About Samantha Schech

I am a Client Service Specialist here at MSAA. I have my Master's Degree in Social Service from Bryn Mawr College, a school just outside of Philadelphia. Originally from the Baltimore area, I am a huge Baltimore sports fan and am often heard cheering for the Ravens and Orioles. In my spare time, I enjoy cooking, traveling, and playing kickball with my friends in an adult sports league.

Easy Home Gardening Tips for a Fruitful Summer

Love the taste of fresh vegetables in the summer? Enjoy the feeling of tending to precious plants? Why not garden?

I have to admit, the idea of digging a big hole in the ground, then having to bend or stoop down to tend to it isn’t very appealing. But gardening can have many therapeutic benefits; in fact the therapeutic benefits of garden environments have been documented since ancient times and can help to improve memory, cognition, depression, and anxiety.

The interaction one has with the healing elements of nature helps to nourish the soul, and in this case the body as well.

Many fruits and vegetables can grow in easy, portable containers; making gardening more accessible for everyone. Local grocery stores, home improvement stores, or farmers markets sell the starter kits that come ready to plant! Pick a container and some potting soil and you’re one step closer to fresh fruits and veggies. While the initial cost to purchase the containers, soil, and plants may be high; consider the reward all summer of essentially “free” food.


There are actually at least 35 fruits and vegetables that you can grow in containers; ones that actually thrive in this environment. Some more common and easy options are tomatoes, zucchini and summer squash, peppers, leafy greens (kale, spinach, lettuce), and citrus fruits.








Consider your outdoor space when planning your garden. Plant containers can be placed on tables, blocks, railings, hanging baskets, virtually anywhere! If you plan to use a large container, consider the overall weight when filled. Plant caddies are great for moving larger pots and can be purchased at the local home improvement or garden store.

Home gardening certainly has its trials and tribulations, but we can all learn from each other. Share your gardening experience in the comments below.

plant caddy



The 35 Easiest Container and Pot Friendly Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs



Uhthoff’s Phenomenon: Keeping Heat Related Symptoms at Bay

“Uhthoff’s what?” you may be asking yourself. Yes it is a funny name, but it has a more serious meaning. This common symptom of MS can be very troubling, especially when it happens abruptly. Uhthoff’s syndrome or phenomenon is described by clients as a dimming or reduction in vision, usually associated with exercise or overheating.

A 2011 study finds that approximately 60% of MS patients report heat sensitivity. Heat sensitivity is defined as a temporary worsening of MS symptoms when the weather becomes hot or humid. These symptoms are also common when running a fever, or participating in exercise activities.

While Uhthoff’s phenomenon relates solely to vision issues, in the Swedish study heat sensitivity was also discovered as a significant factor relating not only to fatigue but also to several other common MS symptoms such as pain, concentration difficulties, and urination urgency.

Heat sensitivity can cause a number of challenges to individuals with MS. One of the more challenging issues involves determining if the change in symptom is caused by MS disease activity, or other causes such as heat. This experience can be worrisome and cause individuals to fear that their MS is somehow getting worse, or possibly progressing.

So what can you do to combat the heat? Be mindful of how heat can impact your MS symptoms. Planning is the key to keeping heat related symptoms at rest; plan activities around cooler times of the day, either early in the morning or later in the evening.

What tips and tools have you developed to keep heat related symptoms at bay?




Spring Resiliency Reminders for MS

If you live along the east coast, like most of us do here at MSAA, signs of spring are showing. We have battled another harsh New England winter and are looking forward to the first signs of spring. Spring has always been my favorite time of year; to me spring flowers represent resiliency. The tiny buds fought the tough winter to show their beauty to the world once again.

april blog pic

“Resilience is very different than being numb. Resilience means you experience, you feel, you fail, you hurt. You fall. But, you keep going”. — Yasmin Mogahed

Having a diagnosis such as MS can inspire and drive an individual to find the resiliency that is buried within. For those with Relapsing Remitting MS, the ebb and flow of life between relapses is proof of the resiliency that exists. For those with more progressive forms of MS such as Secondary Progressive MS or Primary Progressive MS, the daily adaptation and adjustment to a new lifestyle is also proof that resiliency exists. Recognizing and acknowledging that change isn’t always a bad thing and learning to be OK with the new normal is also proof that resiliency exists in MS.

Share the ways you have remained resilient with MS in the comments below.


Managing the Emotional Impacts of Challenging Symptoms

The first few years living with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) are often described as a whirlwind. No one prepares for a chronic illness, especially one as unpredictable as MS. While you work closely with your neurologist and other specialty care physicians to manage the physical symptoms that may present, how do you manage the emotional impact that a chronic illness may put forward.

Symptoms such as Pseudobulbar Affect that are characterized by sudden, uncontrollable expressions of laughter or crying without an apparent trigger can be challenging to emotionally manage. These episodes often occur in public settings and can draw unwanted attention. It is important to remember that Pseudobulbar Affect is a symptom that is a direct result of a neurologic condition; it is not an indicator of a hidden or suppressed feeling. For some who experience this symptom, they question whether or not the inappropriate laughter or crying is an actual feeling that perhaps they were not aware of; this is not the case.

Embarrassing or troubling symptoms call in to question self-worth and can directly impact the way you feel about your MS. These feelings are normal and come along with the grieving process that is associated with chronic illness. Finding support through a friend or family member or even seeking the support of a mental health counselor can be beneficial. The following tips can also be of support during these emotional times:

  • Remain present: Harboring too much thought and attention to things in your past or in the future can cause unwanted stress and anxiety.
  • Value yourself based on your present abilities. Remain positive about what you can do now, versus what you could do before.
  • Put yourself first! Understand your needs and identify ways to meet those needs.

The MS Conversations blog is a support to the entire MS Community. Please use the comment section below to share your story, or to support to another individual with MS.


Finding Companionship in Some Furry Places

February being the “love” month, we thought it may be appropriate to kick-off the month talking about some of our favorite furry creatures! In the past we have discussed the benefits of pet relationships and the positive effects that these relationships can have on one’s health and wellbeing.

With the uncertainty of a disease such as MS, individuals may feel comforted knowing that an animal has had some level of training or certification to meet a specific need. But what do the different titles mean? And which might be the best for your situation?

A Therapy Animal is not defined by federal law and may (or may not) be loosely defined by state laws. The primary purpose of a therapy animal is to provide affection and comfort to individuals, mostly those that live in communities such as nursing homes, or hospitals and schools. Their owners are registered members of an Animal Therapy program, and bring the animals in to visit with clients.

A Service Animal is one that has been specifically trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability. Different states have different regulations in terms of licensing or certification requirements for service animals. You can check with the office of the Attorney General in your state to discover how service animals are defined and licensed.

An Emotional Support Animal, or companion animal, is a person’s pet that has been prescribed by a licensed mental health professional. The animal is included as part of the treatment plan and is designed to bring comfort and minimize the negative symptoms of the person’s emotional/psychological challenges.

Emotional Support Animals, specifically dogs should be able to:

  • Walk beside you without straining against the leash
  • Sit on command
  • Come when called
  • Lie down on command
  • Show no aggression toward humans or other animals when unprovoked

For more information, or to register your pet as an Emotional Support Animal, visit the National Service Animal Registry website and complete the brief form and pay the registration fee.

By completing this process and certifying your pet as an Emotional Support Animal, you are protecting yourself in several situations. There are laws that protect individuals with service or emotional support animals, including housing and landlord/tenant laws.

While pets require a certain level of commitment and responsibility, this may not be appropriate for everyone’s situation. That doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the love of an animal.

There are non-profits throughout the country that provide visiting pet services. PAWS for People™ is a non-profit committed to providing therapeutic visits to individuals within their service community who would benefit from interaction with a well-trained, loving pet. To find programs in your area, search “therapy animal” and your city.

Show your #PetLove and share your favorite #MSAAPets stories about you & your pet with us!



For additional information, please visit the sites below:

NSAR- National Service Animal Registry: https://www.nsarco.com/; 866-737-3930

Paws for People: http://www.pawsforpeople.org/; 302-351-5622

Canines Companion for Independence: www.cci.org;1-800-572-BARK (2275)

Paws with a Cause: www.pawswithacause.org; 800-253-7297

Pet Partners: www.petpartners.org; 425-679-5500

Service Dogs for America: www.servicedogsforamerica.org; 701-685-2242

Service Dogs for Independence: www.servicedogsforindependence.com; 520-909-0531


New Year – New You

I have to admit, I am a sucker for a New Year’s resolution. Maybe it’s the over-indulgences from the holiday season, or the thought that summer is quickly approaching. But I really enjoy the idea of a reset; or a chance for a redo. The key word there is “chance”; each individual has the power to elicit a change in their lives.

For me, January 1st is the first day of a new life. While we can look at each day as an opportunity for change, for some, the bigger picture provides a sense of ease in that the familiar world we are used to will not be transformed in one fell swoop.

Honor the journey that you have been through thus far, for it has created memories and life moments that can propel you through this new life. Respect the past for what is it, and allow yourself to move forward. The new life in front of you is not designed to change your past experiences, but to allow a place for growth.

This is your choice and your time to make a change that can possibly help with a challenge that is causing you to struggle. Perhaps this is the time to contact that specialist to talk about a troubling symptom, or reach out to a friend from the past which you’ve lost contact. The possibilities for change are endless, but committing to one is the first step.

“It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me
And I’m feeling good”
– Leslie Bricusse

Allow this new year to be your chance for change! Comment below or write to us sharing your experience.


Time’s Running Out for Medicare Open Enrollment

Not happy with your Medicare plan in 2015? There is still time to make a change! Individuals have through December 7th to make changes for the 2016 plan year. By now, the Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) letters regarding 2016 coverage have been sent; it is important to review those documents to see if any major changes will affect your healthcare in 2016. Not sure if you have received this letter? Contact Medicare at 1-800-633-4227.

If you are happy with your current coverage and are OK with the information provided within the Annual Notice of Change letter, then you do not have to proceed any further. You will automatically be enrolled in the same plan as 2015.

Concerned about your coverage, or would like to make a change to your plan? Visit the Medicare website to review your current policy. Through the site, you can check your level of coverage to see how much or how little your plan was utilized in 2015. Perhaps there are trends that you notice regarding out- of-pocket expenses that may be better covered under another plan.

2016 Medicare plans can be reviewed and compared online through the Medicare Plan Finder. Having issues online, or would like more one-on-one assistance; get free personalized health insurance counseling by calling your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Visit shiptacenter.org to locate the nearest center.

A little planning goes a long way…..a year to be exact. Taking the time now to review or make changes to your Medicare plan has the ability to effect all of 2016. So PLAN ahead!


Planning Around the Holidays

As the holiday seasons steadily approach, so do the holiday events and planning. Perhaps you have already received an invite or two, or are a part of an elaborate e-mail chain or Facebook group. For some, the mere thought of having to plan around the holiday season is stressful; and for those living with MS, an often unpredictable disease, the stress burden can increase even more.

So how do you tackle the holiday planning in a polite and self-determined fashion, while making sure to keep your health as a priority?

  1. Recognize your limits and be honest with yourself. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies when it comes to planning. We want to be able to do everything, but realistically, it is not in our best interest. Knowing your limit and sticking to it can help alleviate the overwhelmed feeling that is commonly seen in planning events.
  2. Have a game plan. Use a calendar to keep track of events and use this to track tasks that must be completed for these events. For example, you signed up to bring a side dish to a friend’s holiday party; write down the day of the party, and plan ahead the grocery shopping day and cooking day and build those into the calendar. This will help avoid the last minute day of dash to the store that often leaves you too tired to cook or even go to the party!
  3. It’s OK to say no! For some, this is an on-going struggle; but saying “no” from the beginning of planning is a lot easier than the last minute “I can’t make it”. Place yourself and your health first, and build around that. Use the prior two steps to build a holiday plan, and know which events to say no to.

Eleanor Roosevelt said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” When having to say no to an event, don’t allow others to make you feel bad about yourself because you cannot attend. By choosing to place your health and wellbeing on a pedestal, down the road one day, you will see what was actually important and thank yourself.

What tips and strategies have you established to help manage holiday planning?


Election Day and Disability Voting Related Concerns for the MS Community

While most of the media has already turned their attention to the upcoming Presidential Election, it’s worthy to note that there are still important issues and elections occurring this Election Day, Tuesday November 3rd.

Voting provides us the opportunity to weigh in on the issues that are most important to us as well as how our hometown and state are governed. For those living with disabilities, following and supporting elected officials with similar goals in mind is critical. For example, many who rely on public transportation as a means to get around town should know which officials support expanding transportation services, versus those who may plan to shut them down.

We have the power to create change through our votes. While on a local level it may seem insignificant, state level policies have a way of affecting those living with disabilities. Disability Rights organizations often open up their phone lines on Election Day to help answer disability related voter questions. Contact your local Disability Rights group to learn how you may be affected in this upcoming election.

Having an issue getting to the polls? Visit our Accessible Voting blog for information and guidance around access issues.

Happy Voting!


Mental Illness Awareness Week

Mental health awareness

Each year Mental Illness Awareness Week occurs during the first full week of October. Every year there is a recurring theme that spreads across the country. This year, the theme revolves around building a movement through the Stigma Free initiative.

“Being Stigma Free means learning about and educating others on mental illness, focusing on connecting with people to see each other as individuals and not a diagnosis, and most importantly, taking action on mental health issues and taking the Stigma Free pledge.”

The hashtag for the theme is #IAmStigmaFree

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in America. Mental health stigma affects each and every one of us as well as the people we love. Stopping Mental Health Stigma is an imperative first step which provides those who silently struggle with mental illness, the opportunity to reach out for help.

Did you know that the risk of suicide was 7.5 times higher among persons with MS than the general population? In a study of individuals with MS who experienced thoughts of suicide, one-third had not received any psychological help. If you have concerns regarding mental illness, or thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help. Depression is a treatable condition and needs to be discussed with the doctor.

For more information regarding Depression and MS, please visit the MSAA website at http://mymsaa.org/about-ms/symptoms/depression/.

National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/miaw