Greetings from the Northeast! An Update from Multiple Sclerosis Association of America Northeast Regional Director

By Lauren Hooper

Greetings from your Northeast Regional Director! As summer begins to wind down and fall approaches, MSAA has a few educational programs lined up in the Northeast Region, and I hope you’ll consider joining us if there are any coming up in your area.

On Tuesday, August 27th, I traveled to Morristown, NJ for a program on symptom management in MS that focused on helping patients to identify the overall range of MS symptoms (especially symptoms with treatment options available) and how to best address them with their professional care team. Dr. Mary Ann Picone from Holy Name MS Center was the guest speaker, and she made sure to answer every attendee’s question during the Q&A session. It was such an interactive program, and as everyone was leaving, a few people stopped to tell me how nice it was to be able to talk to a physician outside of the clinical setting. Everyone seemed relieved to have had all of their questions addressed, and I was thrilled that they benefited so much from the program.

In September, my travels will take me to Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maryland. On September 14th, I’ll travel to Bangor, ME for a patient program on “Tackling the Everyday Challenges: Recent Breakthroughs in MS Symptom Management & What’s to Come” (support.mymsaa.org/Bangor). On September 21st, I’ll be in Braintree, MA for a program designed for parents and children to help build a better understanding of MS, called “Bridging the Communication Gap between Parents with MS and their Children” (support.mymsaa.org/DBBraintreeMA). On September 25th, I will head to Burlington, VT for a patient program on “Cognition in Multiple Sclerosis” (support.mymsaa.org/Burlington). And I’ll wrap up September in Baltimore, MD on September 28th with a patient program focusing on the African American experience with MS entitled “A Closer Look at the African American Community and Multiple Sclerosis” (support.mymsaa.org/Baltimore).

Later this fall, I am also planning on holding programs in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, and I hope to get back to New York before the end of the year as well. If you don’t see a program in your area, please keep checking our Calendar of Events (support.mymsaa.org/calendar) regularly, as we are constantly adding new programs. I hope to see you at a program soon!

* Lauren Hooper is the Northeast Regional Director at MSAA.

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Thank You For All That You Do

This month we focused on offering support and resources to the caregivers providing love and support to many with MS. We shared tips, stories, and resources for the caregivers who have dedicated their lives to helping others. On behalf of the entire MSAA staff, we say Thank You!

“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Online Support for Caregivers of People with Multiple Sclerosis

As a caregiver or care partner it can frequently be a challenge to actually make it out and about town. While an in-person support group or activity may be ideal, sometimes it may not be a reality. Online groups provide an alternate way to connect to support without having to plan details and coordinate care to be able to attend.

Websites such as MSWorld: http://www.msworld.org/ and PatientsLikeMe: http://www.patientslikeme.com/ provide avenues for individuals diagnosed with MS and their caregivers to discuss their concerns. These groups allow you to connect through online message boards or forums.

So, when you can’t get out of the house but need to talk with another person who has “been there” an online resource may be the way to go. Please note that every online forum will have its own set of rules and privacy policies. Before you register for any website be sure you are comfortable with the terms agreement.

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A Care Partner’s Emotional “Moons”

By Bob Rapp

It’s another one of those nights. The ones that you awake at 2 am for no particular reason and can’t fall back to sleep. The one I love is soundly sleeping beside me making those cute, soft, sleeping sounds. As I wait for the sandman to return, she turns to her side and I hear a soft but audible ow, ow, ow. She still sleeps but I know it is the cramping in her legs that she is feeling. While it passes quickly, I am left to contemplate the 3 emotions that circle around me like the moons of a planet. And like moons these emotions are present but are sometimes in hiding.

There is my sense of helplessness in small events such as her leg cramping and larger ones as she fights through her fatigue and struggles to get out of bed for the day. What can I do? I can’t stop the pain and discomfort. Medicine and science have yet to eliminate her symptoms or cure her illness. As her partner, I try to provide the care, understanding and support needed but the frustration I feel because I can’t “do more’ is real and at times heart breaking.

There are times when the uncertainty of MS leads to thoughts of what the future may bring.  It is accompanied by anxiety and sometimes fear. Thankfully, like the moon that circles its host planet infrequently these emotions appear only occasionally. They are worthy of thought and planning but I have done a pretty good job of focusing on what is directly in front of me. The here and now. Getting as much as we can extract from each day.

The emotion that shines the brightest, the one that exerts the strongest gravitational pull and the one that dominates my emotional sky is my admiration for her indomitable spirit. She does what she is able to proactively manage her MS. She is adherent to her medications. She exercises up to two hours each and every day. She works part-time and wants to travel everywhere. And she even finds time to help with her own parent’s care, provide guidance to her two adult children and take care of me (sometimes not an easy job). She is not a Superwoman. She doesn’t climb mountains or run marathons. She is just someone trying to do the best she can to live the best life she can and by doing that she teaches me something every day.

I certainly would not wish a disease like MS on anyone. I know having the choice I would eliminate it from our lives. There is however much to be learned and much to be inspired by. In some very strange ways there is a richness of life that is gained by making this journey together.

What as a care partner are your emotional “moons?”

*Bob Rapp is the Chief Operating Officer of MSAA. He has been a care partner to a person living with MS for more than a decade.

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Caregiving: How Do You Ask For Help?

When you are on a plane the flight attendant always guides you through the steps of what to do in an emergency. One of those steps involves the oxygen mask. They always say to secure the mask to your own face before assisting your child or others. The logic is that if the plane loses oxygen and you faint or become incapacitated you will not be able to help anyone else (let alone yourself).

Many times a caregiver or carepartner is so focused on all the things they need, want, or have to do for another that they prioritize the “to do’s” and completely forget about their own needs. It is important to remember that everyone needs help at some point or other, even the designated “helper.”

But how do I ask for help?

  • Know what you need – Identify a few key things and add them to your “to do” list
  • Prioritize your list – You shouldn’t always be last
  • Know who to ask –Learn which agencies do what
  • Have the conversation – Discuss your needs/actions with the person you’re caring for
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Caring for You When You’re Caring for Someone with Multiple Sclerosis

Being a caregiver doesn’t always mean having time to take care of yourself, but at times it is exactly what’s needed in order to maintain your own wellbeing. Yes, it may not always fit into your schedule while taking care of others, but it requires some consideration so that you may carry out these other responsibilities. As a caregiver, self-care means having to make time during the busy day to do something for yourself. For some this is difficult to achieve or even fathom, because the person being cared for is your top priority. But, if possible, you may be able to make minor changes or tweaks to a routine that creates the time and space for this much needed self-care. Though caregiving can be unpredictable due to the changing nature of illness, it is important to take advantage of times where you can be taken care of too. Here are some suggestions to find these moments of self-care:

  • Take rests when they rest.
  • Eat regularly! Eating meals together can have an added quality time component too.
  • Venture outside of the home when you can. Running errands, going shopping, or even just taking a brief walk can provide some alone time needed to rejuvenate yourself (To search for respite resources in your area, see the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center, http://archrespite.org/home).
  • Talk! Caregiving can be an overwhelming and emotional journey, so if you have the opportunity to talk or vent about your experiences, do so. If you would like an objective third party to listen who’s not a family member or friend, it may be helpful talking to a counselor/therapist about your experiences in order to safely and effectively express your feelings in this role.

Caregiving is no easy task. It takes a lot of hard work, determination and commitment. So while you’re busy taking care of others, be sure to remember you, and that sometimes you need care too!

 

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Swim for MS News – August 2013

The August 2013 Winner is…
Congratulations Rachel Clift, for being the top Swim for MS fundraiser during the month of July!

Check out Rachel’s Swim for MS page

Tips for the nervous swimmerTips for the Nervous Swimmer:

  • Buy goggles that fit to avoid uncomfortable under-eye creases
  • Build a strong core on dry land; swimming uses every muscle in your body
  • Start by treading water to get your blood flowing
  • Take it two laps at a time, if able to, to develop stamina
  • Familiarize yourself with the breaststroke so you can easily get yourself from one side of the pool to the other
  • Have fun with your swim!

Exclusive Swim for MS swimsuitsSwim for MS Swimsuit Partnership:
MSAA has partnered with HARDCORESWIM to provide exclusive Swim for MS swimsuits! Two different Swim for MS styles are available for men and women! If you haven’t already done so, check out the Swim for MS page on their site and order your suit today before the summer fun is over!

Spread the Word:
Don’t forget to post pictures of your Swim for MS on social media and tag MSAA!

Facebook: facebook.com/msassociation
Twitter: @Msassociation
Use hashtag #SwimForMS

In Other News:
Please visit our Swim for MS News section on SwimForMS.org for more information on our CaféPress site, as well as our Swim for MS partners, Pura Vida and HARDCORESWIM.

If you have any questions, please contact us at swim@mymsaa.org.

Thank you for your support, and happy swimming!

#SwimForMS – use this hashtag when talking about Swim for MS on Twitter!

Tweet about your Swim for MS!

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Resources for the Caregiver

The role of the caregiver is often described as “the rock” or “the foundation” of the family; the one responsible for the wellbeing of all. But who takes care of you? Just as much as your loved one needs your support, you need support also. It is ok to take a break, and turn to help when you need it. In order to be the best caregiver you can be you need to be well rested both mentally and physically. Being the primary caregiver for an individual with MS can be challenging. The unpredictability of MS itself creates an additional challenge in trying to manage your day to day life.

There are some helpful resources for those in the caregiver role to aid in the management of the daily challenges of caregiving. The Family Caregiver Alliance provides caregiving information and advice as well as a guide to state resources available to caregivers. The Caregiver Action Network offers information and resources to individuals in all types of caregiving situations. The site helps to identify the various needs that caregivers may express through their varying roles.

Another great resource directed specifically towards spousal caregivers is the Wellspouse Association. They coordinate a national network of Support Groups and facilitate a Mentor program. And when the time comes for a break, the National Respite Network provides a National Respite Locator to help caregivers locate respite services in their community. The site also helps to educate caregivers on how to find and choose appropriate respite care.

With so many resources available to assist the individual in the caregiving role, now it is your time to take a break and be the best caregiver that you can be.

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Caregiver Recognition

By Matt Cavallo

I remember the feeling to this day. You know that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when something is happening that is outside your control. I was lying in my hospital bed, my wife and family surrounding me looking hopelessly as I drifted in and out of consciousness.  The entire time I was thinking, “What did they do to deserve this?”

Everyone was handling the news differently. My dad told me that he met some people with MS that were hiking mountains and playing tennis. My mom was at church everyday holding community prayer to find a cure for her son. I even had a friend tell me that drinking Pedialite would regenerate spinal fluid after the spinal puncture somehow.

Then there was my wife, Jocelyn, standing steadfast by my side. Friends and family came and left the hospital, but she stayed each minute. As I looked at her, I believed that the hopes and dreams we had for raising kids and enjoying the family life were dashed at twenty eight years old. I was wondering if I was even capable of having children with the Transverse Myelitis rendering me without function from the waist down.

Eight years later, Jocelyn is still by my side. Through each MS exacerbation, treatment and therapy she has been there always. At times, her role as my caregiver has been a challenge. When I had my cervical fusion, she had to help me with things like bathing and getting dressed. She was providing my care while taking care of a two year old toddler and a newborn.

There will always be challenges for those who care for a person with a chronic illness. There are also resources that can help. Even though Jocelyn and I have achieved a pretty normal life despite living with MS, we are always looking for information to ensure this quality of life continues. A great resource for care givers is the Spring 2004 Motivator article, Caring. Caring provides helpful tips and resources such as safety, diet and stress for those caring for a person living with a chronic illness like Multiple Sclerosis.

Last week, my wife celebrated her birthday and each year I am more and more amazed with her. All my fears back in that hospital bed have disappeared because I know that she is there for me. We were able to accomplish all our hopes and dreams and today are living the family life we always wanted.

Happy birthday, Jocelyn! You are an amazing mother and caregiver. I don’t know where I’d be without you! Thank you so much for being there every day and providing the support and care I need to help me in my fight against MS.

At the MSAA, we would like to hear from you. Please take this time to comment and thank the person in your life that has been there for you on your journey.

Matt Cavallo

For more information about My Story, please visit me at:

http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

*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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Matt’s Introduction

By Matt Cavallo

Hello and thank you for checking out the MSAA blog. My name is Matt Cavallo and I will be contributing a bi-monthly blog to the MSAA. Since being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in May of 2005, I have dedicated my life, work and education to helping others live well with this devastating disease. My goal of this blog is to draw upon my personal experience to discuss relevant topics and resources for persons living with MS, as well as, for their caregivers.

My journey with MS started in 2005. At the age of 28 years old, I had an acute onset of Transverse Myelitis (TM). The onset of TM claimed my functionality from the waist down. I was unable to walk or go to the bathroom on my own. Six months later, I lost vision in my right eye due to Optic Neuritis. Following the bout of Optic Neuritis, I had a cognitive loss which dramatically affected my memory and word recollection. Finally, in 2010 I had a suffered a fractured C6 vertebrae, which resulted from damage left over from my TM onset. I had to undergo an emergency cervical fusion to prevent becoming a quadriplegic.

When I first started experiencing symptoms, I was depressed and afraid. I thought that at 28 years old my life was over. I would like to say I handled it better, but I didn’t. I pushed away my family, friends and even my wife, Jocelyn. I was sure that the hopes and dreams that Jocelyn and I had together were over because of my condition. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to have kids because of the TM and even if I could still have kids, I didn’t want them to have a sick dad that couldn’t participate in their life.

Today, I am happy, healthy and feeling great overall and am doing things that I never thought was possible when I was first diagnosed. Despite having MS for eight years and the complications that go along with it, I am living my dream. Following my diagnosis, I completed my Masters of Public Health Administration and now work as a consultant in hospitals across the US to help practitioners better service patients like myself. I also penned my personal memoir, The Dog Story, which has been tremendously well received globally by patients, as well as, caregivers who can relate to my story.  Today, I am the proud father of two boys, Mason (5) and Colby (3). The most important thing to me is that I am able to be a father and even coached Mason’s baseball team this past spring.Matt's blog

Today, I have partnered with the MSAA because I believe that we can make a difference in the lives of persons living with Multiple Sclerosis. I will be writing a series of blogs that focus on maintaining a great quality of life despite having MS. My blogs intertwine my personal experience with MS with resources, programs and links that I have found helpful. I intend this blog to be interactive. Please comment, ask questions or suggest topics that you would like to learn more about. We are on this journey together and together, we can make a difference. Thank you for taking the time and for supporting the MSAA.

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