started in clearing out the clutter:

1. Create a list. Compartmentalize where the problems lie so you can create a plan of action for how to deal with them.
2. Identify why you have held onto the items. Sometimes items hold sentimental value, monetary value, or serve a specific purpose and must be retained (i.e. tax papers).
3. Decide which task to tackle first and set a timeline.
4. Ask for help (sometimes it takes a helping hand to sort things out).
5. Get to work! Start on your first goal area with a keep, organize/file, and trash/recycle pile.
6. Don’t beat yourself up if the clean-up isn’t happening as quickly as you wanted.

Taking pro-active steps to clear out the clutter can help in the long run to reduce stress levels and help you to live a simpler life.

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Winding Down from the Holidays

As the holiday season comes to a halt, signs of the New Year are all around us. While families are taking down and storing away decorations, stores are preparing for the next holiday. Windows and aisles are filled with red and pink candies, hearts, and flower holding bears. With all of the displays and reminders about Valentine’s Day, it’s hard not to be swept back up into another holiday.

January is typically the month of New Year’s Resolutions, with everyone vowing to make changes or set goals for the new year. January can also be a time for a re-set. Before jumping back into another holiday, take some time to focus on you and do something that you enjoy, or perhaps have put off over the last few months.

Changing the mentality of getting a jump start on the new year to one of sanctity and calm, may be beneficial for people who find themselves getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of life and forgetting to care for themselves.

Take some time during the day, even as little as 10 minutes, to do something that makes you happy. Sometimes even just sitting in a quiet space and taking a few deep breaths can calm you and prepare you for your next task. It is OK to take time for yourself. By doing so, you are allowing your best self to come forward.

How do you plan to care for yourself this year?

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January 2015 Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

MSAA is very proud to present our 2014 Art Showcase - celebrating the work of artists affected by MS.

We have received many wonderful submissions from across the country and are delighted to share their work and their stories with you. Please visit our online gallery to view all of the new submissions.

January Artist of the Month:
Bob Donner – Apple Valley, MN

 Bob Donner - Aurora Campfire

About the Artist:

“I think you have MS, the doctor said to my wife and me, and then promptly left the room. We stared at each other, wondering ‘What the heck is MS?’ Of course we’d heard of MS, but to us it was only a charitable cause with no personal connection. Since that day in June 2008 we have learned so much, probably way too much, about MS.

Being forced into ‘medical retirement’ gave me the time to discover I had an artistic side. Due to its constant availability, a computer screen became my canvas. I may be confined to a wheelchair, but my art has opened up a new world to me – a world of color and shapes and shading. It has forced me to look at everything with ‘new”eyes. As limiting as my disability is, I can’t help but be grateful for what it has given me.”

Read more

Be inspired – please send an online card featuring artwork by MS artist Bob Donner and spread awareness of MS and MSAA.

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How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference in the New Year

By: Matt Cavallo

While most people are planning for their New Year’s resolutions, many of us with multiple sclerosis are just trying to feel normal again after all the holiday activities. The problem with the holidays is that they take us out of our normal routines and create financial and emotional stress. When we go outside of our normal routine or have increased stress, we unknowingly put ourselves at risk for an MS exacerbation, or relapse.

Last year I blogged, “Tips for Avoiding a Post-Holiday Multiple Sclerosis Flare”, which can be read by clicking here. Those tips include: developing a financial plan, changing eating habits, exercising, getting back on your schedule and setting attainable goals. You can enjoy the holidays, but it is critical to have a plan to get back on track.

Most times my tips come from lessons I’ve learned the hard way. Instead of taking my own advice last year I tried to be super dad and ran myself ragged. I spent the next couple of months trying to recover from the MS fatigue, was unable to take off the extra holiday weight and had to buy new pants with a stretchy waist band.

You see, you don’t have to wait until the New Year for a do-over. Resolutions can start at any time. Mine was to ditch the stretchy pants. I made sure to start working towards it before the holiday season began. I also made a couple of smart decisions along the way.

I took extra time off to make sure that I wasn’t stressed with last minute running around. Taking care of the gifts ahead of time also softened the financial stress of the season, because the costs were spread out. We didn’t stray too much from our regular diet, but did allow some holiday goodies. I also made sure to take extra time to rest. Taking the time off to spend with my family allowed me to be super dad and catch up on rest.

With all of the planning I did ahead of time, I am much less stressed and fatigued than last year. I am also down a couple of pounds and can ditch the stretchy pants. I’m still not exactly where I want to be yet, but I am working on it. A pleasant side effect of implementing a resolution before the New Year is that I actually believe that I have some attainable goals that I can stick to.

What I learned is that I don’t need a holiday to commit to feeling better. I cannot control what MS does to me, but I can control other things like fitting into my pants. Making small changes can have a big impact on how you feel or how fatigued you are. What little changes are you going to make in 2015?

Thank you for your continued readership and support. Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy New Year!

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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Here’s to a New Year!

Proof-V1-2014-MSAA Holiday Cards14It’s time to celebrate a new year again, and with it, new hopes and goals for the upcoming months. A new year symbolizes many things but one of the most aspiring qualities it holds is promise. Things can be changed, new strategies can be created and thus new journeys can begin during this fresh start. No matter the venture, people can make choices and set goals that work to accommodate their needs and wants to make the year a memorable one.

Though each New Year represents the passing of time, it also ignites new beginnings and reminders that time is precious and to make each moment count. Resolutions are a common theme this time of year and one of the most popular items to add to one’s agenda. If you create resolutions for yourself make them attainable so they’re something you can commit to and strive for within the year. Form resolutions and goals that you’re passionate about so your interest in them remains strong. The New Year is just that, new, so take time to learn what the year has to offer and what you can obtain from it.

What will you be doing in the New Year?

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The Heat and the Cold Can Impact MS Symptoms – Our Community Members Share Their Experiences

For many people with multiple sclerosis, heat can exacerbate MS symptoms. One of our contributors at MultipleSclerosis.net, Matt, even moved from southern California to Colorado, partly to escape the heat. However, another one of our contributors, Jackie, experiences MS symptoms, especially in her legs, when it is cold. It seems that temperatures affect people with MS in multiple ways, and in a recent article, Stephanie shared her experience. While she is extremely cold during the day, she finds herself turning into a “human torch” at night. As it turns out, many of our community members also overheat at night, or have other issues regulating their body temperature. More than 30 people in our Facebook community commented on Stephanie’s article, and here’s what they had to say:

I have night sweats too!

  • I had no idea that this was a symptom of my MS, which I was only diagnosed with 2 months ago. I also found out in an earlier post that “sensory overload” is part of it. Just ask my family, Saturday I was a complete jerk with EVERY little noise and I had no idea why. At least I can feel validated and not completely crazy!
  • I thought I was the only one who suffered from these strange symptoms! I prefer the heat over the cold, which makes my extremities hurt. And I freeze constantly – until I go to sleep. I bury myself under the covers to get warm, but wake up in the middle of the night kicking them off of me because I’m drenched in sweat. It’s miserable and ridiculously confusing!
  • I’ve been having night sweats for awhile and my neurologist keeps saying it is not my MS, but it didn’t start happening until a year after my diagnosis.
  • Fantastic post. This is something many people with MS experience as part of life with the condition and will help other people see they are not alone.
  • I, too, prefer the warm, not hot, weather. I freeze all day, but I can’t stand the covers on in bed.
  • I thought I was the only one who had the strange symptoms. I haven’t slept because of it for now 3 weeks, and it’s driving me insane.
  • I thought it was menopause possibly starting early. I never thought my MS did this. It’s horrible, especially when it’s actually cold.
  • I have the same problem with night sweats. I’ve had every test and no one can explain why I have them. Thanks for the article. I don’t feel so alone.
  • Yes, I definitely relate! I turn into a Bunsen burner especially late at night and no matter how cold it is I sweat like crazy without even getting all that over heated or hot. I still wake up sweaty.
  • ‪I sleep with ice packs all year long here in Michigan.
  • This is me, 110%! I’m freezing all day then a human furnace at night. And I can’t handle sleeping without a heavy blanket either from years of doing so before these symptoms.

I’m cold sometimes, and really hot at other times.

  • My husband and I had to resort to having our own bedrooms, and I often keep a fan on and have eight blankets. This is all because my body temperature is yo-yoing.
  • My feet always feel cold even though they’re warm especially when I’m in bed
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  • I get really cold then I get really hot. It’s off and on.
  • I have that problem too. I thought it was just me, so thank you for posting this. I get night sweats to the point that my shirt will be wet.
  • I know EXACTLY what you mean! I am freezing cold, and burning up at the exact same moment. But it’s not just at night. I am always uncomfortable.
  • I thought it was just me! My body is like a house with no insulation. I’m either too hot or too cold.
  • I’m always warm – my hot flashes ended some time ago. My feet are always cold, even when it’s 100° outside. My circulation is getting so bad.

My Body temperature is hot all the time!

  • I’ll trade with you! I am like a human torch all the time. I never cool off even in the winter. People think I’m crazy because I don’t wear a jacket even in the winter. It makes it very hard to sleep because my husband is always cold and I am always hot.
  • I live in IL and it’s Dec. 22. I still wear shorts and a short-sleeved shirt to bed. I still sometimes wake up sweaty.
  • I don’t get cold often, but I’m always really hot since being diagnosed. It’s winter and I’m running my fan on full blast!

I’m cold all the time!

  • The only time this overheating ever happened to me was when I was taking Rebif. Now I am a thermostat nightmare – freezing cold all the time, layers and layers of clothing, and at night I have found the one thing to help go from hot to cold with minimal effort – believe it or not –  is a sleeping bag. The silk of the bag stays cool, and it warms up like a champ too so it’s easy to toss on and off at a whim without too much effort while TRYING to sleep.

Other:

  • I also find that using a sleeping bag helps me better adjust temp at night. I found this out by accident in September. Long story short, I was homeless from March of this year until December first. I was living in my car and when the season started shifting here in New England I finally borrowed a sleeping bag for the cooler nights. I slept much better with the sleeping bag than I did with blankets. My car would get stuffy at night with all the windows rolled up yet it was also chilly. The silkiness of the sleeping bag was comforting when I was feeling chilly and it was soothing to lie on top of it when I was feeling a little too warm. Now I have finally moved into an apartment and I don’t want to give the sleeping bag up.
  • I don’t do well in the heat. AC is for me in the summer, but I have been having cold hands and feet this winter nearly all the time. I am sitting in front of a floor heater nearly all the time now, and I live in California. There’s no way could I ever go or live where there is snow!
  • I don’t usually get hot or cold, but lately in the last 6 months I have sweating episodes that last about 20 minutes where I am drenched. I’m way past menopause so I know that can’t be it.

What about you? Do you have trouble regulating your body temperature? Do you have a hard time with either hot or cold temperatures? Please share with us in the comments!

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